As you probably read in our post back in December, Aly and I recently became homeowners. For the first time in our lives, we can finally start doing all of those DIY home improvement projects we have discussed since we first started living with one another without fear of a landlord getting upset with the alterations we have made to the home.
Just recently, I asked Aly to write a list of all the project she would like to do for the house and was shocked when she submitted a seven page, massively bullet-pointed, and exquisitely detailed list of projects she has been mulling over since we first started renting our home back in 2014. I decided to pick the one that seemed like it would take the least amount of time and money and would also served as a daily visual reminder that we can do this. The closet bookshelf was the easiest choice.
I do not consider myself a handyman. I never took shop class, barely know how to use tools, and prefer more technically oriented repair projects such as building computers, diagnosing WiFi dead-zones, or fixing broken game consoles. So, to those reading this that are considerably more handy than I am, please do not hesitate to give me tips for future builds. This whole experience of improving our home will be trial and error and any advice is greatly appreciated!
At the top of our stairs, we had this small, unsightly closet that quickly became a catch-all for everything that really didn’t have a designated place in the rest of our home. Aly and I first discussed using it for coats or for any spillover from our linen closet but eventually came to realize that the placement of the two bars on the inside made it difficult to store the vast amount of winter jackets that Aly owns (seriously, this girl has like 40 coats.)
Before we could come to any specific decision on what to do with it, the bottom door suddenly had trouble closing all the way and would frequently pop open and expose the ugly wood paneling that adorns its interior. I tried repeatedly to fix it but discovered that the natural wear and tear of opening and closing it had destroyed its magnetic attachment and that the door itself was warped.
It was then that, during Aly’s countless hours of Pinterest browsing, we decided that we would turn it into a built in bookshelf. I spent a great deal of time staring at the closet and reading up on the best way to do the conversion. But I put it off for months until one day I had convinced myself that the original design I had conceived was most likely the best choice. And it really didn’t seem like I could screw this up. If I’ve learned anything from this relatively minor home improvement project, it is simply to go with your gut.
Materials & Tools
I’ve read a lot of home improvement blogs where they don’t specify two crucial things: the materials used and the total cost. I’ve tried to be as specific as possible about what was purchased but may have spaced on a few necessary things. Bear in mind that every closet’s dimensions are different so this will vary considerably based on the size of the closet and the number of shelves decided. For our closet, we had decided on four shelves (one of which makes up the base of the closet.)
- 3 – 6ft x 1in x 1/2in wood planks (used for shelf supports)
- 4 – 3ft x 3ft x 1/4in plywood squares (used for shelves)
- 1 box of #10 1-1/2in wood screws (I would recommend drywall screws if you aren’t screwing into wood paneling like I was)
- Medium-fine sandpaper
- Electric drill
- Electric sander (optional)
- Circular saw / handsaw (optional)
1. MEASURE: This goes without saying but MEASURE EVERYTHING. Before even planning this project, decide on how many shelves you want, figure out the size of your closet (ours was about 26″x 29″), and where exactly you will be placing your shelves. It also helps to figure out what color you want to paint the shelves before you go and get the materials. For our purposes, we simply matched the paint we used for the trim in our upstairs hallway to give the closet a more “built-in” feel.
2. CUT: After you’ve gathered all of your materials and before you leave the store, you may want to consider getting the wood cut for you (unless you have a circular saw or handsaw at home and prefer to do it yourself.) I had the Lowe’s employees cut the plywood shelves to just a few centimeters below my closet’s dimensions in order to give the shelves a little more wiggle room but only had them cut the wood planks so that they would fit in my car. I have a circular saw at home, so I simply re-cut the shelf support wood when I got home. It was way easier to do it this way but, should you not have the tools, most places will cut your wood for free – or for a very small fee.
3. ATTACH: Once home with all of my wood cut, I started attaching the wood shelf supports to the interior of the closet.
- I first pre-drilled two holes on both ends of the wood plank and then used my electric drill to drive the screw through the wood and into the wood paneling (this will most likely be drywall in your closet.)
- Once the first screw was attached, I used a level to make sure that I wasn’t drilling the supports at an angle and then attached the second screw. I initially thought I would have to use three screws per support but found that two more than sufficed.
- You can use two supports rather than three. I chose three for extra security since I wasn’t sure how much weight we would be putting on the shelves.
- After the first wood supports are attached, check that your plywood shelf fits in and it isn’t cockeyed or lopsided. If you are using the level before attaching every support, your shelf should be pretty even.
- Repeat 4 more times or until all supports are attached.
- NOTE: They do make metal shelf supports, or L-Brackets, that would have also worked for this project. These are a little more costly than wood and we were trying to emulate the natural look of the rest of the built in shelving in the house, and the wood worked best for us.
4. SAND: Now that all of the supports are attached, it is time to sand the plywood shelves. If you don’t have an electric sander, this will take a really, really long time. It is important that you sand because you don’t want the paint to come off when you are placing things on the shelf and, if you are using the shelves for books, you may run the risk of damaging the shelves or your precious books.
5. PAINT: While I was sanding and painting the plywood, Aly was upstairs applying the first coat of paint in the closet.
If you are painting over wood paneling, we learned the hard way that the natural oils can seep through the paint rather quickly (in our case turning white paint yellow.) Consider taking the time to properly prepare and prime wood paneling before painting over it. (More here.)
6. DECORATE: Once all painting is finished and dried, place the plywood shelves on their supports, stand back and appreciate your hard work, and step away so that your bae can excitedly decorate their new built in bookshelf.
As you can see, the new closet brightens up the hallway and offers a delightful peak into our personalities when you come upstairs.
The whole process only took about 3-4 hours to complete and most of the time was due to how long it took for the paint to adhere to the wood paneling and the need for a second and third coat.
If your materials are already sanded, painted, and ready to go before you do the installation, you are looking at less than an hour to see this project from start to finish. In fact, I only managed to listen to 3/4 of my newly acquired original mono pressing of Smashing Pumpkins Adore (one of my favorite albums!) before I had to go down to my basement to start sanding. This also included at least two beer breaks which were totally essential during the building process.
TOTAL TIME: 3-4 Hours
TOTAL COST: ~$60 (without paint)
Have you tried this project? In of need more advice before starting it? Drop us a line via e-mail or feel free to comment on the blog.