Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Gallery Of Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard

If you live in an old house you’ve probably faced an alcove decision or two – what to do with those tempting spaces either side of a chimney-breast. In this particular case we had ripped out a modern floor-to-ceiling cupboard in our dining room and wanted to replace it with a Victorian-esque alternative. The general idea was a to build a cupboard at the bottom with a set of shelves on top. But Rome was’nae built in a day, so this post documents the first stage in this DIY endeavour, imaginatively entitled: The Lower Section. Here is a picture of the finished article:

But before we get into the DIY at hand, let’s check out some of the alternatives. Here are two slideshows on the subject from : 10 Fresh Ideas for Alcoves in a Period Home and 13 Smart Solutions for Styling Fireside Alcoves .

10 Fresh Ideas for Alcoves in a Period Home

13 Smart Solutions for Styling Fireside Alcoves

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Ok – so floating storage boxes, wall-to-ceiling mirrors, and scaffolding boards are all well and good, but we were after something a little more traditional. Traditional and cheap. The materials for this build cost less than £50: pine strips, an mdf sheet, and some decorative moulding, plus screws, wood-glue, sandpaper and white paint. Below is a gallery of the various steps.

To see how I completed this job check out my post:

Matt on January 6, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Hi. Nice job. Thinking of doing the same myself and these pics will certainly help. Quick question though. What is it that you show in the fifth picture? With the plane? Are those the doors? Thanks. Matt

Hi Matt. The fifth picture is of the middle shelf. I used 6mm mdf for the shelf surface and reinforced the bottom with the three pine slats….and then planed it down because it was slightly too big! Good luck with it. Cheers, Tom.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Nick Welsh on February 8, 2016 at 10:50 pm

hi Tom, thinking of giving this a go in my 1930’s semi. can i ask what you made the top out of and how?

on February 9, 2016 at 10:06 pm

Hi Nick. The top is made from a bit of leftover kitchen worktop I picked up on freecycle.

It’s some form of engineered wood. Google: ‘glued timber kitchen top’ and you’ll see what I mean.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

This worktop at B&Q looks quite similar: . I also gave it a couple of coats of dutch oil. Good luck.

T know on February 16, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Alcove looks great!! Going to attempt to try and build that. Don’t suppose you have a slightly more detailed guide for a novice like myself. Many thanks.

on February 17, 2016 at 10:03 pm

Hi there and thanks very much. I am afraid I haven’t written a more detailed guide yet. Hopefully clicking through the pictures of the build in progress give you a good idea of the process I went through – there was a fair bit of making it up as I went along. The key thing for me was deciding on the height and depth of the shelves and repeatedly checking that I had everything level. Good luck with your build.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Paul on April 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Hi. Really enjoyed looking how you built it . I’m a bit confused as to the packing between a wall and the wood. Did you cover it with something ?

Hi Paul. Yes – what I do is roll up some newspaper and wedge it tightly into the gap. I then make up a batch of all-purpose powder filler to cover it. Then a quick sand before painting. Cheers, Tom.

Cara on July 24, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Hi, cupboard looks great, planning on replicating it myself. What thickness was the mdf that you used for the doors? Thanks Cara.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi Cara. The mdf sheet was 6mm. The pine strip wood that I glued to the front of the doors was 12mm. Good luck with your project.

Kerry on August 3, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Hi T om, in the 5th picture it shows a piece of MDF with 3 pine strips glued to the back. What was that piece for? Thanks for the inspiration – I’m having a go myself in my own Victorian 3 bed semi Thanks, Kerry

Kerry on August 3, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Hi Tom, in the 5th picture it shows a piece of MDF with 3 pine strips glued to the back. What was that piece for? Thanks for the inspiration – I’m having a go myself in my own Victorian semi Thanks, Kerry

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Yes – that’s the middle shelf. I reinforced the mdf sheet by attaching some pine strips. Good luck with your project.

