Necessity is the mother of invention! Our landlords are having our entire building re-piped and that means we'll have groups of workmen poking around our apartment for the next month or so. When you know strangers are going to be digging through your cabinets, it's pretty normal to feel uncomfortable. What if they find something embarrassing or very personal (a journal, medications, or *ahem* adult entertainment wares)? What about your valuables, like cash or jewelry? While I believe that most maintenance personnel in the world is honest and hard-working (my dad is one!), it isn't unheard of for valuables to go missing after work crews have been through a home. Given that our landlords tend to hire cheap and shady labor, I'm not taking any chances. To the secret compartment!
In this Ible I'll show you how to make an easy false bottom for your nightstand drawer as well as a secret panel for the interior cabinet. The primary materials used are all up-cycled and there's no woodworking involved, so you can do this even without tools or a workshop!
Step 1: Measurements
Take INTERIOR measurements of your drawer bottom. Go from inner-most edge to inner most edge. Subtract 1/8 inch from each measurement if your upholstery fabric is thick..
Take the INTERIOR width of your cabinet space. Again, reduce by 1/8 inch if you need to allow for a thick fabric panel covering.
For the cabinet height, measure from the shelf surface to the bottom of the drawer track. Stopping your panel under the drawer track will ensure a secure fit and prevent any interference with your drawer function. Apologies for the blurry photo of this. It can be a tricky place to stick a camera.
Step 2: Panel Creation
On thick, stiff cardboard, measure out your drawer and cabinet panels.
I'm up-cycling cardboard from the back of an old poster frame. It's thick and sturdy stuff that won't bend easily or bow under the contents of my drawer.
Use a utility knife to cut out your shapes. Mine were quite different and easy to tell apart, but if yours look more alike you can label them with a pencil to keep track.
Step 3: Easy Upholstering
Choose a thin-medium weight fabric with a bit of tooth to it. Cotton is great. Stay away from anything shiny and slippery. Having texture will help your panels grip the wood when they're installed. In terms of color and print, use something that is appealing but isn't screaming for attention. Maybe no neon leopard print for this project! You want this to be believable as sort of an attractive shelf paper so that a person wouldn't think twice about whether or not it should be there. The dark brown background of my pattern keeps this contemporary but low-key.
If your fabric is wrinkly, give it a quick iron first. This is a great project for fabric leftovers since our panels are pretty small. Dig through your scrap bin and give life to a forgotten fat quarter!
*NOTE: Upholstery steps for both panels are the same. You'll see me working on my cabinet panel here. Reapeat all steps for your drawer panel as well.
Lay your fabric good side down and place your panel on it.
Using a ruler and sharpie, mark out a piece of fabric that is one inch larger than your cardboard on all sides. Cut out this piece of fabric.
Situate your cardboard in the center of the fabric.
Run a line of hot glue along one edge of the cardboard. Quickly (so the glue doesn't cool) wrap your fabric over the edge and press to secure.
Now do the same on the opposite edge of your cardboard.
Repeat for the two ends, making sure to run your hot glue lines all the way to the corners that already have fabric on them.
You may notice you have some little triangle tabs of fabric poking up at your corners. To secure these and clean up the look of the piece, simple run an inch long line of hot glue right at the base of the triangle. Fold over the fabric and press until cool. Tucking these tabs away not only looks nicer, it prevents snags and hangups on your wood later.
After your panels are covered, take your fingers and pinch all the way around the four edges. Collapsing the edge of the cardboard will create just enough give to fit them comfortably into their respective locations without any detectable gaps.
Step 4: Drawer Feet
To lift your false bottom drawer away from the true bottom of the drawer, you'll need to create some simple feet.
I highly recommend using dense foam, like these leftover tabs from a foam floor mat.They're sturdy enough to support the panel fully while also being noiseless when you operate the drawer, a big advantage over wood if you want to keep this secret compartment a secret!
Check the height of your drawer. Decide how much space you're willing to give up to the secret compartment. The foam feet I had in mind made the drawer about a 50/50 split, which works well for me. Adjusting the height of a foam piece is easy: trim away with scissors if you want less, hot glue on extensions if you want more.
After cutting the foam tabs into equal pieces, I laid them out on the underside of the drawer panel. You want to set them IN from the corners about 1.5 inches. This will help ensure that the center of the panel is well supported and doesn't bow, and also keeps the feet clear of the drawer corners where they could snag up as you use it.
Apply hot glue to the base of a foam foot, then press in place. Repeat for the other feet.
Test your panel on a flat surface to ensure that your feet all sit flat and your surface is level.
Step 5: Pull Tab
Each panel needs a pull tab to help you lift it out of place to access your stuff. This tab can be as simple as a loop of ribbon. Again, think discreet! I chose a deep brown ribbon that blended well with my nightstand wood.
*Once again, texture is good. Go for something textured like a grosgrain ribbon over a shiny satin one. This will help you grip it firmly.
Form a loop of ribbon with your fingers. The loop should be 1-1.5 inches at least, or whatever is a comfortable fit for your index finger. Leave tails of at least another inch long.
Apply hot glue to one inside tail of your ribbon. Piece the sides together to secure your loop.
Find your pull tab locations. Once you find them, mark them with a sharpie dot if you need to.
The drawer tab should go either at the front (behind the drawer pull) or the back (where you' won't see it unless the drawer is pulled all the way out).
The cabinet tab should be placed at the center of the top edge (the edge that touches the drawer track).
Now apply a line of hot glue to the outside of one tail, stopping where the loop begins.
Press it into place at the tab location, leaving the ribbon loop hanging over the edge free. Repeat for the other panel.
Step 6: Drawer Installation
Angle one end down into the drawer first, then settle the rest. It should fall right in there and sit level on the foam feet.
My pull tab is in the back since my drawer's knob interferes with use from the front. In day to day use, you won't see it at all. Simply put your finger through the tab and lift to reveal grandma's pearls --hidden safely underneath a drawer full of everyday items!
Step 7: Secret Compartment Installation
Stash your precious treasure in the back of the cabinet. These boxes may not look like much, but I assure you they're full of amazing rhinestone jewelry.
Remove the drawer from its track so you have a clear view of where everything is going.
Insert the cabinet panel diagonally, then rotate to fit. If you measured correctly, the top edge should nestle right under the drawer track and practically snap in place. The depth of your compartment is up to you. Push the panel forwards or backwards to create what you feel is a useful (and convincing) depth.
Replace your usual cabinet items in front and your secret panel just looks like some nice shelf paper.
Just reach up inside and pull the tab to lower the panel and access your goodies again!