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From Awful Pantry to Awesome Bar Nook

It’s been a year now since I started this DIY blog. And looking around at our house since we moved in… Wow, I’ve done a lot. It’s hard for me to not see everything I haven’t done yet, but if I slow down I can appreciate what I’ve been able to do so far.

Which brings me to this project. It still might be my favorite change from “Before” to “After.” It was, I think, one of the first big challenges I tackled. It was absolutely the first time I took a hammer to our walls and realized my husband was nearly hyperventilating. 🤣

I’ve learned enough about sharing these projects on the internet to know that some people will say this is a waste of space and I should’ve just fixed the pantry and used it for a pantry. Those people have obviously not seen my new pantry!! But I understand that not everyone can afford to create a bar nook where they otherwise need storage. To those people, I’d still say this is a cool, customizable way to vamp up a closet/pantry. You could always add more open shelving (or baskets!) along the back or side walls. I briefly considered turning this nook into a produce station, making the counter a big cutting board with a hole to drop scraps into the trash below. THAT would be a pretty cool alternative, and if anyone tackles this project with the twist of making it a produce station, let me know!

My husband and I had delusions of being social and having people over regularly, so a bar nook made perfect sense! 🤣 Seriously though, this bar nook is great when we have friends over or host family gatherings. It’s a great, out-of-the-way place where everyone knows to find the beverages – punch bowls, 2-liters, cups, etc.

Anyway, here we go. Here is my house’s worst BEFORE picture:

BEFORE: kitchen pantry.

Yes, that is a curtain on a shower rod. It was there when we toured the house and even in the listing pictures. I admire their lack of shame, I guess. But this pantry in person had layers of problems. The lack of a door was only the beginning. The trim was also weirdly spaced with gaps. And see all those plywood shelves? They were rough, not even sanded, and stained from spills. The supports holding them in? Uh…let’s just say the installers had trouble finding the studs.

Still don’t believe me it was that bad? Here’s what that poor back wall looked like once I got the shelves out.

Holes everywhere!

At this point, I made the decision real quick to texture the interior walls. 🤣 There was no way I was going to fill all those holes and make it perfectly smooth again. But, with the curtain gone (I’m assuming you won’t have that problem) and the shelves out, I could now see what I was working with.

Supplies:

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Step 1: Remove pantry shelves. As you can already see from the picture above, this left me with a lot of holes. But, it was a huge first step and gratifying.

If your shelves are salvageable (a few of mine were), you can use the wood for other parts of this project. Or, use the wood for the base of an Elsa castle…hypothetically. 😜

Step 2: Remove trim. Before I could start reshaping the doorframe into the arched opening I envisioned, I had to rip out the trim/framing. I think the pantry had originally had a bifold door, since there was a bent track still attached. The placement of the trim also suggested this. Anyway, this all was not too bad to take off – I used a screwdriver and small crowbar to pop it lose and pull it free.

Step 3: Cut out an arch. FIRST, make sure your doorframe isn’t load-bearing. By looking at the layout of our house, I was pretty sure our bump-out pantry wasn’t load-bearing. Then I took the plunge and swung the hammer, made a decent hole above the doorframe (it helped that the trim was gone), and saw that there were definitely not enough studs to make this structural. 👍

With that all good… How did I visualize the arch before cutting? It helps SO much to take a picture and then draw your plan on that picture. That’s how I ended up deciding how high up to take my arch, and to what degree I would make the curve (more half circle or more half oval).

My stud-checking hole and drawn arch.

Side note: The main reason I wanted an arch was to add natural light into the nook. We have high ceilings, and all that empty space up there was pretty dark as well as kind of pointless. Also, an arch seemed like a good way to make this nook stand out from all the other doorways in our door-heavy house. Also also, I’d seen a lot of arches on Pinterest and thought they looked cool. LOL.

From there, I wanted to make sure this plan would be as symmetrical as possible – I didn’t trust myself to eyeball my arch cuts. So, I found the center point in my doorframe, marked it, then climbed a ladder with a level to mark straight up from that center mark, marking as high up as I thought my arch should go. I then cut a piece of string the length between these 2 marks, tied a pencil to 1 end, and pinned the other into the center mark of the doorframe. This allowed me to draw an even curve from one corner of the doorframe, up to my top mark, and down again to the far corner of the doorframe.

Since I had the string at the right length, I repeated this drawn arch on the inside of the nook, since obviously I’d have to cut the drywall on this other side too in order to make the arch.

With my arch marked, I now took a razor cutter and cut the drywall along my lines. I obviously wanted to save the drywall outside my arch. But, once I got all the way through the lines on my drywall, I was free to tear off the drywall inside the arch. This exposed a few studs, and these I cut away with my reciprocating saw – making sure to cut them flush with my drywall edges.

Drywall and studs out!

