DIY shelf ideas - 12 ways to create and customise storage

Turn standard shelving and simple materials into something more stylish with these savvy ideas

spice racks
(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)

Shelving may not be the most exciting part of a home refurb, it's often more of a necessity. Yet these DIY shelf ideas might make you change your mind about that.

From pimping bog standard shelves to making your own designer styles on a budget, there's a host of easy DIY ideas that will encourage creativity and let you put your own stamp on storage.  

'Shelving is a great way to change up a room. It offers a distraction and breaks up plain walls, adding depth and giving you the opportunity to create a display or practical storage,' says Sam Baldry, head of design at Swoon

'Decide whether you want to make your own, or select ready-made options, just remember to use a spirit level - nobody wants a lopsided look!'

DIY shelf ideas

Add some personality and pizazz to your shelving with these DIY ideas.

1. Make a feature with ombre tones

ombre shelf

(Image credit: Future / Simon Whitmore)

Make a feature of displaying small objects with a set of circular floating shelves. To make items stand out paint the back and each shelf in ombre tones using paint tester pots. 

It's easy to buy circular pieces of plywood or mdf and have shelves cut that measure the same as the diameter and points equi-distance apart either side. Make sure the shelves are properly secured and can withstand the weight of whatever you want to display. 

Paint the middle shelf and sections either side in the darkest shade and wait for it to dry. Then use a paler shade for the next shelf and section either side, and another as the shelves get smaller. 

2. Copy a designer idea for less

wooden shelf with leather brackets

(Image credit: Future / Simon Whitmore)

Love the look of shelves suspended with leather straps? It's possible to make your own version at a fraction of the cost of buying them ready made.

Places like Etsy sell 1-metre leather straps for a couple of pounds, so if you have a wood offcut you could create your own version. It is important to ensure that the straps are cut to the same length and secured to the wall properly with hooks that can bear the weight of the shelf and its contents. 

Once you've placed the shelf through the straps and checked the overhang is the same either side, secure it to the straps underneath with a couple of screws. This prevents the straps from sagging below and will help keep it secure.    

3. Spray paint some sparkle on a bog standard unit

Rustoleum rose gold spray paint

(Image credit: Rustoleum)

These plain IKEA VITTSJO shelves have been personalised to better suit the space with Rustoleum rose gold spray metallic paint - a smart IKEA hack.

'Once you've assembled the frame (leaving out the glass shelves), wipe it down with a wet cloth,' says Emily Irving, senior product manager, Rustoleum. 'Make sure you're in a well ventilated place and protect your surroundings with a dust sheet or newspaper, then spray the frame with two coats of surface primer, leaving it to dry for at least 20 minutes between coats.

'Once dry, spray the frame with the Rose Gold Metallic paint, or colour of your choice, holding the can around 30 cm away and spraying evenly. Leave it to dry then put the glass shelves in place and stand back to admire your handiwork.' 

4. Repurpose bargain spice racks for beauty

spice racks

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Bradbury)

Bring spice racks out of the kitchen. They can do so much more than hold jars of curry powder and cinnamon. Here three inexpensive wooden IKEA Bekväm spice racks have been used to create a beauty corner. 

The top two racks have enough depth to hold hair products, makeup brushes and lotions, while the bottom rack has been turned upside down, so the hairdryer, hand towel and other items can be hung from butchers hooks. A genius solution for getting ready for under £20.

5. Create impact with colour drenching

Annie Sloan paint in Oxford Navy and Napoleonic Blue

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

Update the shelves on a drab dresser by drenching it in a colour that creates contrast and works well with the rest of your kitchen ideas.

'Bright pigment-packed shades are perfect for dynamic spaces like kitchens,' says paint and colour expert, Annie Sloan

 'Combining Satin paint, wall paint and chalk paint palettes, you can easily douse tour kitchen in colour for a dramatic look that's sure to get your creative juices going.'

