Cool Ways to Use Kitchen Cabinets

Cabinets can do much more than simply stash dishes and hide clutter. By modifying assembled or ready-to-assemble cabinets, you can create pieces designed specifically for your home without having to hire a custom cabinetmaker. The projects shown here are idea starters; some are simple and some a little more complex, but all are made from basic kitchen cabinets that are found at home centers.


One 24-in.-wide and two 30-in.-wide ready-to-assemble cabinets make up the basic structure of this kitchen island. A simple plinth made with 2x4s and 3/4-in. plywood lift the island to a comfortable countertop height. Drawers, shelves and eye-catching countertop materials help to further customize this stylish kitchen feature.

Elegant Island
This project was designed and constructed by HANDY contributor Dan Cary using one 24-in.-wide and two 30-in.-wide base cabinets from IKEA. These standard 30-in.-high ready-to- assemble cabinets have no legs, toe kicks or other frills, and they match the clean lines of Dan’s modern kitchen.

Before you start a project such as this, be sure to check your local building codes, especially with regard to electrical-outlet placement. Depending on an island’s size and location, you may need to incorporate an outlet into it.

To help bring the cabinets together and add height to the island, Dan built a plinth using 2x4s and a few pieces of 3/4-in. plywood. Though the floor is not perfectly level (a common defect in most homes), Dan was able to shim the plinth before securing it to the floor to ensure that the base of the island was level.

Dan surrounded the back and sides of the island with a white cabinet panel (also from IKEA), which he cut to size. Then he wrapped the plinth with a strip of trim for a finished look.

The dashing dual-material countertop showcased on the island required a little extra effort, but the resulting focal point proved to be worth it. To support the long seam where the two materials meet, Dan installed a crosspiece of 1x4 pine along the top of each cabinet (photo, above). Silicone holds the quartz piece in place; the L-shape walnut butcher block is secured to the cabinets with screws.

Bonus Banquette
This inventive use of cabinets as banquette-style seating (designed by Armstrong) features a run of 15-in.-high Town & Country wall cabinets with Espresso finish. The run is built on a 4-in.-high plinth, which provides a toe kick area and raises the cabinets to a more comfortable sitting height with regard to the dining table shown in the photo. The L-shape banquette features plenty of space inside the cabinets for storing decorative placemats, special serving platters and utensils or other items.

The element that pulls this piece together, making it a truly multifunctional fixture in the kitchen, is the top of the seat. It’s made with a 3/4-in.-thick universal refrigerator end panel that is built up with plywood so that it measures about 1-1/2 in. thick and trimmed with molding that matches the finish of the panel (see illustration).

The banquette seating is attached to the tall base cabinets that make up the island, providing the perfect backrest for the sitting area. Pillows placed along the backrest add a soft touch.

Zone Defense
In this kitchen, two simple cabinets were transformed to create a custom utility zone for stashing and donning shoes near the back door. Follow the step-by-step photos shown here to adapt this idea to your home.

Shoe Rack


Starting with a standard base cabinet, measure the dimensions that you will use to build the open-face box that will be inserted into the side of the cabinet. Be sure to account for the trim.


Cut four side pieces and a back for the box. Rout a groove in the center on the inside of both side pieces; this will help to hold the shelf securely in place.


Assemble the box and insert the shelf. Add trim around the face of the box, including the middle shelf.


Using the open-face box as a template, mark the side of the cabinet where the box will be installed. Cut along the marks with a jigsaw.


Partially insert the box into the side of the cabinet; then apply a bead of wood glue along the back of the trim. Insert the box the rest of the way and secure it in place with finish nails.

Simple Seat


Begin with a wall cabinet in any size that you choose. Use shims to level the cabinet along the floor and wall.


Once the cabinet is level, drive screws through the back and into studs in the wall.


Cut a wood panel to fi t the top of the cabinet. Use masking tape to protect the finished surface from splintering and scratches.


From inside the cabinet, secure the panel to the top with screws. For a finishing touch, add trim along the edge of the top, the wall and the sides.


Want more?
Learn how to build cabinet doors like a pro here.
Paint your cabinets and transform your kitchen here.