northstory + co

Got pipes? Build shelves. The making of a basement kitchenette/bar. Part 1.

Blogging during the summer is an oxy moron.

How on earth am I supposed to be indoors on a computer when my kids are outside living it up on a slip n’ slide with their fifth popsicle for breakfast and I am sitting there with my ice cold smoothie laying down in the sunshine taking it all in after the most brutal winter Canada has seen in 50 years.

A computer? Indoors? What is this torture you speak of? The most computer “thing” I am supposed to be doing is lounging with SPF 30 on my iPhone liking all my friends cottage and beers shots on Instagram and pinning more kitchens to give me enough motivation to one day just demolish all of our kitchen cupboard doors that I can no longer stare at.

That. That may get me indoors.

So I looked to my husband James for help. And he looked at me with that face of “Do you mean to tell me you have nothing to do or write about? How about you write about the 100 projects we’ve already done that you have yet to take pictures of and post about? Perhaps the bar? The kitchen cabinet for the bar that you begged me to drive home in the back of our truck after you scoured Kijiji for months? The pendant light sitting in the closet along with the other pendant light that you’re making sitting in pieces? The home office in progress with the shelves still on the floor and nothing organized? The 50 IKEA picture frames that haven’t been filled with art and photos under our bed that have been sitting there for the past year to match the 10 new ones you just bought? The thrift store office desk we re-did? The office shelving unit? The new couch we bought this past winter…it’s July? The new rug we got? How about the whole damn basement Alex that looks nothing like it did when you first posted about it?”

He didn’t actually say that, his eyes did.

In which case I am getting off my chair in the backyard so I can finally write about this basement kitchenette. Or bar. It’s half and half. Has social media invented a name for this yet? The Ki-Bar? But there are quite a few things that have gone into this and it is still not fully finished as I will explain.

I thought however I would start with the thing that started it all. The IKEA VARDE cabinet. After going over one too many cabinet options for a potential base for the kitchenette (all of which were way too damn expensive) I went on Kijiji and found this one. It was over 10 years old and in very good shape for a very good price.

IKEA VARDE pre hack -

If you’ve ever seen the VARDE cabinets in real life they are big units and they can be quite dominant in a space. So we wanted to create shelves that would match it or at least hold their own against it.

We decided on pipes mainly because we’re partial to a bit of industrial decor and it complimented the vision for the space. Our basement is a walk out basement (meaning you can walk out the doors into the backyard from it), faces south and gets a lot of natural light. I hesitate calling it a basement (even though technically it is) because it feels very much like a living room space. We wanted it to be light, sunny and just feel like a cozy warm environment. So a lot of light decor colours have been used.

Now, building pipes shelves is kind of like the adult version of playing with Tinker Toys or K’Nex Building Toys. You find your elbows and tees and connectors, decide on your height and length for pipes for the space that you need and go from there.

We did it in an even more unconventional way. We chose our pine wood boards for the shelves – two, 6 foot x 7″ D boards – and then literally sat in the aisles of the home improvement stores online such as epoxy floors in California and many others.  While doing that we saw some fancy digital measurement tools and got to playing with them, they are so high tech and fun. I have to admit, when we got home from that trip, I browsed on sites like: and almost bought one. I really like being on the edge of the future with things like this.

And if you’ve ever bought parts for pipes you know the mayhem of that aisle. Half the time you pull out a piece out of a box and it’s the wrong size or diameter because someone before you pulled it out and couldn’t figure out where the 3/4″ box was and put it back in the 3″ pipe box. We had to go to two different stores just to find all the right lengths and sizes.

Shopping for pipes to make shelves -

Picking our pipes for shelves -

Once we got them home James put them together to so we could make all our marks on the wall for where flange (the round parts) would go on the wall.

Building Pipe Shelves -

And then it went like this. Put up the first bottom pipe shelf brackets.

Building pipe shelves Step 1 -

Put the shelf on the pipes, marked where the vertical pipes would go through the wood and drilled a hole in their respective marks.

Before this I should add I did protect the wood with an indoor clear Minwax Polyurethane, the same one I used for the filing cabinet desk for the girls room.

Building Pipe Shelves Step 2 -

Repeat for the top shelves. The height between the two shelves is 13″.

Building Pipe Shelves - step 3

Building Pipe Shelves Step 4 -

Pipe Shelves -

 Building Industrial Pipe Shelves -

Pretty easy right?

But here are the two important things you need to know when building pipe shelves.

1) If you are making deep shelves or ones that need to carry a lot of weight, this part in the photos below – your tee towards the back of your horizontal shelf bracket – is the part that your shelf sits on. Without it, your shelf will tilt down. Depending on your configuration you need to ensure that the back of the shelf has support like this. We wanted a matching look for the top and bottom shelves with the flanges in the wall so this is how we did it. If you are doing a floor to ceiling shelving unit, you can easily use an elbow pipe part for the back of each shelf for a more floating look.

3 way pipe tee that your shelf rests on -

3 way pipe tee to help your shelf stay in place -

2) You must and I repeat MUST ensure that your pipe fittings are secure and tight before you drill the flanges into the wall. This is especially important for each shelf layer as you go up. What happens if they’re loose is that when you drill the flanges into the walls, the vibration of the drill can loosen the pipes and have them subtly spin and you may accidentally drill them into the wall crookedly. We learned this the hard way and had to fix them.

So tighten the pipes. REALLY well.

Then the fun part. Break out the barware. Or kitchenware.

I know, I know. There are liquor bottles that are visible on our shelves. I don’t know if I’ll be shunned online for showing them or have guests come drop by for dinner.

DIY Industrial Pipe Shelves with light coloured wood -

DIY Pipe Shelves -

DIY Pipe Shelving -

And this is where we’re at with the rest of it. I like white paint, can you tell?

Basement Kitchenette - Bar featuring pipe shelves and an IKEA VARDE cabinet -

In Part 2 (which you can read by clicking that link) of the making of our basement kitchenette/bar, I’ll explain:

      • How we hacked the IKEA VARDE cabinet to put in a sink
      • Why that clock is stuck at 11:35 am and where we got it
      • Why you can see that extension cord in the wall
      • Where the beer crates came from
      • What happened when we changed the door handles
      • Why that white fridge is going to be moved in the future
      • And why my kids think this is their kitchenette. Definitely not their bar.


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  • Reply
    July 3, 2014 at 2:36 am

    It looks fabulous, Alex! I love how ingenious this shelf is – and it suits the space so well! Pinned!

  • Reply
    July 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Woah!! This is amazing!! (Hi Alex, remember me… it’s been so so long!). Yikes! You totally have my gears turning for a basement bar! I have an area on the third floor I’ve been thinking about installing a pipe shelf, but still haven’t settled on just the right thing yet, although I’m close… you might have just pushed me over the edge!

  • Reply
    July 3, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    What a wonderful space! Now I’m going to go put popsicles on my grocery list!

  • Reply
    July 7, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Those shelves are perfect for a bar, nice work. Can’t wait for part 2.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2014 at 10:47 am

    These shelves look amazing! I always admire the industrial look they give although I’m always unsure if I wanted to have it in my own home… But I always love it, when I see them somewhere used! 🙂

    Love, Midsommarflicka

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