Still Searching For Studio Cabinet Options (Considering Shelf Help)

Things are coming along on the home gym, and that means that I’m inching closer and closer to the start of the studio project. The biggest (and most overwhelming) part of finishing my studio will be building the cabinets. That room is huge, and will require loads of storage to be a useful, organized, and efficient room for me.

I’ve looked at so many cabinet options over the last year, and I haven’t found an option that I really like. I’ve looked at everything from IKEA to various RTA (ready to assemble) companies. Nothing I’ve found so far seems quite right.

Then the other day, someone mentioned Shelf Help in a comment, and I decided to take a look at that. Shelf Help isn’t quite an RTA service. It’s just simply a company that will cut your plywood for your project and ship it to you. That’s it. They don’t provide face frames, crown molding, baseboards, any other trim, backing boards, doors, or drawer fronts. They only provide the plywood for the carcasses cut to your specifications.

I know from experience that the absolute worst part of any cabinet building project is going to Home Depot, picking out plywood, loading up plywood, bringing it home and unloading it, trying to wrangle it into place, and cutting each individual piece to precise specifications. It is so unbelievably time-consuming and back breaking. So this company’s service takes away all of that initial hurdle that usually goes along with any cabinet building project.

So I decided to use their design tool to design my cabinets just as I wanted them, and see how much this option would cost. I have three separate zones of cabinets that I want to build, so let’s start with…

The Cabinet At The Room Entrance

This is the cabinet that will go on the left wall as you enter the room from the breakfast room. The cabinet will be almost 16 inches deep, 96 inches high, and 72 inches wide. Here’s the mock up I previous did with IKEA Pax cabinets…

Ikea Pax wardrobes for builtins in studio - entrance wall

The Shelf Help customizer tool allows you to choose how many bays (I chose three), and how many sections will be in each bay. I don’t know that this is exactly how I’d want it, but it’s close.

And then the next step allows you to visualize how it would look with crown molding, face frames, paint, etc.

You can even add door fronts. But keep in mind that they don’t provide any of this. This is just so that you can visualize how the finished project may look. They’re just providing the plywood for the carcasses, though.

That’s a pretty big cabinet, and the plywood for the carcasses alone comes to $775.00.

I have to admit that it’s hard for me to consider paying that much when I know that if I do it myself, it would be less than half that price. But let’s move on…

The “Office” Area Cabinets

These are the cabinets that go on the wall behind my desk area. These cabinets will flank a window, and I want deeper cabinets on the bottom, and shallower cabinets sitting on top of those.

Again, just so you understand where these would go, here’s the previous mock up I did using the IKEA cabinets…

Ikea Pax wardrobes for builtins in studio - desk wall

One thing I didn’t like at all about the IKEA option is that I really do want the lower cabinets to be deeper than the upper cabinets. I couldn’t find an IKEA option that gave me the look I wanted.

With Shelf Help, I configured the lower cabinets flanking the window to be 45 inches wide, 32 inches high, and 20.25 inches deep.

And once the drawer fronts are on, it would look something like this…

The upper cabinets sitting right on top of the lower cabinets will be the same width, but will be 64 inches high, and only 15 inches deep. (I see I entered the wrong depth, so I’m sure that would bring the cost down.)

This probably isn’t how those doors will look. They’re way too tall and skinny. But there will be doors on the upper cabinets.

Again, because these would flank the window, I’d need two of the lower cabinets and two upper cabinets. I’d need to reconfigure for the shallower depth on the upper cabinets, but it would be around $1682.50 for that wall.

The Front Wall Cabinets

And that brings us to the last zone of cabinets, which is the front wall (i.e., the wallpapered wall) of the studio. On that long wall (about 19.5 feet), I want one bank of cabinets at each end, and then a lower cabinet right in the middle.

Here’s the mockup using IKEA cabinets for this wall…

Ikea Pax wardrobes for builtins in studio - long front window wall

But I had the same problem with these cabinets as I did the ones for the “office” area of the room. I want the lower cabinets to be deeper than the upper cabinets, and I didn’t see any IKEA option that would provide the look I want.

