The biggest problem people have when replacing an old refrigerator with one that offers more storage is that "bigger" often means "taller". With more capacity (28-32 cu. ft.) new refrigerators can be as tall as 72" in height. For this reason, in many cases (especially with older homes) the refrigerator you fall in love with at the store just won't fit in your kitchen without modifications to, or replacement of, the cabinet above it.
This is the problem I ran into when the 30 year old Subzero refrigerator in our home had to be replaced - only in reverse - since removing an 84" tall refrigerator left a gaping hole where a cabinet would ordinarily go. The solution I employed was to build a simple box that, when trimmed out, became the "doorless" display cabinet pictured here.
If you run into this problem when replacing your fridge this is an easy build that doesn't require a lot of skill. Plus, doors are an easy add on if you want a full fledged cabinet above your refrigerator.
Step 1: Before and After
Just to be clear: sometimes a cabinet's facing can be trimmed (about 1/2") in order to squeeze the new refrigerator in place. However, if it's necessary to remove the cabinet and replace it with something shorter, whether it is another cabinet or a boxed shelf such as I chose, the process starts with removing the old cabinet.
The old cabinet will be screwed to the back wall and to the trim on the adjoining cabinets. Remove the screws and, with help, remove the cabinet.
Next take a measurement to determine the height for the new box/cabinet. The width of a full size refrigerator is generally 36" and cabinet depths are generally 12" (24" when the cabinets are floor to ceiling such as mine). Your new box or cabinet can really be any depth you want using my method. My boxed shelf was 10" deep due to the high electrical outlet placement for my old refrigerator.
Note: As seen in the middle photo, I had to install my unit with the refrigerator in place due to fact that I just had new hardwood floors installed and didn't want to keep moving it in and out.
Step 2: Brackets Support the Box You Will Build
Cabinets above refrigerators usually hold all the things you rarely need or use and, for anyone who is shorter, can be difficult to access. That's why I decided to build a display box instead of the cabinet. However, if your desire is a true cabinet, doors are an easy add on. Doors can be ordered from a number of companies that will match the other doors in your kitchen in style and color.
Whether you want a full depth box or not, using this technique means you only need minimal woodworking skills since the simple box you build won't be screwed to the wall.
The first step is to make a pair of brackets, as seen in these photos, to support the box. These are made from plain 1/2" plywood and are then screwed to the adjacent cabinets, or cabinet and wall if that is the case. (Note: if you are mounting one bracket to an adjacent wall be sure to use anchors to hold it securely in the drywall).
When mounting the brackets, make sure they are level by resting a level on the first (secured bracket) and the unsecured bracket being set in position. Don't drive yourself crazy trying to be too exact. Trimming out the box will hide any minor deviation in level.
Step 3: Build and Install the Box
The box is a very simple, basic build using 1/2" veneered plywood . Four sides and a back nailed and glued together. Just be sure and make the box a little smaller than the opening between the brackets.
Slide the box into position, add shims to secure it in place and then drive a few small brads through the box and shims into the brackets to hold the unit in place.
Step 4: Add Trim and Your Done
Trimming out the box is relatively straight forward as seen in these photos. By carefully choosing a stain to match your existing cabinets no one will ever be able to tell this "do it yourself project" wasn't a professional job!