Guy on October 17, 2016 at 1:00 pm

great job Tom. Im inspired to do my own now. Can I ask about the wood? Are the battens just lengths of 2 x 1, the strips 3 x 1 and the frame uprights 2 x 2? And i take it the plinth MDF is quite a think one – say 15mm ?

I understand the middle shelf is 6mm MDF. I can’t find any kitchen worktops on offer so I’ll use think MDF with a rounded edge, say 25mm.

Thanks Guy – pleased to have inspired you. To try and answer your questions:

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

1) Battens, Strips and Frame Uprights – yes spot on.

2) The middle shelf is 6mm mdf because that’s what I had lying around, and I reinforced it with thee strips of wood on the bottom. So you could use 18mm mdf for this shelf as well.

3) I was lucky to get the kitchen worktop on freecycle and it provided a nice finish, but I guess any thick piece of wood, plywood, or mdf will do the job, especially if you are planning to paint it. The thickness of this piece is about 25-30mm.

Good luck with your project. Send me a photo of the finished article. CHeers, Tom.

Fantastic storage space, my brother in law is making this alcove cupboard me. Very nice indeed, thanks for the inspiration

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Cherie Oliver on November 15, 2016 at 1:54 am

Really pleased to have come across this idea. I’m going to ask my husband to do something similar in my alcoves for me. Difference is that I need it to be angled, so deeper 1 side to the other, as this is where all the electrics come into the house, but don’t foresee this being a major issue. Any advice on that would be gratefully received.

on November 15, 2016 at 1:54 pm

Hi Cherie. Thanks for your comment. You’re right, I don’t see any reason why an ‘angled’ alcove cupboard should be more complicated, the basic frame remains the same, just one side deeper than the other and the shelves and top cut to size. Here’s an image of someone who has done just that: . Good luck with the project.

Phoebe on December 6, 2016 at 11:58 am

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hiya-this is fab and really helpful! Just wondering…what did you attach the bottom support bits to? Was it just to the shelf above, or did you attach to the floor? Thanks!

Hi Phoebe – The bottom shelf sits on brackets that I screwed to the wall on each side and across the back. In order to stop it bowing in the middle I also added the little ‘support stilts’ in the middle that you mention. I screwed these to the floor and the shelf just sits on them. I hope this answers your question, good luck with your project.

Pete Taylor on January 11, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Hi Tom, love what you have Built here – from previous comments I think I’ve pieced together the sizes and types of timber you used.

However, can I just ask what you by meant by strips that were 3×1? Where were these used? Can I see them in one of the pics?

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi Pete – The strips that are referred to in the comments below as 3×1 are more accurately about 90mm x 18mm. I used this size of strip for the final front face of the cupboard and for the doors themselves – seen in picture 9 and painted white in the final image. Hope that helps and good luck with your project.

Jez on January 23, 2017 at 8:47 pm

You’ve done a fantastic job on your cupboard.

I’m making it now but I’m having issues with warping on the doors. I’ve used 6mm and 12 mm strips stapled on from behind.

Also, for your front frame surround did you use 2×1? I have but my hinges are deeper than the thickness of the 2×1 and anything slightly out of square it’s showing when i put the doors on. I’m hoping I’m missing something obvious.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi Jez. Sounds like you’ve used the same as me for the doors – though I didn’t use staples I just stuck everything together with wood glue. I’ve had no issues with warping, but where there were little gaps I added a little bit of filler to smooth over . Regarding the hinges, mine were pretty small and fitted quite well – but you can see from the pictures that I cut a little groove to ensure the hinges were all flush with the frame. I find hanging doors is never straight-forward and I remember doing a bit of planing here and there before I got a finish I was happy with. I guess it is a bit of trial and error…and my finished cupboard is by no means perfectly even! Good luck and thanks for visiting the site.

Jez on January 23, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Sorry, meant to say thanks in advance Tom.

holly on January 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Hi, what did you use to paint the cupboard?

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi Holly. I just used some basic wood-primer followed by a couple of coats of white eggshell. I didn’t seal the mdf with anything prior to applying the primer.