With Shelf Help, the lower cabinets on each end of the wall will look something like this…

And with drawer fronts, they will look something like this…

Just like in the “office” zone, these upper cabinets will also sit right on top of the lower cabinets, and they will be a bit shallower, at 15.25 inches deep.

On this one, the visualizer allowed me to put just one door on each side. This has a cleaner look, but that’s probably not the final look I’d go for.

And then for the center cabinet, this would be the arrangement.

And with drawer fronts, it would look something like this…

So the plywood for the carcasses for that wall of cabinets would come to $1812.25.

So all together, for the plywood and having all of the pieces cut to specification and delivered to my front door, the price for the whole studio comes to $4269.75. In addition to that price, I’d have to purchase all of the crown molding, baseboards, lumber for face frames, doors and drawer fronts (or the supplies to make them myself), primer and paint.

Quite honestly, I can’t decide if that’s a good deal or not. I know it’s a ton of cabinets, and if I had them custom built, I’d be looking at probably $15,000, if not more. So with me doing it myself, and if I built my own doors and drawer fronts, I’d probably be looking at an additional $1500. (Maybe. I really don’t know. With lumber prices as they are, I find estimating so much harder than it used to be.) So I’d estimate that I could get all of those cabinets finished for a total price of $6000-$7000.

When I look at it that way, for that much storage space and that much cabinetry custom built to specifications, that price doesn’t seem outrageous. And it’s way less than what I’d spend if I paid someone else to build the whole thing for me.

But it’s so hard for me to part with that much money when I know I could do it myself for way less than half of that. At the same time, they would be doing the very things for me that are an impediment to me starting the project because it seems so overwhelming. Plus, it’s just back breaking work dealing with that much plywood when I’m working by myself. If I had a helper (as in, a husband who could do the heavy lifting for me or at least help me unload, carry, put things into place, etc.), it may not seem as daunting. But I don’t have that. I have a husband who is the biggest supporter and cheerleader in the world, but he struggles to use a TV remote, so he has no physical help to offer me.

What do you think? Would you do it?

EDIT: As I was just looking over these plans again, it dawns on me that I could save even more money by not separating the drawer bays into sections. When adding drawers, there’s no need to have plywood bases separating out the drawer sections. It can be one big, open bay for drawers. If face frames are used, that’s where the dividers are added for each drawer space. I’m not sure if that makes sense to everyone, but it makes sense in my mind. 😀



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  1. Contact a local cabinet store. If you have all your measurements ready, you might be able to buy the plywood from them at cost (which is cheaper and higher quality than Home Depot anyways) and they could cut it on their far nicer table saws after hours.

    1. I would go with this idea. It will put you further ahead, you will avoid burning out on the more mundane part of construction and there will be less hassle for you. It is well worth the money, as long as you are confident in their workmanship.

  2. I’m like you in that I have a hard time justifying spending money on something that I could do myself. But, I think you need to remember that your time costs money too. If you added up the time it would take for you to do all of that cutting and schlepping, and then estimated an hourly cost for your labor, it wouldn’t be nearly as big a price difference. That’s not even taking into account the stress of doing all that.

    So I guess this is a long way of saying, I think you should go for it and order the pre-cut pieces!

  3. I would do a small base cabinet first so I could see the quality & if it was a time saver before I committed to every cabinet.

    1. I wanted to suggest the same thing: start with one the plywood for one cabinet and see if you like the quality and how much their service helps you – if you find it worth it in the process….

  4. So I noticed you mentioned you looked at using PAX for the cabinets- These are just wardrobes so more limited in depths and heights. Have you looked at using the IKEA kitchen cabinets instead. Then you can get a deeper base and shallower uppers. There are so many different combinations you can do using those. They even have small drawers that can go in the shallower frame.

    I really like IKEA kitchen cabinets but part of that is I just don’t like face frame cabinets as I feel like it limits the amount of usable drawer space.

    1. I did look at IKEA kitchen cabinets as well. I don’t remember the specific problem I ran into with those, but I’m do remember there being a limitation that frustrated me and made me write off that option.

