March 23, 2022  

DIY Closet Shelving | Replacing The Wire Shelf In Our Nursery Closet


Learn how to replace a basic wire shelf with DIY closet shelving. This built-in custon shelving adds tons of storage to any closet. Come see the DIY shelving I added to our nursery closet!

green closet with shelving filled with baskets and hanging baby clothes in nursery

It’s a dream of mine to replace the basic wire shelves in all of our closets with nice custom shelving. So when I was decorating the nursery last summer, of course I pictured a beautifully organized closet filled with all the cute baby things. A fancy closet system wasn’t in the budget but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head so I decided to DIY it!

And before you start thinking you can’t build closet shelving like this, you should know that I’m not some master woodworker. This is by far the largest DIY project I’ve ever taken on! I’ve done a smattering of beginner projects around the house and built up a decent tool collection in the process. But a full closet of shelving seemed like a giant undertaking.

I was about 8 months pregnant and had the rest of the nursery nearly ready, but I couldn’t shake the idea of building shelving for the closet. The clock was ticking but the nesting urge was STRONG so I pushed past the intimidation factor and jumped into my biggest DIY project ever with mere weeks left before baby’s arrival. And I’m SO PROUD of the closet I built!

If you want to build DIY closet shelving similar to this, keep reading to learn exactly how I did it. I’ll share the exact lumber and tools you’ll need, the specific dimensions of my closet shelving, and the full process. There’s a lot of info here, but my goal is to provide all the detail you need to do this yourself.

Learn more about our green boy nursery here:

Looking for more beginner DIY tutorials? Take a look at these blog posts:

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organized closet image with text overlay

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DIY Closet Shelving Before & After

Here’s the closet I started with. It’s a very standard builder-grade bedroom closet with obnoxious sliding doors and a basic wire shelf inside. The closet is 48″ wide so not huge but I knew we could make better use of it!

before photo of oak closet doors
before photo of empty closet with white walls, wire shelving removed

Before I begin any organizing or DIY project, I always start by assessing what’s working and what’s not. Some of the issues with this closet were:

  • The sliding doors made it impossible to see everything in the closet at one time.
  • The closet is located behind the door into the room so there’s just a lot of doors going on in this corner that makes the closet less convenient to access.
  • The standard wire shelving isn’t my favorite, especially in a kids’ room where you need storage for lots of small items and don’t really need that much hanging space for clothes.

And here’s how that same closet looks today. Mind you, I built that entire thing in the final weeks of pregnancy in the summer heat. Talk about nesting, right?! If I can build this while 9 months pregnant, I promise it’s doable!

green closet with shelving filled with baskets and hanging baby clothes in nursery
green closet with shelving filled with baskets and hanging baby clothes in nursery

I eliminated a lot of the issues with this bedroom closet by removing the doors altogether. To me, it makes the most sense to have easy access to a kids’ closet and not have to mess with doors opening and closing all the time. Plus, who are we kidding? Kids probably leave their closet doors open most of the time anyway.

We removed the doors from our daughter’s nursery closet when she was a baby as well and slid a full dresser into the closet. It’s worked so well that we still have the same setup four years later.

I removed the single wire shelf and replaced it with DIY shelving that gives us so much more storage! We still have the shelf along the top as well as a tower of small shelves I built in half of the closet. And by adding two hanging rods, I was able to keep the same amount of hanging space using just half of the closet (baby clothes are small, after all!).

Logan is 6 months old now and I’m still very happy with this closet shelving. It’s been so functional for us as storage space, plus it’s really pretty so I don’t miss the closet doors one bit!

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Built-In Closet Shelving Cost

I added up the total cost of materials and supplies and really happy with how cost-effective this closet shelving is!

Even with high lumber prices, it was just as affordable to build this closet from nice plywood as it would have been to do some sort of IKEA hack. I ultimately decided to go with quality plywood instead of the cheaper material of store-bought shelving.

Total Project Cost: $240 (approximate)

  • Lumber – $185*
  • Hardware – $20
  • Paint & Supplies – $35**

* I included the full lumber cost of the trim plus two large sheets of plywood but you’ll have about 2/3 of a plywood sheet leftover.

