Introduction: How to Make a Secret and Concealed Under Stairs Cupboard.
We have all seen the big and beautiful under-stair cupboards and shoe racks that people make when they have extravagant halls and massive spaces.
But what about the people with small houses, no hallways, and very little space. Well, that describes my house to a tee. I have such a small space that I didn’t think I would be able to do anything with it. And even if I did, I had no idea how it would look in the end. Would I be left with a gaping hole in the wall, shoes hanging out and not being able to close the door? Or my worst fear would be that I smashed my way in and there was no space to do anything. I would then have to attempt to fix the plasterboard. This is a project that has been on the cards for a while now, but I have never had the skill or the confidence to do it. Seeing as I have been improving my skills recently, I thought it was about time (with pressure from the wife) to get it done.
If I were you I would start by watching the videos so you can see what I went through, you can then decide if this is something you would attempt yourself.
I didn’t start with a plan of sorts, as I had no idea what I was getting into. Knowing Persimmons (the company that built my house) and some of the “issues” I have found in the past, it would be such a bodge job under there I wouldn’t be able to go any further. With that being said, I wanted to get into it as IF I did have space, it would be an amazing project and great use of space.
Below is a list & links to all the materials & tools I used. Some aren't the exact tools but they are close enough.
- 18mm Birch plywood
- 12mm Construction plywood
- 18mm MDF
- 2x4 construction timber
- Oak dowels
- 1 inch Castors
- Pocket Hole Screws
- Plasterboard knife
- Ryobi Drill Driver
- Triton Impact driver
- Triton Drill Driver
- Milwaukee Mitre saw
- Right Angle Clamps
- Triton Track Saw
- Various Screws
- Milwaukee Tape Measure
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
- Safety Glasses
- Ear Defenders
- Trend 2 Air Stealth Face Mask
- Makita Forstner bit
- Axminster Craft Band saw
- Triton Tripod Multi stand
- Triton Belt sander
- Ryobi Random Orbital Sander
- T Square
- Aldi Digital Angle Gauge
- Worx Sonicrafter
- Kitchen Door Handle
- Spirit level
- Nail gun
- Magnusson Profile Gauge
- Magnolia Paint
Note: If there is a link above it is an affiliate link. This means, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through & make a purchase.
Step 1: Making a Hole
After doing my research on YouTube and seeing what others have done, I had a rough idea of what the space behind should look like. I used a Stanley knife around the outside but ended up using a plasterboard knife to finishing cutting through. I tried to get the plasterboard out in one piece but that ultimately failed. Unfortunately, this meant I had to break through, I say unfortunately but it was ever so much fun.
As I suspected persimmons had left me some presents under there as well, I was honoured and speechless.
Step 2: Ripping Out Whats There
It was time to remove as much of the aluminum frame as needed. This wasn’t too bad apart from the one riveted to the floor. I had to use a crowbar and brute force to remove that one. The skirting was more challenging. The screws and nails were covered by the skirting board and plaster, I couldn’t undo anything. I needed to get this off in one piece as much as possible, I managed to pop the nails and rip the screws loose from the aluminum by deforming it enough. This left me with a much bigger space than I thought.
Step 3: Planning
To utilise the space effectively, I decided against doing multiple drawers or using drawer runners at all. With the small space that I had at the bottom, if I had put runners in, I would have lost space that I couldn’t afford.
In the end, I went for a whole drawer pull on casters. This way I utilise all of the space with minimal loss. By adding in strong oak dowels, I would be able to have 3 levels for shoes which would give us plenty to space.
I did end up changing the plan slightly, but I will cover that in step 4.
Step 4: Building the Frame
I built the frame using 2x4s that I picked up from Homebase. They came in lengths of a little over 1.5m which was more than I needed. I cut the sides to 860mm and the front/back to 620mm, this gave me an 860x740mm base.
I found out very quickly that this would waste a lot of space with the 18mm plywood on top. Because of this I changed the plan and turn the 2x4 on its side. The only alteration I had to do is cut the front/back down to 670mm, this would keep the footprint the same but cut the height down 83mm to 53mm. It doesn’t sound like much, but it made a lot of difference in the end.
I secured the 2x4s together with 80mm screws and attached it to the plywood top with far too many 40mm screws.
Once that was all done & dusted I added the casters to the bottom but inside the frame. This meant that they only slightly protruded which didn't add much to the height at all. Utilising as much space as possible was always the priority.
Step 5: Levelling the Floor
I had installed laminate flooring a few years back which meant under the stairs I had a drop of roughly 12mm to the concrete. This obviously wouldn’t work so I had to fill the gap.
I cut 12mm construction grade plywood to 800x870mm. It was a tight squeeze getting it in place and it took some…gentle persuasion to make sure it wasn’t lifting. I didn’t attach it to anything as the weight of the shoe rack and the tightness of the fit will keep it in place.
Step 6: Building the Under Stairs Store
This was surprisingly the easy part of the project. I started with the left-hand side and then the right.
The left edge is 100x860mm and the right is 720x860mm. Once I had these attached by, again far too many, pocket hole screws I could simply place it down on top of the 18mm MDF and trace the shape I needed. I was running out of 18mm birch plywood at this point which is why I swapped to MDF.
I had an offcut of nice ply which would fit the space I needed for the dowels. This would also cut down in weight. At this point, it is becoming a beast to move and I struggled to get it from the shop to the house to make sure it was all fitting still.
