DIY Cheap, Chic and Modular




I live in NY and as you all know this place is very expensive. It's mostly a temporary city for people like me, we come, we get as much as we can and then we leave. My apartment it's furnished with Ikea products of course, but that doesn't mean I can't have a nice piece at home. I really wanted to design some furniture that would be easy to make, cheap and chic at the same time.

I went online and got Inspired by Amy Cunningham's interlocking design series. I tweaked the idea a little bit, so that it would work for my house and you could do the same thing. It's easy and very customizable because you can chose your own materials and methodology.

I haven't had much time to produce the final piece but I made a desk version that will show you how it looks at a smaller scale.

REFERENCE FOR THE DESIGN: Amy Cunningham's interlocking design series


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Step 1: Meassure Your Wall

As I mentioned before, this piece is very customizable and you need to design it for your desired space. Find the place were you envision it, and measure the total width and height of it. Leave about 10 inches for spacing from each side because you need to add the thickness of the material to the total width.

Now, it's up to you to decide how many modules you wish to have per row.
For example: If my wall is 6 ft W and I want to have 3 modules maximum per row, I will divide 6ft by 5 =  14.4 inches. The total size of each  module will be 14,4 inch x 14,4 inch

Note: Remember that the internal size of the module decreases depending on the thickness of the material you choose. If my modules will be made out of cardboard, this material will be thinner than wood, therefore I need to measure the thickness of it and take it into consideration.

For example: If the size of one module is 14,4 inch x 14,4 inch and I am using a 1 inch thick material, I will have a 12,2 inch module [(14,4)-(2)]

Step 2: Choose the Material

You have many options to chose from. Things you need to consider are:

How much material you need to buy?
How many modules are you building?
Can you cut it yourself or do you need a machine?
What material suits your apartment?
Do you want to paint it after?
Does it need to be water resistant?
What will it hold?
Is it too delicate for books?
How much weight can it resist?

Some options that could be used are:

$ Cardboard: Decorative shelves mostly
$$ Foam-cord: Very decorative, maybe flowers or light stuff
$$$ Wood: Great for books and heavier stuff
$$$$ Plexiglas or acrylic: very modern and minimalist but you need a laser cutter

Step 3: Design Your Module

As I mentioned before, I really wanted to make my own version of  Amy Cunningham's interlocking design series.

My modules consists of two types of shapes:
The four tooth shape and the five tooth shape.
Some modules will be made by the four kind and some with the five kind. For your own version you could add more teeth to get better support or decorative ornaments.

The height of your shape needs to be the total height of the module (14,4 inch) and the width will be the depth. For example if your modules will contain books and they are 8,5 inch by 11 inch you might want to give it a minimum of 8 inch width.

To design the top and bottom part make sure to divide the spaces correctly. Usually you would want to leave some space for a smooth assemble.The longer the teeth the bigger the square you'll get when interlocking. Be careful with exaggerating on the size of them, remember they will contain stuff and you need them be really stable.

Note: If there is something wrong with the design you've just made, don't worry because when we prototype in the next step you will find out what to keep and what to change.

Step 4: Prototyping

Before spending time building a  project you should always prototype with simple materials to proof the functionality of your design. In my case I had cardboard in front of me so I used that.

1) Trace/print the layout on a transfer paper and then print it to a sheet of cardboard
2) Cut the pieces with a knife
3) Glue the corners to make four tooth cubes and five tooth cubes
4) Wait for them to dry
5) Assemble them

If it's all working smoothly go to the next step. If you feel like you have to change something, go back and re-design the details. It would be nice if you could prototype it again to make sure, but it's a long process so I am not going to make you do that :)

Step 5: Laser Cuter

In my case I had the option of using a laser cutter. I copy and pasted my modules as many times as I needed in Illustrator (One layout of the four tooth pieces and one for the five tooth pieces). I then sent them to the machine and got them cut.

If you are doing it by hand: Print a life size version of a module in a transfer paper and trace it many times to the material with chalk or something that you could clean up after and cut the pieces.

Step 6: Assemble

Now that you have the pieces, all you need to do is glue them together the same way you glued the prototypes. This time you need to make sure how the material you've chosen works best. For example I chose Masonite to make the desk version so I used carpenter's white glue.

Make sure you make regular proportional cubes unless your design is made out of rectangles.

Tip: When you glue corner with corner one should be glued to the inside and then the next should be glued to the outside (Making that: two corners glued to the inside and two to glued to the outside).