** I included the cost of half a gallon of paint since that’s approximately what was used for this project.

DIY Closet Shelving Design & Measurements

When I was designing the shelving layout for this closet, I spent quite a bit of time looking at closet layout ideas online. I wanted to pack a lot of functional storage into this small closet while making sure it would work well for a kids’ room for years to come.

I sketched out several different layout ideas using the Goodnotes app on my iPad. It came down to two concepts: one with cubbies along the bottom and a single hanging rod up top, another with a tower of shelves and two shorter hanging rods.

sketch of closet layout with cubbies along bottom of shelf and hanging rod on top
Option 1: 3 rows of cubbies along the bottom with a hanging rod on top
sketch of closet layout with shelves on one side and two hanging rods on the other
Option 2: shelves on one side with two hanging rods on the other side

I ultimately chose option 2. I think both designs would have turned out great, but I liked that this design gave me floor space to add a hamper and I can easily remove the lower hanging rod if we ever need space for longer hanging clothes.

Here’s my final design with all the measurements (note this closet is 48″ wide):

sketch of closet layout with dimensions

I’ve received a lot of questions about how I planned the shelf dimensions and spacing. The width is roughly half the width of the closet. And the depth is 16″ because you can get three 16″ boards from a 48″ wide sheet of plywood. I also looked at the dimensions of this DIY closet organizer for inspiration.

And I actually went to Target and measured a bunch of standard-sized bins and containers to make sure my shelf dimensions would work well with a variety of organizers.

Note: There are sooo many ways to build DIY closet shelving. Today I’m sharing how I did this project as more of a beginner DIYer using a basic set of tools. I’m also going to share the specific lumber needs and measurements according to my closet size. Keep in mind that you’ll need to adapt the measurements to fit your space.

Supply List For DIY Closet Shelves

Materials

Hardware & Supplies

Tools

How To build Closet Shelves

I did most of the building and painting in the garage before carrying everything upstairs and installing it in the closet. The whole tower of cubbies was built as one unit and then painted. I also cut and painted the top shelf and all the trim boards in the garage.

1. Remove Wire Shelf & Patch/Paint Walls

The first step is to demo any existing closet shelving and prep the closet for paint and installation of the new shelving.

We removed the existing wire shelf and patched the holes it left behind (I like this kit from DAP for patching drywall holes).

Then paint the closet walls. I chose to paint the walls and shelving all the same deep green color (Current Mood by Clare Paint).

You’ll also want to remove any baseboards so the shelving can sit flush against the back wall. I used my multi-tool to cut out the baseboards where the shelving would go and left the rest of the baseboards intact.

I also chose to remove the sliding doors and left the closet open into the room. You can do this project and still have closet doors, but I don’t mind this pretty shelving being exposed one bit!

This prep work left me with an empty closet that was freshly painted and ready for new shelving!

empty closet with walls painted green

2. Cut Plywood Parts

Start by cutting all of the plywood pieces for the tower of cubbies.

I planned the shelving to be 16″ wide and had Home Depot rip my plywood down into three 16″ wide pieces lengthwise. This will help with transporting the plywood home and save you some cuts.

The store’s cuts aren’t always accurate and I ended up using my circular saw with the Rip-Cut attachment to trim one piece a bit so it matched the width of the others.

Then I used my miter saw to cut all of the boards to size according to my cut list.

Here’s the cut list and a cut diagram:

  • 1 Top Shelf: 48×16 inches
  • 2 Tower Sides: 65.75×16 inches
  • 5 Shelves: 23.5×16 inches
  • 2 Back Wall Braces: 23.5×2 inches
cut diagram

4. Sand Everything

Before assembly, sand all of the boards smooth on all sides. Use an orbital sander and 180-grit sandpaper. Then follow that up with 220-grit sandpaper to ensure everything is extra smooth. Just be careful not to over-sand your plywood and do any damage to the veneer.

