Why is cabinetry in the home expected to be built-in? When attending architecture school, I designed a rather inventive duplex where most everything was movable. This included the walls, the cabinets, the closets, and even a second story bedroom. Due to regularly placed pluggable drainage and snap on, snap off plumbing, sinks, bathtubs, and toilets could be moved. The walls were a steel mesh that allowed for hanging pictures and objects but a metal cleat system hung wall cabinets while kitchen cabinetry all sat on the floor as ordinary furniture with any backslash attached to the cabinets and not the wall without the need for special carpentry. One could change the entire floor plan. The number of bedrooms, bathrooms, or any room was only limited by the number of square feet of the structure. Since I still have the architectural drawings and plans for this duplex, perhaps I will include that in a future article because of the various space-saving ideas that would work in small or tiny houses.
One of the great ideas involved in the house mentioned above is the use of mechanisms to allow the movability of cabinets and storage. One such mechanism utilizes the French cleat.
The French cleat is a strong, simple wall attachment mainly known by those who run a workshop of some sort. Woodworkers, carpenters, auto shops, and all sorts of workers affix shelves and carpentry to walls making use of the French cleat. Why it is not taken advantage of in the home more often is beyond me but it permits cabinetry movement and flexibility in arranging.
The other great thing about the French cleat is how simple and cheap they are to make for those into DIY. Simply take a 1 x 4 or a long section of plywood and cut in the center at a 45-degree angle and voila! Attaching one piece to the cabinet and another piece to the wall and one has a system.
The top part of the cleat will connect to the cabinet, while the bottom will connect to the wall.
I haven’t bothered trimming the cleat to the width of the cabinet simply because that would be unimportant to the illustration. Also, normally one would only need a cleat at the top of a cabinet with a leveling piece on the bottom. However, if the cabinet will hold a lot and/or heavy objects, two cleats will secure the cabinet even more.
Wooden French cleats are not the only strategy. Metal ones are readily available at hardware stores.
Cabinets are not the only thing to work with French cleats. Shelves or anything meant to mount on a wall can utilize the French Cleat.
Now, as far as free-standing cabinets go, one can find them at IKEA and other modern furniture stores. As long as a cabinet is well-built, one meant to attach to a wall can be slightly modified and find a place on the floor not attached to a wall. Credenzas and sideboards will work as free-standing cabinets.
The following IKEA free-standing cabinets are used just as an example of what is available in many places.
Unless for safety reasons, a cabinet does not need to be attached to a wall and made a permanent fixture. For a small dwelling, the ability to move appliances, as well as cabinetry, gives an invaluable flexibility to account for changing needs and spaces. Sometimes, the best places to look for such things includes restaurant and office supply companies that aren’t wrapped up in conventional notions of what residential cabinetry is all about.