Before we dive into the DIY built-in bar tutorial, I have a confession to make. I never intended on writing this tutorial.
There are several reasons why:
- Every space is different which makes specific built-in tutorials difficult to replicate
- This was our first attempt at a built-in and didn’t necessarily do everything the “right” way (we’ll let you know when + what you can do differently)
- We didn’t use a mini-fridge that’s supposed to be enclosed (front venting ones can cost $1000+) and honestly didn’t know if the fridge would even last once it was built-in.
Because we never intended to write it, it’s not going to be filled with nice step-by-step photos, a precise shopping list, or specific measurements to follow. It won’t be nearly as detailed as our typical tutorials, but hopefully, it will give you a good idea of how to build in a mini-fridge and make a built-in dry bar for your home.
Now that I’ve given you our little disclaimer, I will say, just because we didn’t do everything the “correct” way as a contractor probably would, the bar still turned out great.
In fact, it turned out well enough for THE Better Homes and Gardens to send out a stylist and photographer to capture it for the magazine. Might not be perfect, but that’s good enough for me!
Not only that, but the mini-fridge has held up great. It’s only been about 2.5 years, but we’ve never had an issue with it overheating or not keeping our drinks cold.
If you’re wanting to basically freeze all your drinks and don’t want to risk them being maybe a degree or two warmer than a nice fridge would get you, this tutorial isn’t for you. You’ll want to be sure to buy a fridge that was made to be built-in under counters.
If you’re willing to take the chance and save hundreds of dollars on a non-front venting fridge, this tutorial is for you. But just because it’s worked great for us does not mean I can guarantee it will work perfectly for you. It’s a risk you have to be willing to take. We will address the steps we took to minimize the risk of the fridge overheating.
Alright, let’s start DIYing!
- Circular Saw
- Miter Saw
- Nail Gun
(technically you could use the jigsaw to make all of your cuts, so you don’t need a circular saw or miter saw. It just makes things easier)
- Mini-Fridge (we used this one)
- Pre-made cabinet (we used this one)
- Sanded plywood
- 2x4x8s (technically we used
- 2.5” Kreg screws
- 2.5 and 1.25” screws
- Nails (size depends on what size boards you use for your face frames. For 1x boards, use 1.5” nails)
- Outlet extender
- Paintable caulk
- Clear caulk
- Paintable spackle or wood filler
- Paint (we used Sherwin Williams Naval)
How to turn a stock cabinet into a built-in bar
STEP 1: PREP
Before you dive into making a built-in, you want to start by planning out your final dimensions. The final dimensions of our bar (excluding the countertop) were 44” wide 25” deep 35.5” high.
Once you feel confident with your measurements, you can plan out your cut list and shopping list. Here’s what boards we used to finish out our bar:
Now that you’ve got your shopping list nailed down, I’m going to tell you two steps that we skipped when making the DIY built-in bar. You can skip them like we did or you can go the extra mile and start your project there.
First, we didn’t remove the baseboards that will be behind the built-ins. Rather than removing the baseboards, we decided to leave them in and work around them.
Pretty much any professional would remove the baseboards first. We decided not to because at the time we didn’t have the right tools and we were scared we would screw it up. The budget was tight, so we didn’t want to risk having to buy more materials.
To remove the baseboards, you can first cut the caulk that is between the wall and the trim. Next, you’ll cut the baseboards using a multi-tool. Finally, pry the trim off the wall using a crowbar.
The second thing we didn’t do was cut the carpet. We decided to build them right on top of the carpet and haven’t run into any issues. If you want to hear what various craftsmen say about installing built-ins over carpet, check out this forum. It’s a more debatable topic than removing the baseboards.
STEP 2: FRAME OUT YOUR STRUCTURE
In an attempt to prevent the fridge from overheating, we wanted to leave plenty of space behind the fridge to allow for some more airflow. We kept this in mind when framing everything out.
We used a combination of 2x3s and 2x4s (don’t ask me why, there wasn’t a reason), but you can frame yours with just 2x4s.
Before you start making your cuts, place your cabinet and fridge where you want them to be and tape out the overall footprint.
Make sure you place your 2x4s far enough over to account for the fridge. We made our opening about 1” larger than the width of the fridge to make sure it would fit and could open (we’ll talk a little more about this when we get to the face frame step). That 1” is what the opening is AFTER we add the face frames, so consider what size board you’re using as a face frame.
We also placed 2 – 2x4s between the cabinet and the wall. We’ll need these boards here to attach the face frames to in a later step.
Once you feel good about the sizing, you can cut your 2x4s and screw them together. We created the structure with 2.5” Kreg screws.
For the 2×4 against the wall, we secured it into the studs using 2.5” screws.
Once we felt good about that spacing and dry-fitted the fridge again, we placed 1x4s on the ground to sit underneath the feet of the fridge to help raise it up slightly and stabilize it more than it would be on carpet alone.
When attaching the front 1×4, we lined it up with the front of the 2×4 framing so that we would have something to secure the face frame board to later.
Lastly, you’ll want to add a 2×3 or some sort of board to the front of the cabinet that’s in line with the front 1×4. We’ll use this board to attach the face frame to later.