5. Assemble Tower Of Shelves

Each shelf will attach to the vertical shelf supports with eight pocket-hole screws. Drill four pocket holes on each side of the shelves.

Also drill pocket holes in each corner of the back wall braces.

*Don’t forget to set your pocket-hole jig and drill bit for 3/4″ material!

pocket-hole jig and plywood

Use 1-1/4″ pocket-hole screws to attach the shelves to the vertical shelf supports. Measure carefully to ensure your shelves are level!

You can space them however you’d like, you can see my measurements in this drawing below. I made the bottom two shelves slightly taller than the top three. You’ll also notice I left a gap below the bottom shelf to cover with extra trim later.

sketch of shelving tower with dimensions
plywood shelving being assembled in garage

These corner clamps were really helpful for holding everything in place and keeping it all square during assembly.

clamp holding plywood

After the tower is assembled, add the two back wall braces using 1-1/4″ pocket-hole screws. These make the shelf more sturdy and will be used to anchor the tower to the wall stud later.

*You can add wood glue to your pocket holes if you’d like. The shelf was plenty sturdy without glue so I skipped it–one less thing to do and it will be easier to disassemble everything in the future if needed.

3. Cut Top shelf & Trim Pieces

Cut the top shelf to size. Since I had Home Depot rip all of my plywood to 16″ wide, I only needed to make one cut on the miter saw to make it the right length. If you do need to rip your plywood lengthwise, I recommend using the Rip-Cut with your circular saw.

You’ll use your 1×2 and 1×6 boards as trim around all the front-facing edges of your shelving. You can pre-cut this now or wait and make your cuts as you install it in the room. I chose to wait on the cuts and just painted enough of the full boards.

After you’re finished cutting, sand everything smooth with your orbital sander and 180-grit sandpaper followed by 220-grit.

4. Paint Tower, top shelf & trim

Now it’s time to paint! Painting everything before installation will make it a lot easier. Do two coats of paint and lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper in between coats.

If you have a paint sprayer, this is a great time to bust it out! Of course, you can also use a paint roller and brush, but a sprayer is the best for a smooth finish and for getting into all of the cubbies. I highly recommend this Wagner paint sprayer.

painting shelving green with paint sprayer
painted shelving in garage
Emily standing next to shelving tower

5. Install Tower In Closet

Now for the fun part where you get to see your closet organizer come to life! Place the tower of cubbies in the closet and use shims to make it level if needed. I did not remove the carpet underneath because it seemed unnecessary to make such a permanent change to the room.

Anchor the tower to the wall by driving a couple of long screws through the two back wall braces and into the wall stud. I used two 2-1/2″ screws on each of the wall braces.

shelving tower installed in closet

6. Install Top Shelf

Next up: the top shelf! This is where the whole thing really starts feeling like fancy closet shelving.

The top shelf sits right on top of the tower of cubbies so the tower will provide support for the left half of the shelf. Use some of your 1×2 boards as supports for the other half of the top shelf, one along the back wall and another along the side wall.

Use a level to line up the supports and secure to the drywall with brad nails.

Lower the top shelf into place and use a few brad nails to attach it to the shelf supports.

7. Add Trim

Now it’s time to make this built-in shelving look extra professional by adding face frames along all the front edges. I used 1×2 MDF boards for this (which I pre-painted in the garage). I also used a 1×6 MDF board to trim the very bottom of the tower of shelves.

Use brad nails to attach the trim to the front edges of each shelf. I cut and installed these one by one as I went, starting with the longest edges. So first up, I attached a trim piece along the full width of the top shelf. Then I added the 1×6 trim piece to the bottom of the tower. Then I added two vertical trim pieces along the sides of the tower. And then I added trim along the front of each shelf.

Lastly, I nailed the old baseboards around the bottom front and side of the tower (these are the baseboards I removed from the closet in step 1).

nail gun attaching face frames
tower and top shelf installed

8. Fill Holes and Caulk Seams

Now it’s time for the finishing work! This part is tedious but very important in creating a polished finish.

Caulk all of the seams between boards and the gaps between the boards and the wall. I always use this caulk from Dap and smooth it with a baby wipe.