Leigh on February 3, 2017 at 10:19 pm

Sorry if I’ve missed this in earlier comments but what height did you make this unit?

on February 19, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Hi Leigh – apologies for delayed reply. The unit is 100cm high.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Ian on February 16, 2017 at 8:02 am

So you just stuck the door panelling to a sheet of MDF, no shaker joints between the stiles and rails?

If so, how did you finish the edges of the doors, looks like there is a pine strip in place? I’d imaging showing the edge of the MDF wouldn’t look great otherwise?

on February 19, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Hi Ian. Thanks. Yes I just stuck the door panelling on to the mdf, as simple as that. I then sanded round the edge of the doors and painted them. Close up you can see where the edge of the mdf meets the panelling, but as the doors are closed almost all the time it doesn’t bother me. I’d stress that I wasn’t trying to build this to the most meticulous standards, just something that could be done reasonably quickly with the hand tools I had available and that looked passable!

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Ian on February 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

Thanks for clarifying Tom. I’m probably going to do the same – the doors can always be re-made later on if it bothers me!

Ian on March 28, 2017 at 7:25 pm

I completed 2 cabinets this week, one two door, and one 3 door. Both look great – thanks again!

Geraint Jones on February 27, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi, so glad I found this as I’m looking to do the same but my alcoves are 1770mm and 1470mm. Looking at photo 1 does it project 100 mm from the wall. What have you fastened these 3×1 to? Was looking to do mine in 2×1 battens with a flush finish.

Forgot to say, the finished article is very inspiring well done.

Hi Geraint. Thanks a lot for your kind comments. The unit is 50cm deep in total and it projects about 15cm from the wall. To fix the batons, I drilled a holes in the wall, inserted rawplugs, and then put screws through the batons into the pre-drilled holes in the wall. Best of luck with your project. Tom

Steve on March 16, 2017 at 9:01 am

Hi. Smashing unit. How wide were your doors?

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi Steve. Thanks very much. Apologies for the delayed reply. The doors are about 43cm wide each.

Thanks Tom. I managed to complete 2 units and shelves using your handy guide. Currently doing a bay window seat now…

Stuart on March 27, 2017 at 11:24 pm

Hi. Thank you for posting this. It looks great and my going to try a wardrobe version, fingers crossed. One question please , with the doors, did you use a full door size sheet of mdf then stick pine pieces then beading? Or did the mdf sit inside the timber adding?

Hi. Yes I cut a full door size piece of mdf sheet and then stuck the pine and beading to it. Lazy carpentry but it looks alright! Goo luck with your project. Tom.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Annie on March 30, 2017 at 3:13 pm

This is amazing. We live in an old victorian flat with literally no storage and with large alcolves. I’ve been trying to come up with a solution where we don’t have to remove any original features such as skirting. This is totally affordable and looks brilliant. I think our cupboards will have to be a lot taller to hold more of our stuff but I’m certain we will just be adapting from your idea. Thank you so much for sharing and taking good photos through-out the process, I’m so much happier now that we have a plan for our project. cutting the wood to fit our skirting may be tricky as ours are taller and quite detailed, I’m thinking to use a thinner piece of wood and do my best with a jig-saw, paint white and fill in the tell-tale gaps with plaster or similar?

Annie – Thank you for such a lovely comment. I’m so pleased you found the post useful and wish you all the best in building your own cupboards. I think you’ve got exactly the right idea for the fitting the wood around your skirting. Good luck, Tom.

David on April 11, 2017 at 10:20 am

Great job! Planning to get going on something similar this weekend.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

One question, there is a gap between the wood and wall, how did you fill it, paint over it so it looks seamless?

Hi David. I rolled up some newspaper and stuffed it into the gap. I then covered the gap with filler and sanded it down level. Good luck with your project. Tom

Gareth Wynn on April 21, 2017 at 6:45 am

Top job! I first looked at your website about 2 months ago – after much measuring cutting sanding & repeating I have just finished our alcove cupboards. The walls were so out of square it all had to be totally bespoke but got there in the end.

