I'm just going to be upfront from the beginning and tell you that these shelves took me an embarrassingly long time to install. I was like, "How hard could it be to put up shelves?" Well, when your husband is gone, your dad is 5,000 miles away, you are navigating a brand new hardware store in a foreign language, the new drill you bought is a total wimp and you have a lot of unrealistic pipe dreams about what your shelves are going to look like — apparently, sort of hard.
But that's why I'm here, because it should not be so hard for you. This is not a hard project — I just had a lot of learning to do along the way. So, I want to impart all the knowledge I learned to make this easier for the next person who has home renovation fantasies of open shelving. Plus, these babies were so worth it!
I was initially super hesitant about doing open shelving, but we didn't have too many other economical options for our place, and were in desperate need of storage. When we moved in, we had virtually no storage in our place. The first thing we did was put in secondhand cabinets and we had to buy some furniture from IKEA just to give us countertop space and a silverware drawer.
We talked about a lot of different options for storage, and at first, I was unsure of how I felt having all of our things on display — not behind closed doors like a good American. Open shelving can be difficult, and since we're newlyweds, we don't have a ton of really nice things — lots of items are hand-me-downs, or scrounged together just so we have something. Tyler was really into the idea of open shelving everywhere, but we compromised on the idea of open shelving just for dishes (no one is seeing my pantry!).
I also had a hard time settling on our shelving brackets — this was a big unit and we ended up buying 16 brackets in total, which can add up quickly. We splurged on the wood — a beautiful butcher block beech cut — so I wanted to save money on the shelving brackets. I had it in my mind that I wanted to spray paint them, inspired by a kitchen I saw with these colorful orange brackets awhile back, and once I found some copper spray paint, everything came together very nicely.
Now that they're up, I think I can get used to the open shelving life. It helped once I realized that we do have pretty cute dishes, and it was an excuse to buy a new set, of course. With some careful editing thanks to some open shelving tips, new bins and repackaging, I'm really loving the new look and all the new storage space we have. Plus, Teddy the cat loves them, too, and has begun his diabolical plot to rid the apartment of ceramics. No casualties yet, but I'm not holding my breath.
- Butcher block wood, cut to size by hardware store
- Wood stain
- Foam roller or brush
- Sandpaper — 180 grit
- Electric sander (optional)
- Metal L-shaped shelf brackets
- Spray paint
- Power drill
Completion time: at least two days
- Wood screws
- Combination or wood drill bits
- Masonry drill bits
- Plastic anchors with screws
- Hammer or rubber mallet
- Needle-nose pliers
- Concrete wall putty
- Pick out your wood and cut to size at your local hardware store or lumber yard. I cut ours to go around our refrigerator, and required six shelves from floor to ceiling at three different lengths.
- If the hardware store did not, you're going to want to sand down the rough edges of the boards. I used a 180 grit to make it smooth, and also went over any rough areas in the wood. Different woods may require different grits — these shelves are made of beech wood, so 180 grit was sufficient.
- Select your wood stain color. We went with a dark stain. If you're worried about the color, you can test it on the back side of the shelf, or a scrap piece from when you cut the boards to size. If you're using a roller, pour the stain in a paint tray and coat the roll lightly. Work quickly applying it to the wood, going in the direction of the butcher block long-wise. Be careful not to let the stain glob up around the corner. I did two light coats and set to dry overnight.
- While your wood is drying, you can spray paint your shelf brackets. I went with a metallic copper color, inspired by some Moscow mule mugs my sister's boyfriend got me for Christmas! I will tell you that I, initially, had a helluva time the first time I painted these brackets, as the paint would not stick at the highest point. But the second time around, I sanded that section (the middle part of the bracket that is elevated) down to the metal, and also went over the entire bracket lightly with the sandpaper, though without scratching the paint off. I then washed the brackets with soap and water, set them out to dry, and then easily coated them with two coats of spray paint. I also painted the tops of the screws that went into the walls, and for the higher shelves, the wood screws, so they didn't show up against the bracket. Let dry overnight.
- Once your wood and brackets are dry, you can get to work. If your shelves are less than 3 ft. long, two brackets on each side should suffice. If they're longer than that, you're going to need more support. Our longest shelf is about 5.5 ft. long, and we used four brackets spaced about 15 in. apart.
- Place the brackets on the wood in the desired location, making sure it will be flush with the wall (I used a book to measure this correctly). Using a pencil, mark the screw holes on the wood. Remove the bracket and using your smallest combination drill bit, drill a small pilot hole deep into the wood (pictured above). Make sure this pilot hole is not at the intersection of two of the butcher block pieces, as it can cause the wood to split.
- After drilling your pilot hole, place the shelf bracket back onto the wood and, with a screwdriver bit on your power drill, drill a wood screw into the wood to secure it. Repeat for all of the shelf brackets.
- Once all your shelf brackets are attached to the wood, you're going to need to make the holes to mount the shelves to the wall. Hold the shelf up flush to the wall, and after making sure it is level, mark the screw holes with a pencil. Take the shelf down.
- Using a power drill with a masonry bit for the concrete wall, drill into the pencil mark. I used a 1/4" bit for my screw, and only had to make the hole slightly larger to accomodate everything. After the hole is drilled, place your plastic anchor into the wall. If you accidentally drilled your hole too large — which is very easy to do with concrete, as it chips away so easily — just take some putty used for patching up walls, and coat the end of the anchor in the putty, and put it in the designated hole. Lightly hammer in the anchor if necessary to make it snug, and seal the surrounding hole with more putty, if desired. Repeat for all brackets and let dry for 1-2 hours. Protip: I also take a piece of paper and fold it into a funnel and secure it to the wall with masking tape under my drilling to catch all the concrete dust. Makes clean-up much easier!
- Once the anchors are secured into the wall, match up your shelf brackets to the anchors and, using the power drill with a screwdriver bit, screw the shelf to the wall. Repeat for all shelf brackets. Make sure it is flush and level, and you're set!
(Top to bottom, left to right) Cake stand: Walmart Cold coffee press: Toddy Vase: Thrifted Vintage shaker: Thrifted Eat sign: TJ Maxx Lemon carafe: Thrifted Glass vases: Happy Casa Cake stand: Target Glass pitchers: Happy Casa Food jars: IKEA White bowl: Target Napkin holder: Target Food containers: Target Zucchero jar: Thrifted Polka dot glasses: Maisons du Monde Cheers glasses: Crate & Barrel Mint thermos: Target Small bowls: Target Bird glasses: Thrifted Newspaper glasses: Grandmother's White plates and bowls: VBC Ceramics Green plates and bowls: IKEA Floral bowls: Target Blue bowls and plates: Target KC coffee mug: Raygun Teddy Roosevelt coffee mug: Fish's Eddy Red bowls Target Red plates: Thrifted Wooden crates: Thrifted