Then fill the nail holes with wood filler and sand them smooth.

9. Touch Up Paint

Use a brush to paint over all of the caulked seams. I really love this paintbrush for detail work like this!

Then use a quality paint roller to roll one final coat of paint over the entire project.

Emily holding nail gun and pointing and completed closet

10. Install Hanging Rods

The last step is installing hanging rods. Cut your 1-1/4″ dowel to the exact width of the opening between the tower of cubbies and the side wall.

I liked the natural look of the wood and just rubbed on a quick coat of light stain but you could leave plain or paint (though I would worry about paint getting scuffed up from hangers).

The closet pole sockets I found at Home Depot were white so I gave them a quick coat of black spray paint in the garage.

Install the closet pole sockets with the included screws and put the dowels in place to create two hanging rods. I used some kids’ clothes on a hanger to roughly determine the height of each rod but this is obviously completely customizable.

green closet with shelving filled with baskets and hanging baby clothes in nursery
green closet with shelving filled with baskets and hanging baby clothes in nursery
green closet with shelving filled with baskets and hanging baby clothes in nursery

Phew! That was a lot of information but I really hope it’s helpful if you’re considering doing something similar in your closet.

Like I said in the beginning, I still consider myself a beginner woodworker. But I have a few projects under my belt and have built up my tool collection to a point where this project went pretty smoothly. Though I will say I don’t recommend starting a project of this scale when you’re already 8 months pregnant.

I was super intimidated by this project and am so darn proud of myself for doing it! It turned out even better than I imagined. The best part was seeing my creation all finished and making it look cute! That was the ultimate nesting moment for me ;).

Click here for the full tour of our baby boy’s modern green nursery.

Looking for more beginner DIY tutorials? Take a look at these blog posts:

Have a fantastic day!

How To Build DIY Closet Shelving

How To Build DIY Closet Shelving

Active Time: 4 days
Total Time: 4 days
Difficulty: Beginner

Learn how to replace a basic wire shelf with DIY closet shelving. This built-in closet shelving adds tons of storage to any closet!

Materials

  • 3/4" Thick Plywood - 2 Sheets
  • 1x2 Primed MDF Boards (5) 8' Boards
  • 1x6 Primed MDF Board - (1) 8' Board
  • 1-1/4" Pocket-Hole Screws
  • 1-1/4" Brad Nails
  • Paint
  • Paint Roller & Tray
  • Paint Brush
  • Wood Filler
  • Paintable Caulk
  • Sanding Discs (180 and 220 grit)
  • Wall Repair Patch Kit
  • 1-1/4" Dowel (for hanging rod)
  • (4) 1-3/8" Closet Pole Sockets

Tools

  • Drill & Driver
  • Miter Saw
  • Circular Saw
  • Rip-Cut
  • Nail Gun
  • Pocket-Hole Jig
  • Orbital Sander
  • Multi-Tool
  • Corner Clamp
  • Quick-Grip Clamp
  • Paint Sprayer
  • Caulk Gun
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Stud Finder

Instructions

  1. Prep closet. Remove existing closet shelving, patch holes, and paint closet walls.
  2. Cut plywood parts according to the cut list. See blog post for detailed cut list and cut diagram.
  3. Sand plywood.
  4. Assemble tower of shelves with pocket-hole screws.
  5. Cut top shelf and trim pieces to size.
  6. Paint tower of shelves, top shelf, and trim.
  7. Position tower in closet and anchor it to a wall stud.
  8. Install top shelf.
  9. Add trim for face frames.
  10. Fill holes and caulk seams.
  11. Touch up paint.
  12. Install hanging rods.

Notes

These plans are based on my 48" wide closet with 16" deep shelving. You'll likely need to modify the dimensions to fit your closet.

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  1. Great job and when you add in that you 8/9 months pregnant – WOW. It really turned out so nice. These plans could be adapted a bit and used in almost any closet. Thank you for the how to at the end.
    Am interested in where you got the wood organizers that are on the shelves? Did you make them also?

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