We're replacing old kitchen cabinets. There are three of the same size that I could paint, stack vertically, and use as toy storage in my toddler's bedroom. How can I make this cabinet installation safe and attractive?
Kenji S. ~ Everett, Washington
Hi, Kenji. Recycling some old kitchen cabinets to organize your toddler's bedroom sounds like a great idea. And without a doubt, you are right to be extra concerned about safety when doing work in a space that a toddler or young child will use.
When contractors install overhead cabinets in a kitchen there are normally wood blocks already installed behind the sheetrock to which they can attach the cabinets securely. Cabinets can be heavy--especially when full of dinnerware--and attaching them directly to sheetrock isn't safe. The same is true for your vertical cabinets.
The framing behind the sheetrock in your bedroom should be on 16- or 24-inch centers. If you can decide where you want to place your vertical cabinets and then determine where the framing studs are behind that location, you should be ready to begin your project.
If you're not a DIYer, this may be a project for which you will want to hire a contractor. There should be many independent contractors around Everett who could handle this simple job of cabinet installation. However, if you think the job is within your capabilities, use a straight edge and utility knife to cut out a section of the drywall behind where the cabinets will be located. You want to find two studs in that area and place your straight edge vertically about the center of the face on each of them. The goal is to have one half of the face of the stud exposed when you remove the piece of sheetrock. Make your cut on both studs all the way from the ceiling to the floor and be careful with the knife as the blade is very sharp. You may have to make a few passes with the knife, and you are also going to have to loosen the baseboard at the floor to get behind it. You will also have to cut the drywall tape at the top where the sheetrock on the wall meets the ceiling. You should have one large rectangle of sheetrock to remove when you are finished cutting.
Remove the piece of sheetrock carefully as you are going to be placing it back again. Cut some pieces of 2-by-6 or 2-by-8-inch material so they will fit tightly between the framing studs. I would use 2 pieces for each cabinet you plan to install. Toe nail each block into the framing studs as horizontal blocking. If possible, nail the top block for each cabinet so that it spans where the top of the cabinet will be and the second block can be about half way down the cabinet. The blocks should be flush with the fronts of the studs so they will be directly behind the sheetrock when it is put back in place.
You can now install the sheetrock and tape and finish the joints. If the area is going to be hidden by the cabinets, you may want to paint it at a later date. When you install your cabinets use, lag bolts with washers and make sure they go into the blocking you installed. The top bolts in each cabinet should go through the top cabinet rail and the bolts halfway down should go through the side rails.
I would use a latex paint for the exterior of the cabinets, but make sure you sand the old finish off before applying it. I would also install some sort of childproof locks on the doors of the cabinets. They are available at many home improvement outlets and large toy stores. They should be easy to find fairly close to you in Washington.
One other work of caution--the shelf brackets for kitchen cabinets are not designed to carry a lot of weight. I would keep the heavier toys on the bottoms of the cabinets and use the shelves for lighter items such as stuffed animals.