Weekend Project – Building Shelves in the Closet Under the Stairs

DSCN0583 A couple of weeks ago my wife asked if I could build some shelves in the closet that is under our stairs. The closet is pretty big (as most stair closets are) but was impossible to get into because it was filled with toys and other items scattered on its floor. In fact I think that I can term that closet “The kids closet” because it has mostly their stuff such as toys, jackets, back packs for school, and shoes. It is not like they don’t have walk-in closets in their rooms but for whatever reason they decided to take this closet over as well.

Anyway, to try to return some sanity to my wife I set out a couple of weeks ago and bought the wood and had it cut to build the shelves. I finally got the chance to build them this past weekend. It was a pretty easy project.

Getting Started

The basic idea of the shelves was to allow her to use some plastic tubs that we had left over from my son’s baseball team to organize the various toys and other items. I figured that the 3 middle shelves would be 10 inches high and the top and bottom ones would be about 12 inches. The shelves would also need to be 16 inches deep.

I went to Home Depot and picked up a piece of 5/8″ MDF for around $20. I had the guy cut it into 16 inch sections which gave me 6 pieces that we 16″ x 48″. This gave me enough for 4 shelves, a side support for the shelves, and one piece left over for other projects. I also bought 2 pieces of 1″ x 2″ x 8′ pine strips to mount to the wall for the shelves to sit on. The whole cost of the materials was around $30.

Routing and Painting

At home I rounded the front edges of the pieces with my router and then painted them on both sides. I also painted the pine strips as well so I would only need to do minor touchup paint in the closet (if any). Painting the materials in the garage was much easier to do then trying to paint in the closet and greatly reduced the “new paint smell” that would be locked inside. The paint also dries a whole lot quicker in the garage as well.

While the paint was drying I was finding and marking studs in the closet and my wife asked if it was to late to build some additional shelves all the way in the back right. I informed her that 5 minutes later and it would have been since the shelves that I was working on would have partially blocked that section. She kissed me and asked for 2 more shelves 2 feet deep in the back corner. I ran to Home Depot to get some wood.

Another Trip to the Store

This time around I got 3/4″ MDF since the span and depth of the shelves were greater. I had the MDF cut at 38 1/4″ and then had that halved (or so I thought) at 2 feet. After loading the cut pieces into the cart I noticed that one was wider then the other and went to the tool section to grab a tape measure. One piece was 24″ and the other was 25″. I measured the uncut piece and found out that the 3/4″ MDF is actually 49″ wide as opposed to 48″ – weird. I grabbed another couple pine strips and added them to my cart. Finally tally for this Home Depot trip – $35.

Once home I routed the edges of the MDF and my wife’s dad threw a coat of paint on the new pieces. While he painted I was back in the closet finding studs and mounting pieces of pine for the larger shelves.

Both sets of shelves went in without a hitch. It is funny that when you do work like this you discover how square some of your walls AREN’T. With the 16″ deep shelves on the left side there is almost a 1/4″ gap in the front compared to no gap in the back. Oh well, such is life. It’s a closet anyways, if someone complains about it I will just lock them in the closet until they rethink their commentary.


It was a cool weekend project that has brought some peace to our humble home. Total cost of the 6 shelves was right about $50 (I have 2/3 of the 3/4 MDF left) and took about 3-4 hours. The longest part was the painting but it would have been much longer if we would have tried to paint after they were in the closet.

My wife now wants some shoe racks for the kids shoes with the leftover wood. On to the next project…


Here are some additional photos of the finished project.

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