    2. I was wondering this same thing. But then I also wondered, if Ikea doesn’t have your base cabinets as deep as you would like could you maybe do a combo of both Self Help and Ikea? Use Self help for your lower cabinets, the deeper shelves being the bigger more difficult boards to maneuver. Then use an Ikea cabinet for the top? It’ll be an amazing room when you are finished.

    3. Was just coming to say the same thing about Ikea kitchen cabinets. They’re much more versatile than Pax (I have both in my home). I’ve heard there are stock issues, but they do have sales that make them more affordable.

  5. Seems like you could hire a helper (nephew, brother, local kid?) for less than that. But if it is worth your time and effort, don’t question it, just do it.

    1. That’s what I was thinking. I wonder how much someone on TaskRabbit or a handyman on Craigslist would charge to handle gathering all the stuff for you from HD and delivering it to your studio. Their overhead might be considerably less than Shelf Help’s…

  6. I’m all about throwing money at the situation to make it easier for you and to make it less overwhelming. In my mind, it’s worth the expense. Then you can get on to the fun part of making it look pretty sooner 🙂

    1. Totally agree. If you pressed order today, think of how relieved you would be that the worst part of the cabinet project would just come and be ready for you when you’re done with the home gym. The momentum alone going into the project is going to be a huge bonus.

  7. The amount of work you accomplish and the beauty of your finished products are amazing! I think you should give yourself a break and buy the pre-cut pieces. I don’t think you are saving that much money by doing it yourself and think of the time you will save to spend working on something more fun!

  8. I think it’s absolutely worth the money. Your pros and cons still heavily side with pro. Plus think if you order those, you will likely have a bit of time to do some of those fun projects in the meantime!

  9. I used Shelf Help for my laundry room where I added a wall for lockers, storage and drawers. It was floor to ceiling and different depths as you have. I loved how it turned out and was able to do all of it myself without any help from my husband. The plywood pieces do come banded, but only on the front side (FYI). No regrets here!

  10. Kristi. I would highly highly recommend that you check out Cabinet Joint (www.cabinet We have used their RTA FULLY customizable cabinets all through our home, with my hubby and I putting them together and installing them. There is NO up charge for custom height, width or depth and their customer service is exceptional. Cabinet Joint is a reseller of Conestoga cabinets in PA and not available to the general public. Painting or staining is done for you, and doors and drawers come in your chosen style.

    They also have all the trim a design needs to be complete. I realize a good DIYer could make the boxes, drawers and doors, but you’ll have to choose how you spend your resources. We didn’t want to spend 3-4 times for custom cabinets, but wanted a built-in look. This company delivered many times over. They deserve a look!

  11. Yes, it would be hard to justify spending that much money for something you could do yourself. But doing it yourself also costs: your time, effort, buying the wood, getting it home, measuring, cutting, etc. When you look at it that way, how do they compare? I’m guessing that the cost of getting the precut wood might be justified.

  12. Is it possible that your brother or a church friend would help you get the supplies? I get not wanting to pay so much when things are very expensive already. Are there any cabinet shops in town that would do the same for you? I’d be worried about their choosing the plywood and doing all the cuts right but for that price you’d hope they’d do all that right.

  13. Ana White is a big believer in Shelf Help, and has lots of examples on her site extolling their virtues, but there is still a ton of work needed to complete the cabinet – drawers, doors, paint, glides, etc. Cabinet Joint delivers a complete cabinet, the customer just has to put it together and install.

  14. I think a part of a project that is hard to calculate is the “hit the ground running” aspect. It’s the trips to the big box stores and lugging around, stacking, storing, wrangling, and tripping over, sheets of plywood, that add months and weeks and days to a project and make the dread almost insurmountable. Essentially, the most important part of building-it-yourself is the dealbreaker. So what’s convenience worth? Can you afford convenience? Can you purchase that kind of convenience for less from a local cabinetmaker?

    I’m not so sure there still aren’t options at Ikea that would work, like mixing kitchen uppers and closet lowers, or something similar. Even if half the cabinets were Ikea and half were custom, seems like a better investment than buying all the carcasses from a place that cut my plywood and charged a premium (because it really is expensive) to ship it to me.

