Building an Inexpensive Entertainment System
You can use stock cabinets and other parts to create a first-rate entertainment center.
Does your living room look like a warehouse for audio/visual equipment? An entertainment center will house your television set, VCR, stereo system and video-game station in one space-saving place. These wall units are specifically designed for this electronic gear. They also provide storage for videotapes, compact discs, cassettes, game cartridges and even your old LPs.
On the outside, entertainment centers closely resemble other wall units. Their deep base cabinets have doors or drawers, or both, and are topped with open shelving units. The middle cabinet typically houses a TV, so it's much wider and deeper than the shelving units that flank it.
Inside, however, you'll find a variety of specialized features. For example, rollout shelves provide easy access to individual electronic components, while adjustable drawer dividers neatly store tapes and CDs. Most also feature slide-back doors that allow an unobstructed view of the TV.
The Best of Both Worlds
Until now, entertainment centers came two basic ways. You could build one from scratch — a good option if you happen to be a skilled woodworker with lots of spare time. Or, you could buy one from a furniture store or custom cabinetmaker — and pay a princely sum.
A much easier and less expensive option is to assemble one from stock kitchen cabinets. That's how we created the cherry entertainment center shown here. And after we got set up, it took just two days.
This project is an assemblage of five cabinets from American Woodmark's new Moorefield line of premium stock cabinets. The center TV unit is a 36-in.-wide x 84-in.-tall utility cabinet turned upside down. On either side of the TV unit is a standard 18-in.-wide x 30-in.-tall wall cabinet topped with a 48-in.-tall bookcase.
Use a portable circular saw to carefully cut the toekick from the bottom of the large utility cabinet.
The challenge when building with kitchen cabinets is to make the finished project look like custom furniture rather than a bunch of stacked-together boxes. Most cabinet manufacturers offer crown moldings, fluted filler strips, decorative baseboards, glass-paned doors, dentil moldings and other add-ons to help you do just that.
One drawback to building with stock units: You'll have to sacrifice some design flexibility. For example, most don't come with slide-back doors. We worked around that by ordering the TV cabinet with hinges that open 170 degrees — more than enough for clear viewing.
You'll also find that most wood kitchen cabinets aren't stained on the inside. Although you might not mind, we wanted an exact match to the Spice color throughout, so we bought prefinished plywood "skins" and glued these thin sheets inside the cabinets. This way, the entertainment center looks as attractive with the doors open as it does with them closed.
How much you spend depends on the style, size and number of cabinets you choose. Our entertainment center was built from top-of-the-line cherry cabinets and cost about $2,800, including all the specialty hardware and prefinished plywood skins. That's 40 percent less than the cost of a comparable factory-built unit. You'll save $450 more by leaving off the plywood skins and staining interior surfaces instead. You can also assemble the same entertainment center (without skins) using standard oak cabinets with recessed-panel doors for about $1,500. Plastic-laminate cabinets with slab doors cost even less.
Before you buy the cabinets for your entertainment center, carefully measure each piece of equipment you plan to put inside. Don't forget to measure any wires, jacks or picture tubes projecting from the back and any knobs sticking out in front. Determine ahead of time where you need to drill holes in the cabinet back and shelves for running the wires. And don't jam components in too tightly; they need plenty of air space around them so they don't overheat.
Build a 3 1/2-in.-high platform for the cabinets out of plywood or 2x4s. Remove the old baseboard first.
Creating an entertainment center with kitchen cabinets is only slightly more challenging than stacking toy building blocks. You'll need little more than a drill and circular saw (a sabre saw or even a handsaw will work, too). The following building steps are for our cherry entertainment center, but the assembly techniques are essentially the same for other cabinets.
First, remove any baseboard molding from the wall where the entertainment center will go. Then install a 3 1/2-in.-high platform for the cabinets to sit on. The platform, which raises the cabinets off the floor, will later be concealed by baseboard molding. Make it out of 3/4-in. plywood or 2x4s set on edge.
Saw off the toekick from the bottom of the large utility cabinet. Flip the cabinet upside down so its larger compartment is on top for the TV, then set it onto the center of the platform. Build up the height of the shelf so its inside surface is flush with the face frame to make sliding in the TV easy: Cut four or five narrow plywood strips and lay them equally spaced across the shelf. Then cut a 3/4-in. plywood panel to fit over the strips.
Once you've built up the shelf, cut the prefinished plywood skins for the interior surfaces of the compartment. Glue the skins in place with contact cement starting with the one that covers the inside top of the cabinet. Then install the skin along the back, followed by the left- and right-side pieces.
Now, clamp a bookcase unit to a wall cabinet and join the two with a pair of 2 1/2-in. screws driven through the face frames. Spread out a blanket or moving pad and lay the assembled unit on its side. Cut a plywood skin to span across both cabinets and glue it down with contact cement. Repeat this step for the other bookcase.
Next, place the two assembled bookcase units onto the platform and screw them to the middle TV cabinet. Again, drive the screws through the face frames. Also screw down through the bottom of each base cabinet into the platform below. For added stability, drive a screw through the top-rear of each cabinet into a wall stud.
Raise the television shelf even with the face frame of the cabinet by laying in wood strips and a 3/4-in. plywood panel.
Once all the cabinets are securely fastened, install the specialty hardware and decorative trim. Start by screwing the metal tracks that support the rollout shelves into the bottom half of the TV cabinet. Note that the front end of each track is fastened to the edge of the cabinet face frame.
Next, conceal the exposed platform around the bottom of the cabinets with baseboard molding, available prefinished to match the cabinets. To install the crown molding — also available from the manufacturer — nail 3/4x1-in. wood strips to the tops of the cabinets. Then nail the crown molding to the strips with 4d finishing nails.
Finish by cutting the old baseboard to fit along the wall. Then put in your equipment and start hunting for that remote.
Where to Find It
Box 1980, Dept. TH997
Winchester, VA 22604