Ugh. Wire shelves in linen closets drive me BANANAS. Everything constantly falls over and you have to strategically and carefully place every single item to avoid a domino of everything else on the shelf.
Rather than live in frustration and complete chaos all the days of my life, I decided to swap out the builder-grade shelves for some simple plywood shelves.
Building shelves in our linen closet is a win-win-win. First, I don’t have to worry about everything falling over and slipping through the wire shelves.
Second, these plywood shelves are SO pretty. Seriously…I considered permanently removing the closet door once we were done installing them.
Third, we got to add more storage (and who doesn’t need more storage). Instead of sticking with the unoptimized spacing that was in our current setup, we were able to adjust the shelf spacing and add in TWO more shelves.
But if you’re happy with the current number of shelves in your linen closet, check out Within the Grove’s faux floating shelves tutorial. She covered her wire shelves with plywood to get a very similar look!
P.S. If you’re making really deep shelves or you’re going to be storing heavy item, this closet shelving option is the way to go. Today’s tutorial is best suited for linen or coat closets!
Alright, let’s start DIYing!
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What You’ll Need
How to Build Shelves in a Closet
First we’re talk about how to build these beautiful closet shelves, then we’ll talk about actually installing them.
STEP 1: MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE
Whenever you’re doing built-ins of any sort, it’s imperative that you spend time focusing on the measurements. Always assume that the space you’re working in is NOT square.
Start by checking both back corners of your linen closet using a speed square. If the walls line up with both sides of the speed square, you’re lucky! If your walls line up with one side of your speed square and not the other, you’ll want to account for that when making your cuts.
Once you understand if one, or both sides are unsquare, it’s time to get the measurements. I highly recommend using a laser measurer. Not only do they make measuring really fast, it’s also a lot more accurate than trying to read a tape measure.
Measure at the back of the closet, the middle, and the front (well, as far front as your shelves will stick out). It’s likely that your measurements will be slightly different from the back to the front. If they are, you’ll want to account for that when cutting your shelves.
Finally, you’ll want to take these measurements at a few different heights in the closet. I know it seems like overkill, but it’s better to spend the time doing extra measuring up front than having to cut down half of your shelves later.
STEP 2: CUT AND TEST
Grab your plywood and cut your shelves to size based on your measurements in step 1. It’s not unheard of that each of your shelves will be slightly different sizes. If they are, make sure to keep them organized so you know which shelves will end up where.
We cut the plywood on our shelves to be 15″ deep. This will make our shelves 15.75″ deep once we add a 1×2 to the front.
Before you move onto any future steps, take a minute to test out your shelves to see if they are going to fit how you’re expecting. Nothing’s more frustrating than getting everything stained and sealed only to realize it doesn’t actually fit and you’ll have to cut them down further.
Once you’re happy with the size of your shelves, cut your 1x2s to match the measurement of the front of each of your shelves. Then cut your plywood into 3/4″ strips. You’ll need a total of 3 plywood strips per shelf.
1 strip will be cut to match with width of your shelf. The other two will be the depth of your plywood – 3/4″.
STEP 3: ATTACH 1x2s to PLYWOOD
Apply wood glue to the front of your plywood shelf and then clamp a 1×2 so that the top is flush with the top of your plywood. Add a few nails to hold the 1×2 in place. Wipe off any wood glue that seeped out.
Remove the clamps and repeat with your remaining shelves.
STEP 4: PREP AND STAIN
Add wood filler to any nail holes and then sand your shelves with 120 (if needed), 180 and 220-grit sandpaper. Once your shelves are smooth, wipe the surface with tack cloth to remove any lingering dust, then apply pre-stain for the most consistent stain result.
Need help picking the perfect stain color? Check out our experiment of how 8 grey stains look on 7 types of wood.
STEP 5: SEAL
Once your stain has dried, take some time to properly seal your shelves according to the instructions on the back of your sealer can. We used Minwax Polycrylic in Ultra Flat because it doesn’t change the color or add any sheen.
Once you seal your shelves, I’d recommend waiting a few days to a week before installing them to avoid having towels that smell like stain!
How to Install Plywood Shelves in a Closet
STEP 1: REMOVE ANY EXISTING SHELVES
Remove any existing shelves and shelf hardware. Try to remove everything gently to minimize damage to your drywall.
STEP 2: PATCH HOLES
Patch any holes that have been left from previous shelves and hardware. We like to apply 2 coats of spackling when patching larger holes. After the spackling is dry, sand it smooth and paint the patches to match the rest of your closet.
STEP 3: MARK STUDS
Mark each stud along the back and sides of your closet. Since you just painted, I recommend using tape to mark your studs rather than a pencil.
STEP 4: DETERMINE SPACING
Decide how much space you would like between each of your shelves. We placed our bottom shelf 16″ from the floor and then placed the support boards 11.5″ apart from each other. This will make the top of one shelf 12″ from the bottom of the 1×2 of the shelf above it.
STEP 5: INSTALL SUPPORT BOARDS
We cut our support boards out of the sheet of plywood and made them .75″ wide. You could also use 1x2s or 1x3s for the support boards.
Start with the supports along the back and then move onto the side supports.
Measure where you want your first support to go and make sure it’s level. Pop a nail into each of the studs. If you can hit at least two studs for every shelf, you’re good to stick with that method.
If you’re unlucky like us and your side pieces are only able to hit one stud, you’ll want to add a drywall anchor to help hold things up.
Here’s the best method we came up with for the drywall anchors:
Line your side board up with the back support and make sure it’s level. While holding it level, pre-drill through your support and into the wall where you want the drywall anchor to be.
Remove the support board and add your drywall anchor. Then, screw through the pre-drilled hole just enough so that the tip of the screw is sticking through your support board.
Line your support board up with the back support board and so that the screw goes into the drywall anchor. Screw the support board in and then nail it into any studs that it does hit.
If you prefer videos, check out our Instagram stories about this project.
STEP 6: ADD SHELVES
Slide your shelves onto the supports you just installed. We decided that they fit snug enough to not need any additional nails or fasteners.
If you feel like your shelves aren’t secure and might slide, pop a few nails through the top of the shelves into the support boards. If you do this, make sure your nails aren’t too long or they’ll pop through the bottom of the supports!
STEP 7: PUT EVERYTHING BACK
Before you start throwing everything back in the closet, take a few minutes to weed out the things you don’t really need or want.
Once you have things paired down a little bit, decide which things you want to group together and what shelf you want to place them on.
Then decide if you want to add any baskets to help keep things contained and organized. Baskets are a game-changer for good-looking, organized spaces!
There you have it! Now you know how to build and install shelves in your closet! Isn’t it incredible how big of a different some simple plywood shelves can make?? I used to dread opening this closet and now I sneak a peek almost every time I walk by (even if I don’t need anything)!
Want even more DIY shelf ideas? Check out our roundup of over 40+ DIY shelf ideas!