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DIY Refrigerator Cabinet
Our DIY refrigerator cabinet, also known as refrigerator surround, was a last minute addition to our kitchen remodel. Neil decided he really wanted a refrigerator cabinet but I was being lazy and didn’t want to redo our kitchen design. He finally talked me into it and I’m so glad he did!! Our DIY refrigerator cabinet looks amazing!! You can order refrigerator cabinets but you’ll probably still have to assemble everything yourself. When we quoted a refrigerator cabinet for our kitchen remodel it was going to cost us $850. We ended up doing this project for less than $200 and I absolutely love it!!
Step 1: Determine if you have enough space
The first step in building your refrigerator cabinet is determining if you have the space. Check your outlets, cabinets, plumbing, flooring, etc. We barely had enough space with our kitchen sink plumbing. Check your kitchen measurements and see what space you have to work with. You’ll need about 4 inches max (1.5 inch minimum) to add a refrigerator cabinet.
Step 2: Plan for ventilation
Next you’ll need to read your refrigerator manual for information on the amount of space your refrigerator requires for ventilation. Our fridge said it needed half an inch on all sides (left, right, and top) for ventilation. Half an inch is pretty standard, but double check your refrigerator manual just to be sure. We decided to give ourselves a little extra space, we figured 3/4 inch on each side couldn’t hurt and it makes it easier to roll the fridge in and out. I have zero regrets about making it bigger!!
I want to take a moment to talk about the importance of ventilation for your refrigerator. A lot of people build refrigerator cabinets and forget about the required ventilation space. Give your refrigerator a few months without ventilation and you’ll be investing in a new refrigerator. True story!! I’ve read about this problem online but I also know people who have had this happen to them. Don’t skip this step, check your manual and plan for ventilation.
Step 3: Design
Once you know all of your measurements, you’ll be able to design your refrigerator cabinet. Keep in mind the required space for ventilation and the amount of space you have available (it might be limited). If you have extra space, then you can build a 1.5 inch face frame on the exterior of your refrigerator cabinet. We liked this “framed” look and had the extra space so this is the route we choose. If you don’t have the space, then you can just add veneer to the sides of the wood (more on this in step 7).
Another thing to consider in your design is the depth of your refrigerator cabinet. Refrigerator doors need a certain amount of space to open properly, so you don’t want your refrigerator cabinet to come out too far. I would suggest measuring your refrigerator while it’s in place (before you begin your kitchen remodel), measure from the wall to the doors and subtract about half an inch for door clearance (you can also read about door clearance in your refrigerator manual).
There are several things to consider in your design, be sure to continue reading all of the steps below as you’re finalizing your designs. If you plan ahead, then hopefully you’ll have less problems arise later on.
Step 4: Build the Upper Cabinet
Now you’re ready to get get to work! You’ll want to start with the upper cabinet that goes on top of the refrigerator and build around this piece. You can build a brand new cabinet that goes on top of your refrigerator or you can use your existing upper cabinet. Most refrigerators already have cabinets above them, so hopefully you can just re-use the cabinet that you have already.
Our original upper cabinet was tiny and wouldn’t work with our new refrigerator surround. We were planning to build everything ourselves but then we went to our local Restore and found the PERFECT upper cabinet! The cabinet cost us about $15 and saved us a lot of time and stress. If you’re ever looking for cheap cabinets, I recommend checking your local Restore or looking on Facebook Marketplace. Restore is a discount home improvement store. People donate supplies there and you can find some really great pieces for a fraction of the cost!!
Step 5: Build the surrounding walls
You’re going to build around the upper cabinet from step 4. I recommend using plywood or hardwood on the exterior sides, avoid MDF and particle board on the exterior pieces. MDF and particle board won’t look as nice and they won’t hold up as well if there’s ever water damage (which is very possible in a kitchen).
Our upper cabinet was 2 inches shorter than our design required so we just added 2 pieces of wood as spacers between the cabinet and the exterior sides. This is a common problem when people are trying to build around their old upper cabinet. The good news is you won’t notice the spacer once you’re done. So don’t stress, add the spacer and at the end I promise it’ll look fine.
We attached the spacer to the side of the upper cabinet using a ton of wood glue and some strong wood screws. We then attached the exterior sides of the refrigerator surround to the upper cabinet (spacer already attached). Again we decided to just use a ton of wood glue and wood screws.
Now that you’ve attached the exterior sides, you might notice they’re not perfectly straight. Let’s add some back braces for extra support and to prevent the sides from bowing. We used some old mdf boards for our back braces. It really doesn’t matter what you use because it won’t be seen and water shouldn’t ever be going that high up. The only thing you need to make note of when adding your braces is the pipes and outlets. We accidently put a brace directly over the electrical outlet. Not a huge problem to fix, but we could’ve avoided this problem if we would’ve double checked our measurements.
Step 6: Seal the bottom
We decided to seal the bottom of our refrigerator cabinet with Kilz Primer to protect it from water damage. We just painted the bottom 3 inches (front and back) and the very bottom of the wood (pieces touching the ground). Refrigerators leak, pipes leak, everything leaks! Sealing the wood with Kilz may not help a whole lot but we figured it wasn’t going to hurt anything.
Step 7: Add face frame or veneer
Stand up your refrigerator cabinet and admire all of your hard work! Now that the overall cabinet is assembled, it’s time to make it look pretty. We used poplar board for our face frame and it looks great!! I’ll be honest, I didn’t build the face frames the “proper way“. I added a lot of wood glue, put a few nails in place, and then added a back bracket to prevent the edges from moving inwards. I know I didn’t do a great job, but so far it’s working.
If you don’t have enough room to add a full face frame (remember step 1 is all about available space), then you can add veneer to the edge of the wood to give it a finished look. Veneer is actually super easy to use, you basically just iron it on and then sand the edges smooth. Yes, it’s that easy!
Step 8: Bondo
Since I didn’t do everything the “right way” according to wood workers, I had a lot to Bondo over. I used Bondo to cover up any screw holes and the seams where my face frame met the other pieces of wood. I love Bondo, it saves me and all of my ugly mistakes! Bondo dries quickly so you’ll want to pre-mark all of the areas to fill beforehand. Mix the Bondo in a disposable bowl and use a plastic putty knife to apply. Scrape off as much Bondo as possible so you have less to sand after it hardens. Bondo will start hardening in 3 minutes, so you have to move fast. Do small sections at a time and just keep moving. After the Bondo has hardened, sand it down so it’s nice and smooth.
Step 9: Paint
I painted the refrigerator surround at the same time as the rest of our kitchen cabinets. To read more about the process I used to paint our kitchen cabinets click here.
Step 10: Secure
Last minute, we decided to add some extra braces to help support the upper cabinet. We also drilled the refrigerator cabinet into the sides of the wall. We’re not sure if any of this was needed but again we figured extra support never hurt.
Step 11: Attach Doors
Hopefully your old cabinet doors will fit your new refrigerator cabinet and save you some money!! But if for some reason you need new cabinet doors, I recommend looking into Barker Doors. We used Barker Doors for our kitchen remodel and I can not say enough great things about them (honest opinion, not a paid ad). Read all about my search for cabinet doors and why we choose Barker Doors.
I hope your DIY Refrigerator Cabinet is a huge success!! Be sure to check out all of our Kitchen Remodel Projects for more inspiration.