The crosspiece of the doorframe was particularly stubborn, and I made sure to wear gloves and pry off the metal corner guards first. I also tore off the “pretty” frame board attached to the 2x4s, figuring this would be easier than trying to cut through that too. Then I carefully used my reciprocating saw and cut the crosspiece flush with my drywall.

Once this crosspiece was gone, my arch was ready!

Looking right!

Step 4: Drywall the arch. How do you drywall a curve?! I wish I could credit whoever came up with the solution for this, but I have no idea where I originally saw it. I did find many more complicated and/or expensive ways to make an arch, but this way was perfect for my needs.

Basically, you take 0.5 inch drywall and cut it the width and length that you need to patch your arch. Next, cut it in half so you only need to make 2 slight curves rather than one major curve. Then, lightly wet down the back of the drywall strips. I used a slightly-squeezed-out sponge and wiped it all over the back of the drywall. Once my strips were wet but not soaked through, I lay them carefully over a pair of sawhorses that were close enough to let my drywall droop (and curve!) and also support them enough so they wouldn’t bend and break. If you find the drywall isn’t curving enough, wet them a bit more.

I gave the drywall a decent amount of time to curve and dry, then carefully brought them over to my nook. They were still a little bendy, so that helped me push them with my hands to curve exactly how I needed. I held one at a time in place and used drywall screws to screw them into the exposed ends of the studs that I’d cut in my arch.

I was delighted and surprised by how well this worked!

Step 5: Add corner bead. To finish the edges of my new arched opening, I took vinyl corner bead and ran it straight up both sides of the doorframe and along the arch. Keep in mind that you want to do this inside and outside the nook, on both sides of the former doorway, so buy enough for your needs. I think I used about 4 pieces that were 8 feet long.

For the straight sections of the doorframe, I simply held the corner bead in place and used drywall screws to secure it in place.

To make the corner bead bend for the curve, I used scissors and cut the sides every 3 inches or so, cutting only the sides but not the very corner where the 2 sides met and held together. The vinyl material is already pretty flexible, but cutting the sides makes it even easier to bend to your will. Literally. Once it was ready, I held the arch’s corner bead in place and again used drywall screws to secure it in place.

Drywall and corner bead on.

Step 6: Use joint compound to cover imperfections and create texture. If you want your walls and arch smooth, good luck. 🤣 I’m sure it’s doable, but I liked the look and forgiving nature of creating a texture over my screw holes, corner bead, and those two hundred holes in the back wall. Plus, it makes all that open space inside the nook more interesting. There are a lot of cool ways to texture joint compound, but this time I used a scrunched-up plastic bag and dabbed it all over.

How I made the texture.

I started with my newly created arch and worked my way inside the nook. For the arch in particular, I slathered on joint compound and covered my screw holes and corner bead, let that layer dry, and then applied another layer for texturing.

My arms got tired while doing all this arch-texturing over my head, and my littlest helper was thrilled to take a turn on the ladder while it dried. 😂

So excited!

Once I was sure I liked this texture, I then took the joint compound and tackled the interior of the nook. This may seem like a lot, but I didn’t go all the way down with my texturing, since I knew I’d be installing the built-in cabinet at about 3 feet. Below that, I simply patched the holes and let the walls be. I also knew I’d be installing a tile feature along the back wall, so I left that space untextured as well. (I admit I completely guessed for my tiles square footage, so of course I had to do a little more texturing later. 🙄)

Step 7: Tile and paint. I shopped a LONG time for the perfect tile because I have expensive tile taste. My trick this time was finding what I loved on Tilebar and then lucking out by finding the same at Home Depot for considerably cheaper. I still only bought a reasonable amount rather than going all the way up the back wall.

I followed standard procedure and used rapid-setting thin set to stick my tile on the wall. Then I used a white grout to finish it off. I ended up not going as far up the wall as I thought, so I had to add more joint compound texture above my tile. Oops. 🤷‍♀️ But all in all, tiling was a pretty easy step!

Texturing and tile on!

Once the tile was on and I was sure how much area it covered, I painted all the wall texturing with a “Swiss Coffee” white that matched the rest of the kitchen. It only needed one coat, which was helpful so I could quickly move on.

Step 8: Add wood feature. This was a pretty easy step as well, and I made it easiest on myself by spacing my 1x2s the width of one of my 1x2s. This meant that, after making sure the first piece was attached and level (I started from the corner), I could simply hold a 1×2 against that piece width-wise, put the next piece against that spacer, and nail it on. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I used my brad nail gun, which made this work really quick and easy. The only real work was cutting the ends at 30-degree angles for a cool effect.

Side note: I wish I’d gotten 10-foot pieces so that I didn’t have to match up shorter pieces to finish up to the ceiling, but it’s not that noticeable.

