Entertainment center makeover

  • Article by: MARY BETH BRECKENRIDGE , Akron Beacon Journal
  • Updated: March 2, 2010 - 3:45 PM

The era of the flat-panel TV has turned entertainment armoires into the white elephants of decor. Try these ideas for retrofitting your armoire for other household uses.

Before unloading a television armoire on the curb, think about how it can still be used.

Photo: John Mutrux, MCT

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How can you give your outmoded entertainment armoire a makeover? Here are suggestions from cabinetmaker Rick Penta, interior designers Jennifer McCool and Carolyn Leibowitz, and woodworking enthusiast Matt Fox, who operates a home improvement website, www.MattandShari.com, with Shari Hiller, his co-host of the former HGTV show "Room by Room."

Home office-in-a-box

Use it to hide your computer and bill-paying supplies when they're not needed. (Often TV cabinets have a built-in power strip, which makes it easy to plug in your electronics.)

The spaces originally intended for media storage or extra electronic components might lend themselves to being converted into file drawers. Penta suggests adding a slide-out desk top or laptop tray, overhead shelves or even pigeonholes. (Check stores and online retailers that specialize in woodworkers' supplies for drawer glides and other hardware.)

Remember to allow for leg room, and make sure the desk top is the proper height for working comfortably. Most desks are about 29 inches high, and keyboard trays are usually a bit lower. But you can adjust the height to fit your needs.

Family command center

Cover the inside back panel of the armoire with corkboard for posting messages, displaying the family calendar and organizing school papers, suggests McCool. Another idea is to replace the doors with one big bulletin board, which could be hinged at the top to allow access to storage space behind it. A power strip could be used to charge phones, cameras and other gadgets.

Craft center

Putting in shelves where the TV used to be and lining them with boxes, baskets and other containers provides easy storage for craft supplies, said Fox. Removable tension rods or wooden dowels could hold wrapping paper rolls or bolts of ribbons. (Most gift-wrap rolls are about 30 inches long, so make sure your cabinet can accommodate them.)

The cabinet could become a mini-studio or a sewing center by adding a slide- or fold-out surface. Consider adding lighting, particularly if you want to use your craft center as a work station. Under-cabinet lights (either plug-in or battery-operated) could be attached to the underside of the armoire's top.

Bar cabinet

Add a rack for wine bottles and shelves for barware and liquor, Penta suggests, and a slide-out surface for serving. You might even line the inside of the cabinet with mirrors and add drawers to hold corkscrews, bottle openers, cocktail napkins and all your other bar accessories.

Leibowitz suggests placing a compact refrigerator where the TV once sat. (Most mini-fridges are no more than 24 inches deep and should fit easily.)

Wardrobe

Once upon a time, an armoire was used to store clothes. And it can again.

Garments hang well in TV armoires because they're usually deep enough to accommodate hangers, which are about 17 inches wide. You can add shelves instead, but because of the cabinet's depth, Leibowitz suggests layered storage. You could have a hinged section of shelves or drawers that opens to reveal another section behind it, much like an old steamer trunk.

To dress it up, add mirrors on the inside of the doors; valet rods (which extend perpendicular to the surface); and vertical jewelry storage, with hooks for necklaces and bracelets and a padded surface for earrings. You might even line the inside with cedar. (Planks are available at home-improvement stores).

Other uses

• Replace the door panels with glass and turn your armoire into a display cabinet with glass shelves and lighting.

• Create a vanity by adding mirrors, lighting and storage for makeup and hair accessories.

• Add shelves or storage accessories designed for closets to create a linen cupboard or pantry.

• Make a family game center or toy storage for a child's room. Consider coating the doors with chalkboard paint.

Conversion tips

Think about how you use the room where the armoire is located. Then consider what you need in that room and what's logical to store there.

Study the available space. Make sure the cabinet won't block heating vents, cold-air returns or door swings.

Measure the inside openings of the cabinet. Use those measurements when you shop for inserts, containers or hardware for the conversion.

TV armoires are typically deep. If you're adding shelves for storage, consider making them narrower than the depth of the armoire so things don't get lost in the back.

Enlist some help. You don't have to own woodworking equipment. Some cabinetmakers -- particularly small shops -- will cut lumber to the dimensions you specify and even add finishing details such as routed edges.

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