  15. Just one question. You researched the cabinet options from IKEA but I don’t know if theirs are less expensive than they would be from shelf help. Assuming they are, are the dimensions for either the upper or lower cabinets available and could you buy the IKEA cabinets when the dimensions areavailable and the shelf help plywood for the ones that aren’t? I know you have used IKEA carcasses and DIY’d them. I’m sure you have thought of this but I am just curious. Seems like a combo might save time and money.

  16. That’s a lot of cash. Since you have a carport and not a garage, I understand the need for clean, climate-controlled space, so I guess that’s why you need a serious studio that offers plenty of storage.

    But maybe one way to reduce the cost would be to re-evaluate your layout. If what you are storing on all those shelves is lots of small items, can you minimize the number of shelves and stash those items in matching, good-looking containers?

    Since you are reducing duplication and excess in the rest of your home (the way you did in your kitchen drawers), perhaps you can scale back the number of units and still maintain the symmetry you like…somehow.

    Maybe back to the drawing board?

  17. I would do it, but I know its easy for me to spend YOUR money!! I would also probably make fewer, deeper drawers because I would want a place to put all my power tools and in general, I prefer a deep drawer.

  18. Hire some strong young lad for one day and go to HD and get the lumber you need. Don’t wreck your budget with the other way.

  19. Have you considered getting Ikea dressers to use as the base, so it would be deeper and then building shelves for the tops? I don’t know anything about building anything, but that might give you the depth you want.

  20. What if you order all three zones carcass and then focus on one zone at a time for the build itself? Also don’t forget what an hour of your time is worth. If you were a carpenter charging $60/h and this will take 40 hours by yourself, that time is now outsourced to someone else so you can do what you love.

  21. As my college son always says, “work smarter, not harder.” Your time has a dollar value. It costs you to put off a big job because it is daunting. You can get this project done sooner without risk to your back and then move on to developing more content or other projects which translates to more money earned via your blog. I say work smarter and utilize this great business! Just my 2 cents.

  22. Kristie
    No one has addressed the physical toll you will endure. Your health and well-being is precious! God forbid you injure yourself lifting and moving all this plywood. Could you possibly hire a bit of help from a strong person who would assist you in moving lifting and storing all this and have Home depo delivery help with getting things to your home? Cost isn’t the only factor you should be considering here. Any which way you are amazing to be taking Al of this on. I can’t wait to see the results!

  23. I guess what I worry about is hauling big sheets of plywood around by yourself and getting hurt. I still remember the drill episode where your hand got caught. It seems like there has to be some sort of solution to purchase some sort of ready made cabinets given enough research and networking. I know I don’t have a solution but I’ve had a lot of being told that what I wanted to do wasn’t possible but with a lot of grit and tenacity I made it work. Keep up the search.

  24. Kristi, you have given good points for both self-made and Shelf-help help. This is your forever home, correct? You have been going full bore for many years. In the long run, you are not going to look at your cabinets and think “I should have done it all myself for a few thousand less”. You will look at it and think “I got it done in much less time and it is beautiful and I did 90% of the work.”

    Another thing to think about: wrestling large pieces of anything is incredibly hard on the body. It just is. I have several injuries from moving (relatively) large trees and bushes and other things. Those injuries may heal to a major degree but sometimes not. If you are hurt or injured in any way, your family will suffer. My husband has been a DIY in everything for most of his life, moving just about anything anyway he could figure out to do it. He is now looking at his 3rd back surgery and is cannot walk from the bathroom to the living room without a cane. He is only 68 and back nerve pain is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    You need to take care of you just as much as your beloved husband. Would you consider a Go-Fund-the-Room option? I would be happy to contribute and I’m sure a majority of your readers would as well. We want you well and happy so you can continue to inspire us.

  25. Maybe start with the smallest cabinet using this service and see how it goes. If you like it and think it is worth it, then order the rest. If not, then you have lost just a little bit of money while learning something.