Step 7: Building the Shoe Rack
I consulted with the lady in charge and we decided 2 levels of shoes with the large flat bottom. This will maximise the space and leave room for baskets etc for kiddies shoes.
This is where I made one small mistake. If you ever decide to follow in my footsteps, I will give you one piece of advice. DO NOT use the largest pair of shoes to work out the spacing of the dowels, use the small ones. In my case, my wife’s shoes now barely fit and almost fall through. On the bright side, mine fit perfectly!
I didn’t attach the front section yet as it would be a lot easier to transfer the holes from one side to the other. I did this by placing the front section under the back and drilling into it with a 20mm Forstner bit. I could then use the starter holes in the other side to continue drilling through.
I used oak dowels over pine as I thought they would be stronger. The only problem is they were 22mm, I thought I could sand them down but this was proving harder than I thought. I set up a stop block on the bandsaw and shaved off 1m on each side by putting it through, turning it and putting it through again. This worked so much better than I thought it would. I got them in place and secured the front panel with more pocket hole screws.
Step 8: Adding Floor Guides
While test fitting I found that the unit wasn't going into the same place all the time. When thinking back this was obviously going to happen seeing as I didn't have anything to guide it back into place.
I initially used some 12mm ply same as the floor and nail it into place. This proved problematic as they weren't strong enough and either broke completely or the nail didn't stick. Because of this, I swapped it out for some slightly wider, about 15mm wide, strips of 18 birch ply. I screwed these into place rather than nail this time, I found this much easier and secured them much better.
This worked really well and the unit now follows the guides back into position every time.
Step 9: Making a Replacement Front
This took a bit of finesse as I needed it to be as close as I could without too much messing around.
I used a lovely bit of birch ply for the front which I planned on painting. I cut it 795mm wide, the left is 475mm high and the right 1200mm high. This gave me the angle that I needed between the 2 points to match the angle of the stairs. By doing it this way I know the whole space would be filled. I could then cut it to the 755mm width I needed, leaving the remaining offcut the perfect size to fill the gap between the new front and the wall.
I used a couple of shims to lift it off the floor so it wouldn’t catch while moving, I ended up taking 5mm off the bottom as it was still a bit tight. Once I had it in the right place, I used a few screws to hold it in place while I attached it to the back.
It was at this point that I added a handle to the front. I used a kitchen cabinet handle as it matches the ones we have already. I wanted to do a hidden handle but with the design the way it is I couldn’t work out a way of doing it.
Step 10: Attaching the Skirting Board
The hardest part of this was getting the plasterboard off the old skirting board. I was unable to find any replacements as they aren’t your standard skirting shape. There were so many nails and glue holding it on it took so much time to chip away at it I had to restart the camera recording twice.
Once I got it cleaned up and removed all the nails, I was ready to size it up. I measured it against the door and cut off the excess, which I could use later.
With hindsight, I should have cut the excess off the bottom, so it matched the rest of the trim BUT unfortunately, I didn’t. I lifted it so it wouldn’t catch on the floor, it doesn’t look too bad, but I regret not doing it properly. Because this is my own project and not a customers I thought it would be ok but I shouldn’t have cut the corner.
I nailed it into place with the nail gun to ensure it was nice and secure.
Step 11: Concealing It All
This was the interesting part. I needed to try and make it seamless, so it was not noticeable. I had the offcut of plywood from the new front panel which I would use to fill the gap between the wall and the draw.
Because the size of the drawer now brought the front past where the original plaster was, I needed to move the whole section forward. Before I could attach it to the wall, I needed to remove a small bit of skirting which was stopping it sitting flush. I used my Sonicrafter to easily cut away the excess. I learnt from past experience this was the easiest way of doing after trying to remove a section before with hand saws and chisels.
The off-cut was 40mm wide, this attached to the wall, would leave the smallest of caps. I used normal plasterboard raw plugs and 80mm screws to secure it. When it came to reattaching the skirting I needed to cut the profile out. I picked up a Magnusson profile gauge a while back but never used it. This was the perfect time to break it out. I placed it against the skirting and pushed so the profile was indented, I then took it to the bandsaw to rough cut out the shape. I needed to cut about 12mm off the bottom so it would fit with the new floor level and it fit like a glove.
I needed to fill the screw holes and seal the edge of the plywood ready for paint. Used 5 minute Polyfilla to do this as I have seen April Wilkerson do this in previous videos. It worked really well in the end and with a bit of sanding, it looked really good.
I then used basic magnolia paint that matches the house, It was so hot while doing this it dried so quickly I managed to get 3 coats done in one evening.
The next morning I used some white caulk to fill the gaps in the skirting and along the top and the project was done.
Step 12: Admiring My Work
When it was all said and done I am VERY surprised with how this turned out, it looked so much better than I had imagined.
Looking back on it now there are some things I would have done differently. Like I said the skirting, I should have done it properly. It wouldn’t have taken much to cut 10mm of the bottom for it to sit in the right position. The weight, this thing is a beast. If I had used 1x2s for the frame, 12mm plywood instead of 18mm and not used full pieces for the frame it would have cut down the weight dramatically.
I really enjoyed making this and testing my skills. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you did you might enjoy following me on social media:
If you decide to make something similar, I would love to see what you did with the space you have. If you have any questions please feel free to ask any in the comments and I will be happy to answer them.
First Prize in the
Secret Compartment Challenge