Thanks for all the clear photos and details – it is a real inspiration thanks!

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Hi Gareth. Reading this comment has made my day! I am so pleased you found the page useful. Well done for winning the battle with those out of square walls. All the best.

Ben on May 14, 2017 at 10:16 am

This is brilliant. I’m looking to build one of these soon. I was wondering how you brought the bottom of the cabinet and the skirting board together? Was it using filler? Thanks for the detail!

Thanks a lot Ben. You are right, I cut the bottom of the cabinet as closely as I could to match the skirting board with a coping saw, and then plugged the gap with filler. Good luck with your project.

Tom on May 18, 2017 at 6:04 am

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

This looks fantastic!! Just what I’ve been looking for – a guide to have a go myself. I’m going to try and follow your method, what is the measurement of the top battens protruding from the wall? And would you recommend removing the side skirting boards? Many thanks in advance, Tom – Newcastle.

The height of the top battens is about 100cm from the floor. The batten itself is approx 60mmx18mm. I would recommend keeping all skirting boards in place. I know one of my pictures shows a piece of skirting board removed, but that was actually removed by a previous owner. I think better to retain any original features in case you wishes to remove the cupboard at a later date. Good luck with the project.

Jonathan on May 29, 2017 at 8:30 am

Absolutely love the cabinets. Being a complete novice I wondered whether it would be possible to list the materials and tools needed?

From looking through all the pictures there’s one thing I can’t understand. What is the reason for the gap where you’ve plugged with newspaper and filled?

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Thank you very much in advance!

The reason for the gap is that we live in an old house and the wall next to the cabinet is not completely straight, it leans away from the cabinet as it reaches the top. The easiest thing for me to do was build the cabinet all-square and then plug the resultant gap with filler.

In terms of tools and materials, I used: handsaw, tenon saw, circular saw, electric drill, plane, ruler, spirit level, pencil, sandpaper, cutting block, folding workbench, clamps, raw plugs, screws, strip wood, a bit of mdf sheeting, a recycled kitchen work-top, wood glue, primer, white paint, brass knobs and catches.

Gus on June 4, 2017 at 9:34 am

Having stumbled upon your alcove cupboard post a few weeks ago, I studied it carefully and thought … that looks possible. I have just spent a week building two cupboards and shelves. I deviated from your design a number of times, but whenever I got stuck, I just referred back to ‘what did Tom do here.’ Although im obviously biased, my cupboards look fantastic. Top post. Thanks.

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Well this just made my day! Thanks for getting in touch Gus. I’m so pleased my post was useful for you.

Matt on June 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

You have done a great job here mate and more importantly, inspired plenty of people to build something like this themselves – me included! I have decided to build 3 large alcove wardrobes and so far they are looking great. I must admit though, I am struggling to find your inner pine moulding strip on the front of your doors. It really does make your doors look very professional. Can I ask where you got these from? I have searched all the normal UK stores but haven’t had much luck.

Hi Matt. Thank you very much for the kind comment. I can say with virtual certainty that the pine moulding either came from B&Q or Wickes. Most likely B&Q. Though I’ve just had a look on their website to try and find a link and – frustratingly – I must confess I can’t seem to find the exact match. Sorry I can’t be of more help on that front. All best, Tom.

CJ on July 24, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Building a Victorian alcove cupboard (part 1)

Truly inspiring work it lovely is great!

Thinking of giving this a go myself in our 1890s terrace and would love to be to emulate your Fantastic work!

Problem is, our alcoves have existing plug sockets on the inside walls, above the skirting and either side of the fireplace – right where you’ve put the batons in the sides!

Any thoughts on how to get around this without having the sockets removed?

I’ve considered just putting the batons above the sockets but that would leave the bottom baton about 15 inches off the floor and I’m bothered about stability of the front ‘face’ frame.

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