How to Raise your Shelf-Esteem

Shelf #1

Welcome to the adventures of shelf install in the kitchen! This post was almost titled “How to break an easy, no-explanation-necessary project down into several illustrated steps.”

the kitchen before the new shelves went in

As you can see I’m not very good at taking actual [right] before pictures. The above left image of the sink is almost 4 years old (I can’t believe we’ve been here that long!), and the image on the right is about 2 years old. But, they both serve to illustrate the shelving issues in the kitchen. By the sink, there isn’t a convenient, sturdy place to store soap. When the dish rack gets full it’s impossible to reach soap all the way over on the little counter to the right. By the stove, the shelf installed by a previous tenant is useless–anything placed there gets covered in grease and out of reach. In order to keep things at hand, they have to occupy space on the tiny counter space to the left of the stove. In the new configuration, this space become usable as a working countertop.

Shelf #2

We’re all breathing easier without the nasty “look-at-me!” brackets of the old shelf, aren’t we?


I started this project Halloween weekend, first shopping for lumber and a mahogany-colored stain to match the existing un-painted wood in the kitchen. While our neighbors were applying glitter to their fairy wings, I was staining pine planks out back. Fortunately I managed to avoid getting any glitter stuck in the wet stain. This was my first time staining anything by myself, so I did my homework. Step 1: ask a random man in the stain aisle (no, not a store employee) if one should use a regular paint brush. The man will surely tell you that you’d be better off using a rag. It is best to use a rag to which you have no great attachment. Later, you will throw this rag in the trash because it will be impossible to clean; according to the label on the little tin of stain, it could even spontaneously catch fire if not disposed of properly. Step 2: phone your father (any knowledgeable, experienced stainer in the family will do) and share an in-depth discussion on the application of stain with said rag. He will go into detail about the instructions on the side of the stain can, placing emphasis on the importance of removing excess stain and avoiding drips for fear of an uneven finish. Step 3: don a pair of latex gloves, or similar, and get cracking. Allow the wood to dry over night.

positioning the l-bracket in relation to the shelf before attaching with screws

Now that the wood is dry and you are satisfied with the color, it’s time to get out the tool box. You’ll want to mount the L-brackets before attempting to attach the shelf to the wall, unless you happen to be an octopus. For the shelf above the sink, the positioning of the brackets was based on the edge of the sink itself and the edge of the small counter below. In the case of the shelf by the stove, the brackets are evenly spaced from the ends of the board. As you decide where to place your brackets, a measuring tape and a pencil will come in handy. You might even consider putting a T-square on your Christmas list if you are lacking one as I am, wink! I placed the brackets against each piece of wood on the floor and used the floor to make sure they’d be flush to the wall. This step is based on the assumption that the floor and the wall are actually level–in my apartment they are not, but it’s close enough. Once the brackets were in position, I used a set of bar clamps to hold them in place while drilling.

drilling pilot holes for screws in a board

The most important part of drilling is making sure not to go through the boards. You spent a lot of time staining them, remember? As I learned from Rod, the easiest way to do this is to wrap a small piece of tape around your drill bit that indicates how deep you want the bit to sink.

mounting and painting l-bracket shelves

With the brackets in place, it’s time to mount the shelf on the wall. You’ll need a level and your pencil again. Since I have only 2 hands (again, I’m a human–not an octopus), I don’t have any pictures of this part. Taking a tip from Anna of Door Sixteen, I painted out the bottom half of the brackets so the shelves would appear to float.

Everything in its right place.

Now that the shelves are in place, it’s time to put them to work. Give them a purpose, make them feel wanted, and make sure they feel pretty. As I said, the main role for the shelf above the sink was to give us a solid place to store soap. But, as you can see in the above images, there’s room for a bit more than that. I read recently that all decorating is part function, part display. I was thinking 100% display with everything that came after the dishsoap, but it turns out this open storage is also highly functional. Tom and I are actually using these pieces now that they’re within arm’s reach. That, of course means our pretty bowls feel useful again and these shelves feel pretty useful–esteemed, even.

Special thanks to the man in the stain aisle, my father, and Tom for contributing a second set of hands.


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3 comments on “How to Raise your Shelf-Esteem”

  1. Linda 22 November, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Point made and a wink back regarding the T Square. The shelves are good looking and useful. Great apartment therapy.

  2. Amy 27 November, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I love it when small changes make a big difference–especially in organization/utility. Also, nice tip you shared about hiding the bracket–a much cleaner look. Thanks, Martha!

  3. Kris 30 November, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Wow! I must say I am floored by what a tiny sink and stove you have, for all of your love of food and cooking. Kudos to making it work, and now, work even better.

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