Once I’ve established the depth of the refrigerator cabinet, I complete a construction drawing for both the cabinet above the refrigerator and the side panels. I like to keep the clearance around the refrigerator as narrow as possible. So I measure the width of the icebox and add 1-½ in. to 2 in. to the width of the cabinet that goes on top. Manufacturers recommend a ¾ in. to 1 in. clearance around the sides, top, and back. Newer refrigerators have cooling coils on the bottom, so there’s no need for much ventilation.
I’ve built cabinets over refrigerators that run the full depth of the icebox—anywhere from 28 in. to 32 in. However, I’ve found that keeping the depth at 24 in. is more convenient. At that height, it’s
easier to retrieve things from a shallow space. A shallow cabinet also gives
the refrigerator breathing space.
Construction Is as Simple as Building a Box
No special construction techniques are involved in building the side panels or
the upper cabinet. Both the style of the built-in and the way the pieces fasten
together depend on the style of the other cabinetry. Depending on how much of
the sides show, the sides can display various raised or flat panels, or I can
use plain, edged plywood. Cabinet doors above the refrigerator typically match
the rest of the kitchen’s cabinet doors. If the top of the cabinet is still a
distance below the ceiling, I usually trim the top of the refrigerator built-in
with some type of molding. Otherwise, I match the cabinet molding to the crown
molding around the rest of the kitchen.
I use ¾ in. stock for the cabinet and side panels. I usually tack ¼ in. plywood
or melamine to the back of the upper cabinet. Side panels can be built with rails
and stiles applied to plywood to simulate rail-and-stile construction or with
plywood finished to match the kitchen.
Finally, Put It All Together and Fasten in Place
With the side panels, top cabinet, and moldings completed, I usually move the refrigerator in place and build around it. I level and scribe-fit the side panels to the wall and floor, then shim the top cabinet using the top of the refrigerator as a level base. Next, I remove the refrigerator and, from the inside of the cabinet, screw the top cabinet to the top of the side panels. I finish by applying the molding to the top of the whole unit.
I put a large piece of laminate on the floor, set the refrigerator on top of it and then slide the appliance into place. After the refrigerator is installed, I tilt it up and pull out the laminate.
Rex Alexander, a frequent contributor to Fine
Homebuilding and Fine Woodworking, builds
cabinetry and furniture from his home shop in
This article is excerpted from Built-ins and Storage From the Editors Of FINE