That's all you need! you can now paint it or just install it as it is. Fill it up with pictures, books or whatever you want.

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    19 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Well, I doubt anyone will read this but here goes anyway. I just wondered, with the interlocking teeth, why not have the same number of teeth as holes (so one hole would have no side essentially) then the units could lock together and sit flat, with one going tooth up, the next hole up, if that makes sense?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I loved this design (I like modular things) so much that I'm redesigning so that it can be out together and lay against something perfectly level, and so that you can add on a little extra, maybe some other things... But I'm still working on it! Thanks for the instructable!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    For the DIYer to duplicate what seen elsewhere, and like has to be as old as dirt. For this not to have a place on instructables, the DIY community may as well pack away their tools.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    you do realize that most ideas on this website are hardly original, it's a website to show how to make things.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not sure what you mean "count" You can put pretty much anything on here, providing it's not illegal or anything, and you give the person credit, as she did. Maybe it couldn't be entered in a contest, but it can sure be here!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I have seen modular stuff like this going way back. First time I made something like that was as a kid. My grandfather, a master carpenter/electrician/plumber/mason/machinist............... taught me. He'd be 110 if he were alive today. Just saying I find it hard to think of her "design" as real original.

    That kind of stuff reminds me of "modern" designs from the 50's and 60's. In my humble opinion I think it is cool to see this instructable. Takes me back to when I made a modular wall unit for my bedroom to display my models, trophies, books and so on. Making it modular I could add to it as my collection grew.

    Denise Flasz

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi everyone! sorry for the delayed response, I guess winter break took over me :)


    Backing up Willrandship's reply (thanks), we designers tend to search for inspirations  to create new projects. Since this is not a commercial product nor something I intend to sell or make money out off, it's totally ethic to "re-design" the product. Although I speak of redesigning, I just used her idea as an inspiration to create my own version, and I referenced her while doing so. Instructables is about DIY projects, and I wrote about how to do an interlocking module yourself, in the same way people write about how to do tables, chairs, or even cameras.

    You can see the difference from my final desk version and her furniture, it's really different, and I am also suggesting people to modify the design to their own taste. Interlocking modules is a tendency that has been going on for a while, imagine Iamboox2 grandfather did it in his time. Stores like Ikea also do it, so it's not something the designer herself even invented.


    Thanks for your support and great suggestions, I believe the support it would provide really depends on the material you choose and how you chose to join it. The width and length of the material is also something important to consider. If you use a rigid piece of wood I am sure it would hold even books. Book you need to nail each corner of each module, so you have a solid structure. If you design the teeth of your pieces to be slightly longer, the piece will have more support on the middle when you interlock it, allowing you to place more weight in that area.

    Thank you all for your comments!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Would these be strong enough to hold any real weight? If they are, this could be semi-portable offices or such. Imagine missing a subway train or something, so you pop a few of these out of a backpack and make yourself a chair and table!

    Also, it might be a good idea to use a peg system, rather than glue. It would be stronger, and it would be disassemble-able. Desk turns table, turns wall, turns bed, turns chair!

    3 replies

    what is a peg system? 
    the stool or the coffee table seems easy to remake from mdf, too.


    9 years ago on Step 6

    Very nice idea, I like the simplicity.  Though, I am uneasy about only gluing the joints.. not much or strength if your going to load books onto it. Maybe more strength will be realized one the modules are interlocked.


    2 replies

     I would not trust the butt joints to take a load of books. In the original design the joints are mitered, as you can see in the alternate photo in the intro step. I think with good miter joints, nailing alternate teeth from opposite directions, they would become extremely rugged. Also in the alternate photo there seem to be fillers, or stiffeners, inserted in opposite corners. 

     I would not trust the butt joints to take a load of books. In the original design the joints are mitered, as you can see in the alternate photo in the intro step. I think with good miter joints, nailing alternate teeth from opposite directions, they would become extremely rugged. Also in the alternate photo there seem to be fillers, or stiffeners, inserted in opposite corners. 


    9 years ago on Introduction

    now , I am making a various kind of  boomerangs ,that is fanny. all are really come back. i want to produce sport boomerangs. and also i am very intrested  in  windpower generator  i have been make a wind generator about 10. but I am facing  some kind of difficult  that is electronic control and i cannot buy magnent   easly.  i want to studying about wind power . how can you help me.

                                                                                                             thank  see you,

    Denise Flaszcanida

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Canida! thanks :) they are quite easy too, if you make one please send me a pic I would love to see how they turn out!