STEP 3: CUT THE PLYWOOD SIDE
Now that you have your main structure framed out, we can cut out the plywood piece that will cover up the outside of the fridge.
Measure the height and depth of your 2×4 structure and then cut your plywood piece to match that.
If you didn’t remove your baseboards before starting, you’ll need to cut the plywood out to fit around your trim.
STEP 4: CUT HOLE FOR VENT
As I mentioned earlier, the fridge that we bought for this built-in was not meant to be built-in. When you build in a fridge that does not vent from the front, you run the risk of it overheating.
To combat this issue, we decided to do two things: frame out the structure so that it had plenty of room in the back (as discussed in step 2) and by adding a vent to the side of the built-in.
Sure, the vent isn’t actively pushing the hot air out of the enclosure, but adding the vent gives it one more place that the air can escape out of.
When cutting for the hole for the vent, you can place it wherever you want to. We chose to center the vent near the bottom of the side.
The main key here is to not cut the hole too big. You just want it to be cut in the section where the slats are. Then you’ll secure the vent by screwing it in on either side.
STEP 5: CUT HOLE FOR THE OUTLET
Since we are going to be covering up access to the outlet behind the bar, we decided to add an outlet to the side of the cabinet. I need a way to pop my popcorn that doesn’t involve moving out the mini-fridge.
To add the outlet to the cabinet, we used what is basically a fancy extension cord.
We added it to the top back corner of the plywood side, but you can place it wherever you want (as long as the cord is long enough to reach).
Once we decided on the placement, we cut out a hole that was approximately 3.75” x 1.625”.
STEP 6: ADD FACE FRAMES
Now it’s time to add face frames to the structure to make it look pretty and hide all of the rough framing.
Here’s what we used:
These boards are decorative and here to make the bar look polished and complete. You can choose what size boards you use and cut them to the sizes that you need.
If you have the same fridge that we do, you might need to cut a notch in the board that sits underneath the fridge to account for the door hinge.
The system for installing these face frames is measuring two or three times, cutting your boards down, and then nailing them to the framing that’s behind it.
On the side of the fridge that has the hinge, you’ll definitely want to do some dry fitting. The framing can’t come right up to the edge of the fridge or the door won’t open properly.
What we did here was attach a ¼” board to the back of the 1×4 face frame that was next to it. This covered the gap so that you couldn’t see through the built-in to the wall behind it, but it is far enough back that it didn’t interfere with the function of the door.
STEP 7: PREP FOR PAINT
Since we purchased cheap plywood, we first covered the entire sheet with spackle to help fill the wood grain so that it would have less wood texture once painted.
If your budget allows, my recommendation would be to get pre-primed or maple plywood instead of sanded pine. You’ll be able to forgo the step of spackling your entire sheet of plywood.
Next, you’ll want to add wood filler or spackle to any seams between boards or nail holes.
Once the spackle is dry, sand off the excess. Sand everything will 220 grit sandpaper.
Next, caulk any areas where the built-in meets the wall. This will help solidify its appearance as a built-in. Make sure to use paintable caulk here!
Once the caulk is dry, prime your wood.
Once the primer is dry, quickly sand again using 220 grit sandpaper and then wipe it off with tack cloth (or your t-shirt) to remove any lingering dust.
STEP 8: PAINT
As you can see from our photos, we painted everything before installing it to the built-in. You can go this route, but honestly, I would recommend just painting everything at one time for ease. There’s no need to open the paint can several times throughout the project.
We painted the entire built-in using Sherwin Williams Naval. It’s a beautiful true, navy color.
STEP 9: ADD YOUR COUNTERTOP
We built our countertop using a 2×10 pine board. You can check out the full tutorial on how we made and finished our countertop here.
Once your countertop is finished, you can install it to the pre-made cabinet by screwing through the corner brackets in each corner.
For the other side of the bar, you can attach the countertop using L-brackets that you screw to both the countertop and the framing. We used a total of 4 on the fridge side.
Now that your countertop is in place, you can add some clear caulk to the areas where the countertop meets the wall. If you have any gaps, you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference the caulking makes–even though it’s clear!
STEP 10: ADD WINE STORAGE AND SHELVES
If you like our slanted wine storage, check out this tutorial on how to make your own.
For the shelves, we used 2×10 boards that we torched and sealed using the same technique as the countertop.
We hung the shelves using these brackets that are specifically designed for 2×10 shelves. We placed them 1” in from either side of the 30” shelves.
You might notice the pocket holes that are on the bottom of the shelves…you can ignore these.
You see, this was one of our first projects and at the time we majorly over-installed everything. We thought that everything needed to be secured to the wall in a million different ways and secured to every stud in the world.
Yes, you want to hit studs whenever possible, but if you can’t, some quality drywall anchors are more than enough. The brackets can hold 80lbs, so if you properly install them and don’t need to hold a bazillion pounds, there is no need to install the shelf directly to a stud as well.
Finally, we added a DIY wine glass rack to the bottom of the lowest shelf.
There you have it! I hope you feel more confident about the steps to creating a DIY built-in bar with a mini-fridge! I can’t wait to see the bar that YOU build. Send me a photo on Instagram (@craftedbythehunts).