DIY Custom Shelving for a Small Closet: Toddler Toys….Tamed!

One of the most bittersweet experiences a DIY blogger can have is completing a project, having it turn out really well, and knowing that the pictures of it are going to suck. Because it’s a small, dark closet. Sigh. It’s like I’ll have to derive satisfaction and fulfillment just from having done something in my house that will be attractive and useful for years to come or something.

Still, this was a really nice little project. I like the way it looks, it makes Abe’s closet 100 times more useful, and it was an easy weekend project (as in, we got it done during a weekend in which we also managed to do other, non-house related things, and it was not stressful or overwhelming).

Dave texted me after we cleaned out the whole closet, as he was taking the shelves down, to ask if I’d taken any “before” pictures. “oops,” I replied. So I don’t have before pictures. Except for this one of, like, one shelf that I took back when we first moved him into this room:

So there was just this one shelf on one side and then another shelf and a rod for hanging clothes under it on the other side. If you look closely, you can see a pencil line on the wall there, where it appears someone was planning to add some more shelves or something at some point. It’s a small closet (not especially small for a kid’s closet, since it is a walk-in, although barely), but it definitely wasn’t using its limited space to its fullest potential.

We toyed around with the idea of doing something amazing and fun in here, like a reading loft or whatever….and maybe someday we will. But for now we decided on using up all the available space for storage of clothes and books and toys, so that we could free up more space for super fun times out in the actual room instead.

(come to think of it, we could have stored all his clothes in here and avoided that whole dresser dilemma….but then we’d have no excuse at all to use either the mid century dresser OR the campaign chest. Which are pretty much neck and neck in votes, at the moment, by the way. There’s still time to tell me what you think, because lord knows I’m not getting around to painting a dresser right this second or anything).

So after we cleared all the stuff out of here, it looked like this:


I know I said it only had one shelf on that side, and I was telling the truth, even though you can see in this picture that there was space for two shelves AND two clothes rods. The house was a foreclosure, so there is mystery everywhere. Maybe they took some of the shelves and rods with them when they left? Anyway.

First off, we gave the whole thing a coat of paint (well, two coats of paint). The white paint in there was in rough shape, what with the penciled lines for some potential project that never happened and all. We have tons of BM’s Newburg Green around, since half the rooms in our house are that color, so we decided to go with that as a nod to the color Abe’s room used to be. And because it’s pretty and I thought it would look nice with the green.


There was no light in there, so next we installed this Foto pendant light from Ikea:


I’m showing you this picture from Ikea, because it’s really hard to get a good picture of it in the closet. It’s the kind that just plugs in, so we ran the cord along the doorframe and then along the floor to the nearest outlet under Abe’s window….I hear tell that one can buy an adapter kit of some sort so that you can turn it on and off without actually unplugging it, which would be nice.

And then the shelves! The system they had in place for the existing shelves seemed to be working well, so we just did more of that.

For about a second, we considered buying some sort of “closet system” from the store, but I was shocked at how expensive they were.

So, instead, we have 1x4s cut down to size for the brackets, painted them all (painting the wood brackets and the wall before hanging them up will save you tons of time), and then nailed them into the studs (Dave used a nail gun). Dave cut the edges at an angle to match the existing shelves, but, of course, that’s a purely aesthetic thing.

For the shelves themselves, we used 1x12s cut to length. We almost added metal brackets in the middle of each shelf for extra support, but decided it wasn’t necessary (we’ve been using one of the existing shelves for heavy books for a year and a half now with no problems or sagging). We stained them with Minwax special walnut.

We spent $9 each on the shelves (we bought 6, but we already had 2, so we spent $54, but it would have been $72 were we starting from scratch), $6.38 on a 12 foot 1×4 for the shelf brackets, and $9 on the dowel and the little dowel holder thingies. We already had the paint and stain on hand. So we spent a total of a little under $70 for everything….would have been a bit more if we didn’t already have some shelves and brackets to work with.

The beauty of this set-up, of course is that it’s totally customizable. Our goal was lots of shelves with spacing between that would work for books and toys. And we just needed the one bar for clothes, but we could have added two, or put them at different heights (and when Abe’s older, we might rearrange things so he can reach to hang his own clothes. Right now reaching his toys was a bigger priority). One downside to the permanent wood brackets is that it’s not easy to switch things out over time. We can remove shelves, of course, but we can’t move them easily. I don’t really see this being a big issue, though.

So here’s how it turned out!


The green doesn’t really look like that; I had to wash it out to get the closet to show up.


On this side, we hung the bottom shelf just high enough that we could fit his shoes underneath. And then we put two shelves he can reach on this side for toys. There’s so much storage in here that I still don’t have much of anything on the top shelves, even though his big toy shelf out in his room is nearly emptied out. We picked up the white plastic bins at Ikea….they were 9.99 for the bigger ones and 6.99 for the smaller, if I remember right.


On this side, the bottom shelf is higher (but still easy for Abe to reach), so that we could fit his laundry basket (and a basket of stuffed animals) under it. Then there’s plenty of room for all the clothes to hang above the toys, and two parent accessible shelves up above (so far they hold his diapers that he still wears at night).

And there you have it….your quick, cheap, and easy storage solution for a small closet in a small kid room.





DIY Custom Shelving for a Small Closet: Toddler Toys….Tamed! — 9 Comments

  1. I have felt your photo pain! I remember trying over (and over and over) to get good shots of the windowless bathroom we painted dark brown. I love projects like this closet. I know it’s not super-sexy, but good, functional storage that was built painlessly in a weekend is super-sweet.

    • This might be the real reason we haven’t even touched our one windowless bathroom yet…..or maybe it’s because I don’t want to deal with the awful textured walls they put in there.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks closet systems are ridiculously expensive! I love how his shelves turned out and I’m obsessed with that wall color. I may need to repaint a room just so I can have it somewhere in our house haha

    • Thanks, Katja! Right now, he’s still using it as a makeshift bathroom (he insists on keeping his little potty in there) 🙂

  3. It looks great!!! I always love all those closet kits until I choke down the price. I mean, seriously? And this is probably way more sturdy, too

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