  26. If you decide to do it all yourself, including getting the shell lumber locally: maybe have them deliver it for $75 so you are cutting out the loading from the store part. Maybe they will haul it in where you want it, not sure.

  27. What are you going to put in all those cabinets? Do you need pull out shelves? Material/fabric dividers? I like the idea of just one solid shelf all the way across each section of shelves. That way you can see what you have in each area without having to open each individual door. Are drawers better than shelves? What about adjustable shelves? Lots of options. Do you have a friend who can help you wrangle with the plywood? If you do, Home Depot would be the less expensive option. I’m anxious to see what you decide.

  28. With your thoughtful process and fine tuning, the cost will come down even more. That’s a lot lot lot of plywood for cabinets. I don’t see how you could ignore this possibility. It would be a huge savings on your health and well being plus it’s a huge motivator. The big bonus is that you would probably be at least 6 weeks ahead of schedule to boot. If my vote counts, it’s a resounding YES!!!!

  29. I’m sure you’ve calculated the actual cost of the plywood itself. Subtracting that from the cost Shelf Help, that is the premium you’re paying for the cutting. Have you calculated the option of having HD cut the pieces you need? Locally here in FL, they’re charging $1.25 a cut whereas Lowe’s doesn’t. Even getting the larger pieces cut would make a difference in your ability to handle stuff and make it easier on you.
    I am planning the door and window trims like that famous gal in Texas did! Lowe’s will cut the 3 pieces 6″ wide off the top of each panel but won’t cut the 4″ side pieces. I went on a local FB group for our city looking for someone who could cut 78″ strips from the MDF. This was after I checked out prices on panel saws! LOL A retired gentleman contacted me and is willing to do the cuts for me. I do have a truck, Lowes will load the bits and pieces and I go to his house where this man has a large table saw. Easy peasy! He wasn’t concerned about any payment but I will pay him at least $100 for his help.

  30. I’d move forward with the big wall. See how you liked the process and quality. Maybe you could easily replicate what they did for the space behind your desk. Maybe keep the ikea option for the wall off to the side. I don’t remember if going the ikea route was cheaper or more expensive. Good luck, everything always looks great when you are done!

  31. Have you checked IKEA kitchens? Wardrobes are not the way to go, they are expensive – plus they are not designed to bear weight, and as you said, they don’t have different depths. Kitchens, on the other hand, have both of these.

    The other thing I was wondering was whether you could have ShelfHelp cut the big pieces and then split one of those into smaller shelves (which is nowhere near as intimidating a job), but I checked their website and they seem to be charging the same price regardless of how many cuts they do; though it might be worth checking again…

  32. Pay for it. No hesitation at all. You’ll spend that much in a year just refacing projects you’ve already finished, it’s just broken up into smaller bits.

  33. Please remember to factor in your time. Your time is valuable. The older I get the more I realize that just because I *can* do something doesn’t mean that doing it would be the most efficient use of my time. No matter what you decide, I’m really looking forward to seeing the progress and outcome!

  34. I would and for the reasons you just listed. The wood would be delivered and ready for you to start building the cabinets. The trim and doors could all be done later. It is a time and labor saver. You do beautiful work and you’re such an inspiration to so many of us!

  35. Are you figuring the cost of 3/4 inch, or of 1/2 inch plywood? I have many well made cabinets that are made from 1/2″ plywood. They are sturdy and attractive, but cost less.

  36. IKEA Havsta cabinets are deeper on the bottom cabinet plus they are made of wood. They come in standard white however you could in the future paint them. I have a wall of them and they do not look ‘Ikea’.

  37. We did a built-in in my office space and used kitchen cabinets (from IKEA) for the lower cabinets because I wanted them deeper…..just something else to consider (ha-ha!)

  38. Hi Kristi! Enjoy your site. How about doing it yourself ( for some reason I am skirmish about the saw to specs idea ) and hiring a helper for some strength? A teenager on weekends , neighbor’s kid. The hourly or day rate would be worth the savings of doing it DYI? Also, my local Home Depot will cut wood purchased from them at no cost. (I am in upstate New York)

  39. Try it for one (the cheapest) cabinet and see how it goes? Or rent a helper for a few hours to go to the lumber yard with you and help with the carrying from lumber store to truck and then into the house. Maybe a college kid who wants to make a few bucks?

