How To Build Simple Closet Shelving

One of the first projects I had to finish on my own after Stuart started medical school again was installing our closet shelving in the Hurricane House so we could move our things in and establish a little bit of order to our chaotic lives. If I had been patient enough, I would have painted and done a cute design on the walls behind them before I installed the shelving but getting moved in took a higher priority at the time. But really, can you blame me?

Adding closet shelves is a very simple and straightforward project, and if you want to spruce things up a bit it can be done very easily! For now, I’ll show you the basics of building shelving and show you some of the other closets and things around our home I used this same method on.

Wall with baseboard

I started by measuring my closet and deciding how far apart I wanted to space my shelves. I used a pencil and a level and drew lines to use as a guide.

The material I’m using is a simple melamine shelf board you can buy from any home improvement store, although other kinds of particle board and MDF can be used as well. MDF will bow over time if your shelving is too wide, however, so the melamine is the stronger option if you’re planning to build shelving wider than 30″ or so.

Stud finder on wall

I first attached my boards to the wall using a level (always use a level, even if you think your pencil lines are straight!) and some brad nails, and then used my handy dandy stud finder to locate the studs in my wall.

Cleat on a wall

Once I marked the studs, I used my drill to screw in 2 1/2″ screws directly into the studs to support whatever weight will be on the shelves. Here’s a tip: drill some pilot holes first to make it a little easier to get those long nails buried deep into the wood! Your arms will thank you.

Here’s another tip: If you want to hide all those screw heads be sure to countersink your screws, which means to screw them in deep into your cleats so they can be fully covered and hidden with wood filler.

Shelf in closet

Next, cut your shelf to size and place it on top of the cleats. I like to attach it to the cleats using a brad nailer, nailing it in all around the perimeter from the top using 1 1/4″ brad nails.

Shelf in closet

And that’s it! Now time to start on your next shelf! If you wanted to take it a step further you could leave enough room to nail in a 2″ strip across the front to make your shelves appear thicker and to hide the raw front edge. Maybe someday I’ll go back and do that, but for now my priority was moving in :).

Here’s another tip, make sure you measure your next shelf AFTER you have your first shelf installed. Either that, or be sure to take into account the height of your cleats plus the 3/4″ melamine when you decide on the spacing of your shelves. That is, unless you’re leaving plenty of space on the top shelf like I did.

Closet shelves

See what I mean about how simple shelving is to build?? And the best part about it is that you can totally customize it to your needs.

The second-to-last step is perhaps the most tedious one, but will make ALL the difference when you go to paint your shelves (which is the last step!). Be sure to caulk all your seams, and fill in those screw holes with wood filler.

I never did get around to painting my shelves before I filled them because #priorities. But I will get to it eventually, and maybe then I’ll decide to make it cute. The most important part is that it’s actually READY for paint 🙂

Organized closet

I built the shelving for our office closet using the same method, but this time around I made them an L shape to utilize more of the space. As you can see, I attached cleats underneath the seam where the shelves turn to make them a little sturdier.

Shelf under sink

I also built an extra shelf under the sink in our bathroom vanity because it was so tall and there was so much wasted space around the plumbing!

Somehow I only managed to get blurry photos after we moved our stuff in but you get the idea. The space is being utilized so much more efficiently now!

And that’s it! Easy as pie. I hope I gave you enough information to go tackle some shelves like these on your own! If you missed it, check out our Home Renovation Update: Part 1 and Home Renovation Update: Part 2 to see all the work we had to do to add these closets to our 95 year old home before we could move in. Thanks for following along!



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