Going around the arch wasn’t as challenging as I feared. I simply held my spacer in place like I’d done for the full-length pieces, and then I used a pencil to mark the line of the curve where I’d need to cut. With my miter saw, this was easy enough to do, although it was a little time consuming considering how many times I went up and down the ladder. BUT, this way, I was sure every piece (16!) was just right around the curve.

I also applied my wood feature to the other little exterior wall where it was visible above the cabinet over our fridge. This gave the whole bump-put nook a cool look that distinguishes it from the rest of our kitchen.

Wood feature on.

Need a break? I did. LOL. Everything so far was the “pretty” work to get myself ready for the built-in cabinet. See the trash bins in the picture above? Here’s where I got to work building their home, plus a drawer for added bar ware storage.

Step 9: Build the built-in cabinet frame. Because our nook had little wings on both sides inside, I knew I’d have to build this cabinet in place. I’d love to say I had specific, professional plans for how I did it…but truthfully I got a bunch of 2x4s and went at it! It didn’t help that this nook wasn’t even close to square, so I measured each spot as I went and cut boards accordingly.

To start, I cut 4 legs of the same height for the interior of the nook. These I made slightly shorter than where the cabinet would meet the back wall’s tile, leaving room for top bracing pieces and the countertop. Then I cut 2 pieces that would connect the back leg, middle leg, and into the doorframe on either side. (The doorframe acted as the front “legs.”) I made sure these connectors would sit 0.75 inches back from the front of my doorframe. (This would give room to attach finishing pieces of 1x2s to make the ends prettier, and these 1x2s would then be flush with the exterior wall.)

Before I went any further, I screwed these pieces together. I made sure the placement of the 4 interior legs gave me room for the trash bins between them, and the 2 connecting pieces needed to be high enough over the bins that I could install a drawer on them without trouble.

So, first I held a small level on one connecting board and screwed the board into the doorframe at about 27 inches from the floor. I used 2 screws to make sure it stayed up and level where it ran back into the nook. I next positioned the middle leg piece against this connecting board and screwed them together. Then I could easily screw in the last, back leg. I repeated this on the other side of the doorframe with the opposite connecting board and legs.

Next, I measured between the back legs and cut a board to attach along the back. This I screwed into the undersides of the connecting boards against either back leg, and I made sure it was wide-side-up so I’d have room to attach my drawer slides on top of this back piece.

For a front brace piece, I did the same thing, attaching a board wide-side-up to the underside of the connecting boards. For this front piece, I also cut 3 shorter boards to help support the weight of the future drawer. These ran from the floor up to the underside of the front piece. I screwed these into the doorframe on either side and used the third like a “T” in the middle. I also cut a board for a “T” supporting the middle of the back piece.

From there, all that was left were the top braces for the countertop. I cut 2 boards that would run almost the full length from side to side of the nook, leaving them only slightly shorter so I could get them in place easier. These I screwed into the tops of my 2 legs on either side, and they needed to be as level as possible so the countertop could sit nicely on top. For the third top brace, I measured from one side of the doorframe to the other and cut that board. I did have to add little block supports that sat above the connecting boards on either side, and these made sure this front top brace was level with the other 2.

As you can see, none of this looked pretty. This was a learn-as-you-go part of the project, but you can’t see any of it in the final result, so oh well. And it is STURDY.

Cabinet frame done.

I moved on before I remembered to take a picture of only the frame, but this next step went fast to get those pullout drawer fronts on!

Step 10: Install the trash bin pullouts. First, I screwed scrap 1x4s to my existing floor so that the tracks would have something elevated to run on. (I planned to add new flooring in the kitchen, so I needed the clearance.) I made sure to space the 1x4s so that the pullouts would have room to do their thing while also being as centered as possible between my cabinet’s framing.

Once placement was determined, all I had to do was follow the instructions that came with my pullouts. I LOVE these Rev-A-Shelf pullouts, but there are other brands that make them. Their instructions are easy to follow, and I think it only took me about 15 minutes to screw down the tracks, attach the trays, and get the bins rolling.

The only thing I had to consider was again making the pullouts sit back 0.75 inches from the front of my doorframe – I needed room for the attached pullout fronts so they’d be flush with the exterior wall. However, even this was pretty easy, since I could hold the pullout in place and measure before screwing the tracks in place on my 1x4s. They even mention how to account for the pullout front in the instructions.

Tracks installed.

Step 11: Cut and attach the pullout fronts. All I did was measure how big each front had to be to cover as much as possible without crowding anything. Since these pieces of wood would be covered by 1x2s, I used my old pantry shelving and cut the 0.75 inch plywood to the correct sizes. (Waste not, want not, right?!) Because the wood was rough, I did lightly sand these pieces. Then, holding each in place, I screwed them onto the pullout’s front hardware. That was it!

Attached to pullout.