  40. If you’re going to have two rows of drawers you do need a panel between them for the drawer slides. Just wondering if you have a cabinet shop in your area that could cut your plywood to size for you? When I first started woodworking I didn’t have a home shop so I had to lug all my wood to school to cut it down then lug it back home so I know what you mean, but I’m so frugal (sounds nicer than cheap) I would struggle through it. Maybe you could find someone who would like to learn woodworking that could help you in exchange for a chance to learn. Whenever I tell other women I woodwork they become so interested and want to learn how.

  41. Could you order all the lumber required from Home Depot, or wherever you get your supplies from and have it delivered to your back carport where it would be protected? Then you could build it out in the carport and bring it in on a dolly or hand truck when it is at the point it needs to come in. The weather is getting nicer out now. Have you priced how much lumber it would be and the cost? Just a cheaper, but harder choice. Or order just enough lumber to make a couple cabinets at a time.

  42. Just a thought, like most crafters/artist, you will probably want to use bins to separate your art supplies. You might even have your favorite bins already. Make sure that they fit in the “cubbies” you are making. If you’re planning to have two bins side-by-side in one cubby, make sure the dimensions of the cubbies are at least that size. I know as an experienced woodworker you probably know this, but I have seen it been off by a few inches too small and then you’re stuck.

  43. My goodness! All this cabinet space looks wonderful! I’m curious though – what will you be putting in them? You do a whole myriad of craft type things so probably those, but what about your construction items like the big miter saw, compressor, other tools of that sort? Oh, and all the wood – 4×8 sheets of plywood or the scraps. Will you keep those in your studio?

  44. It’s so wonderful that someone who already used that company gave you a review. That always helps. Unless your brother is up to helping you a few weekends picking up materials, and cutting the pieces, I don’t think it is worth it. It would be so much easier to be handling pieces already cut, and save you an enormous amount of time, while doing the basics part of getting that framework done…then you can work on all the finishing work that you are so excellent at, and can easily lift/saw. That plywood is so heavy and hellish to work on by yourself. It really is dangerous, and you could injure yourself and have long term problems like with you back. You are young, but when I was young I stubbornly did something that ruined my back, and it never is right. DO NOT hurt yourself…saving a few dollars can come back to haunt you…I tell you this from experience. Even recently, I made a stupid move, and my knee is now injured and has been bad for a whole year already. Please look for help, or give yourself a SMART break and spend a little more for the safety and convenience of it. No matter what, there will still be a lot of work to do. PS) The idea of trying just the one cabinet by the door is really good – you will invest less to make sure everything is up to YOUR standards.

  45. Kristie, I work for a large trucking company and was just in your neck of the woods setting up the “Final Mile” delivery for Home Depot. You can have your order delivered to the house, and if you request “threshold delivery” they will bring it into the home. Now, having said that, personally I would order from the company that you are looking at, but perhaps only a half or quarter of the full order. If you love the quality and ease, then ordering the rest is an easier decision. If not, you can do your magic and create exactly what you want. And hopefully it’s one of my guys that brings it to you if you do have to order your supplies.

  46. I can’t recall is you’ve considered this but you might look at IKEA’s kitchen cabinetry line. That would allow you to have the deeper bottoms and shallower tops. For that matter most of the big box stores have various lines of cabinetry that might save you the basic builds.

  47. I found shelves through American freight. They are bigger on bottom with doors. Top shelves are open but can be made into drawers. I decided to use baskets but later still left them open. They gave fiberboard, but have stood up for years and new ones matched.

  48. Could you just schedule a helper day? A day when your brother could come over for a few hours? Or you could hire a college kid from church for a few hours. You guys could buy all the plywood and make the initial largest cuts an then stack it under the carport. Then you’d have pieces which are more manageable on your own. It would take a lot a planning ahead on your behalf, but it would be a whole lot cheaper (even if you did pay someone for a few hours of help)