6. Contrast the brackets

Rustoleum matt furniture paint

(Image credit: Rustoleum)

Turn basic timber shelves into something far more decorative by painting them in the same colour as your walls and securing them with contrasting brackets that stand out.

This pink and white shelf colour combo works well in offsetting the colourful cookery books, pot plants and pretty kitchen utensils.

7. Incorporate into a wall mural

shelf with mural

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Wall murals are a wonderful way to fire kids' imaginations but just because you've taken the trouble to create one doesn't mean you can't hang a shelf on that wall. 

A thin painted piece of plywood can be hung as a shelf at a height, where soft toys, ornaments and pictures displayed on it can become part of the scene. 

8. Wallpaper the back of box shelves

wallpapered shelves

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Box or cube shelves are an inexpensive way to display favourite items but to stop them looking drab, add your own spin by wallpapering the back, so it offsets your display.

It's easy enough to do, simply cut a small panel of wallpaper from an offcut and stick it to the base. Let it dry before you assemble the rest of the pieces and voila a personalised shelf unit.

'Old drawers or wooden crates can be used as box shelves too,' says Chantell Mapp-pope, co-founder or No 21 Bespoke Interiors. 'Painting them or wallpapering the back makes them more of a feature too.'

9. Blend into the background with colour

painted shelves

(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)

Plain white standard shelves can look a little, well, basic to be blunt. Yet it's super easy to stop that happening. 

These ordinary shelves have been transformed, just by painting them the same colour as the walls and clever banquette seating and cupboards below. It's a clever trick to make a small room look bigger as they subtly blend into the background and provide extra storage space. 

10. Transform an old pallet

pallet shelf

(Image credit: Future / Tim Young)

Making something from nothing is pretty satisfying. As well as the joy from saving a few quid and preventing waste, there's the fulfillment of a basic human need to just make stuff.

Not just that but each time you use the piece, you get a little hit of gratification from knowing it was produced by your own fair hands. 

We love this outdoor bar wall shelf, made from an old pallet that's been sawn in half and secured with hinges and chains, so that it can be closed when it's 'time'. 

11. Make to measure in a tight spot

shelf above window

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

A DIY shelf is a great solution for a tight spot in a small space, such as above a window. 

Simply buy a couple of heavy duty brackets and have a piece of timber or MDF cut to the appropriate width. Before you fit the shelf work out the available height too, so you know what you can store on it. Find storage baskets to fit so you can max out the space and keep clutter out of sight.  

12. Add hooks to hang jewellery

shelf with hooks

(Image credit: Future / Dominic Blackmore)

Struggle to find the necklaces, bracelets, earrings or other costume jewellery you own when you want to wear them? Or don't have time to untangle them when you do?

Adding a few rows of tiny screw-in hooks to a couple of floating wall shelves is a brilliant way to display and keep track of trinkets. As well as having everything to hand when you're getting ready, it prevents chains from getting knotted together. 

Is it cheaper to build your own shelves?

It is often cheaper to use old materials or offcuts that you already have. Although there are some very good value shelves available from the likes of IKEA, B&Q and DIY stores. The beauty with DIY shelf ideas is that you can make them your own. 

'Any old off cuts of wood can be repurposed into a shelf,' says Chantell Mapp-pope of No 21 Bespoke Interiors. 'A drawer front can be used if the drawer has broken, scaffold boards or even offcuts from fence posts by adding rope or brackets to hang it with.'

Painting plain pine timber planks to suit your room, adding some contrasting brackets or repurposing cheap racks is a cost-effective way to personalise your space.


Jacky Parker is a freelance interiors & lifestyle journalist, specialising in modern interiors, design and eco living. She has written for Future’s interior magazines and websites including Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home for over fifteen years, both as a freelance contributor and inhouse, with stints as Acting Digital Editor, Livingetc and Acting Style Content Editor, Country Homes & Interiors. Her work also features in national and international publications including Sunday Times Style, Telegraph Stella, The Guardian, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and more. With years of experience in the industry Jacky is privy to the insider view and the go-to places for interior inspiration and design-savvy décor.