How to Fit Spandrel Panels
Fitting spandrel panels
Spandrel panelling is really just another name for the panels that can be fitted to fill in the area below the stairs and create cupboard space. Once common in older houses, cost considerations mean that it often does not feature in modern properties. Although this is probably one of the more complex projects featured in this site, you will find the attractive finish and extra storage space created ultimately makes the effort worthwhile.
Before starting on this project it is advisable to clear as far as possible the room of furniture and other items, in order to give yourself enough space to work comfortably. Also remove any floor covering in the vicinity and check and repair the subfloor, if necessary before starting on the panelling.
Use planed timber for all the studwork to give a neater appearance on the inside of the cupboard, and it should be high quality, since wood that is warped or twisted makes the job of getting the panel to lay flat impossible.
Tools for the Job:
- tape measure & pencil
- plumb bob & line
- fine handsaw
- cordless drill/driver
- pipe, cable & joist detector
- spirit level
- sliding bevel
- claw hammer
- small hammer
1. Hold a plumb bob and line against the open string of the staircase and, with the bottom of the bob resting just clear of the floor, mark reference points with a pencil at two or three places along the floor between the newel post and the wall. Join up the marks with a straightedge to form a reference line for the sole plate of the panelling. At the same time, plumb a line up the wall between this sole plate guideline and the outside bottom edge of the string where it bisects the wall.
2. If skirting board is fitted around the back wall of the stairway, it must be removed. Use a fine handsaw to cut the skirting board at the pencil mark you have just made and discard the section from under the stairs. Sometimes you can cut the skirting board in situ by easing it away from the wall. To avoid uneven cuts it is neater and easier to remove the section completely. You may then cut it to length and replace.
3. Decide upon the position of the cupboard door and mark this on the sole plate reference line on the floor. As a guide, an opening about 750mm (2ft 5/2in) wide and 250mm (10in) from the wall is about right.
4. Cut sections of timber to form the sole plate, using 50 x 50mm (2 x 2in) timber. Screw these sections to the floor with a cordless drill/driver, leaving a gap for the door at the point marked in step 3.
5. Before screwing into the floor check with a pipe, cable and joist detector that there are no plumbing or electrical services directly underneath. The timbers will need to be set back slightly from the sole plate reference line made in step 1 to allow for the thickness of the cladding. Use a scrap of 9mm (7/16in) ply or MDF as a guide to ensure a consistent gap.
6. Screw a timber upright to the wall below the open string. Again, keep this back 9mm (7/16in) from the reference line. You will need to fix the upright to the wall at three points 450mm (1ft 6in) apart, and fix it at the bottom to the sole plate, screwing at an angle down into the timber.
7. Screw another piece of 50 x 50mm (2 x 2in) timber onto the back of the open string, making sure that the bottom edge is level with the bottom of the string. Onto this last piece of 50 x 50mm (2 x 2in) timber on another piece of timber, set back the same 9mm (7/16in) from the edge of the open string as for the sole plate. This will be the string plate to which the uprights of the framework will be nailed at the top. Check with a spirit level that it is fitted straight.
8. Cut further studs from 50 x 50mm (2 x 2in) timber and nail them at 200mm (8in) centres to the string plate at the top and sole plate at the bottom. Make sure the outside edges of the uprights are aligned with the edge of the string and sole plates. Fit an upright on either side of the door opening, checking with a spirit level that these are fitted plumb. To draw the correct angle at the top, use a sliding bevel set to the same angle as that between the wall plate and underside of the string.
9. To form the head of the cupboard door frame, measure down 200mm (8in) from the open string on the longest of the studs that comprise either side of the door opening, marking this point with a pencil. Cut and fit a timber to form the head across at this point, checking with the spirit level that it is perfectly level. Fix the head section in place, screwing it to the stud and into the string plate at an angle. As you look at the door opening you should have a rectangle with one corner cut off.
10. Clad the outside of the frame with either 9mm (7/16in) ply or MDF. Screw it to the framework with 25mm (1 in) . Use a countersink bit to sink heads below the surface. Make sure that vertical joints meet on a stud. Fit a nogging behind any unsupported horizontal joints.
11. Nail 60 x 20mm (2-½ x 3/4in) timber around the inside of the opening to form a door frame, keeping it flush with the cladding. Fit skirting, architraves around the door frame, and a cover strip over the joint between string and cladding.
Tips of the trade
If there is room, you may find it easier to construct the whole panel flat on the floor, before lifting it up and screwing it into place on the framework.