Step 12: Build and install the drawer and front. At first, I thought I’d buy a pre-made drawer. But the closest size to what I needed was pricey, plus I had the wood to make my own. This drawer was nothing fancy, and I simply measured how much space I had for length, width, and height before cutting my pieces and using my nail gun to attach them.

I cut the base slightly smaller than my drawer cavity, at 29×22 inches. Then I cut 2 pieces for the sides at 24×5. For the front and back, I cut 2 boards at 29×5. Then, like I said, I simply nailed them into a box shape 🤷‍♀️ Are there prettier, better ways to make a drawer? Probably. But this works.

My new drawer was HEAVY, but the pullout drawer slides I’d purchased were heavy-duty and up for the task. These slides I installed by spacing them evenly and then screwing the bottom slide into the cabinet’s front piece and straight back into the back piece. For the part of the slide that attached to the drawer, I slid the slides “closed” and then set the drawer in place, wiggling it around until it looked properly spaced. Then I opened my pullouts below and squeezed into the space to mark where the slide should be on the underside of the drawer. After crawling back out, I took the drawer out, flipped it over, disconnected the top part of the slides, and screwed them on where I had marked. To finish assembly, I held my breath, hefted the drawer back up, and wiggled it around until I felt the drawer slides click together. With a light shove, the drawer slid in place!

Underside of drawer with slides on.

A 1×6 worked perfectly as my drawer front. My whole design left wiggle room in how high the drawer front could be, since I planned to make my countertop’s edge hang down pretty far. So, all I had to do was measure the length – from doorframe to doorframe, across the drawer’s space. After cutting that, I sanded this board very carefully. (Not much had had to be pretty up to this point, and I was freshly nervous) 🤣

Step 13: Finish the wood feature on the pullout fronts. Since my pullout fronts sat flush with the front wall now, I could simply continue nailing on my 1x2s much the same as I’d done with the rest of the exterior wall. All I had to do was measure from the bottom of my other 1x2s to just below where the pullouts met the drawer. When I cut, I used the same 30-degree angle for the ends.

Also at this time, I cut 1×2 pieces to cover the ugly ends of my connecting boards. Remember how I set them back 0.75 inches? With these 1x2s nailed on the ends, these looked finished and nice when the drawer was open. This wasn’t hugely necessary but a nice finishing touch.

Drawer front and wood feature on.

You’d never know this hid trash and recycling, right?!

I did end up using my oscillating tool to cut out little grooves/pulls in the tops of the pullout fronts. It’s less seamless now but certainly more functional and easier to open.

Step 14: Create a countertop. If you’ve been following me a while, you might’ve picked up on my love of making epoxy countertops. Well, here’s where that started. I recently blogged a very thorough tutorial on how to create epoxy countertops – see my “DIY Countertops” post – so I’ll refer you to that for specifics rather than rehash everything here.

Short version, I measured and cut an MDF sheet to fit my wonky-shaped nook, made a bigger-than-normal edge, used wood putty to create a rock face edge, and epoxied the whole thing. Once it was ready to move, I carefully maneuvered it into the nook and attached it by 1 little screw from the underside. It fit so perfectly that it’s not going anywhere!

Countertop assembled and ready
First-time nerves!
Finished!
Curing time!

Step 15: Finishing touches. You can see from the above picture that I got a LOT more done while I waited for the epoxy to cure…and I stressed a lot about keeping little hands away and big husbands from setting things on it before it was ready. 🤣

To finish this nook, I added a long piece of 3/4-round that ran along the floor of the exterior wall. This helped hide the undersides of it all. It also helped hide my floor transition once I lay my new tile.

After that, I added a couple of open shelves along one side of the nook. These work great for tucking away liquor, plus the industrial brackets tie in with our new pantry’s shelving.

Quick and easy shelves.

See the stain on those shelves? I used the same stain on my drawer’s front piece (pictured below), and it’s the same stain as what’s on my kitchen island cabinets. I decided not to stain the interior of the drawer because it was pretty nice wood, and I like the natural feel. (Our shot glasses don’t seem to mind. 🤷‍♀️) I also added a brass drawer pull that matches the pulls of my kitchen.

Finished drawer.

Finally, all that was left to do was paint the exterior walls and wood. I also made sure to paint the quarter-round along the floor and any parts of the cabinet frame that showed when the drawer and pullouts were open. For paint, I used a really pretty “After the Storm” color. I needed 3 coats before I was happy, but I ended up loving it so much that I did this same technique to our vent hood.

After this was done, it was time for a drink! I absolutely love how this turned out, and I still kind of think of this project as my first house-project baby. I learned a lot, and the confidence I gained certainly helped as I moved on to tearing down the next walls. LOL. Sorry, hubby.

AFTER: Awesome bar nook
Accessorized!
Pullouts for trash and recycling

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