The Impossible Shelf: 58 Inches of Storage

My last post was about how much I hate my kitchen and how I had finally found a way to make it a bit more tolerable. I am excited to say that it worked and I added a 58.5″ shelf to this space! Here is how I did it:

The Idea

It’s that time again: time to give Pinterest credit. I saw this shelf, or one like it, on Pinterest and my brain was off and running!

 This particular shelf has an awesome “How To” that also inspired me, but there is no way I could put 58+ inches of glass in front of my window (the cost alone was prohibitive) so I had to improvise a new plan. I did some research (everyones favorite!), shared the idea with Hubby, and he liked it, so I was off and running! I get to upgrade my kitchen! Always a good day!

Design

Next, I took measurements … So many measurements! I measured my window, my mouldings, the spaces around them, the space behind my faucet, the height of my faucet, the height of my cabinets, and everything in between. Then I measured my jars, their heights, their widths, their weights, and anything else I could think of. I also went around my kitchen (and my dining room, and my living room and my… ) and measured anything else I could possibly want to put on my new shelf.

An entire page worth of measurements in hand, it was time to draw up some plans.

Kitchen shelf plans

My plans always get wrinkled… Maybe I should take photos of them before I build? ;)

As you can see, I drew up a front and side view to show how the shelf would fit into my window sill with the supports. This was just a rough and when you see the after pictures of my completed shelf it will be obvious that I changed some things, but it was good to get the general idea on paper along with an idea of required materials.

Now that I had an approximation of the materials needed: I did some more research about what kind of material I should use to build it and cross referenced these with what was available. The easiest thing to use, especially considering that I wanted to paint it white, would have been some paint grade moulding. It comes in the desired dimensions and is cheapest. However, I have quite a bit of experience with that moulding, and had to accept that it wouldn’t be strong enough for this big of a project.

I ended up getting some appearance grade Hemlock boards and trim pieces. Total cost around $55.

I also invested in some fancy screws. These boards are quite thin (less than 3/4″), and I thought the extra length on these fancy screws would add support. These screws were perfect for the job. I drilled pilot holes before inserting each one and never had a split board (almost) or any trouble getting them in. This is important to me as I often have difficulty being strong enough to drive screws into studs or hardwood.

The Build

The plans drawn up, materials in hand, and it was time to start building!

Normally, when we do projects, I do the bulk of the research and designing, Hubby does the bulk of the building, and I do all of the finishing. For this project, I decided I wanted to do the building and told Hubby so. This was a relatively small and quick (not to mention light weight) project compared to most we have done, and he was okay with me doing it on my own. Though, he did end up helping me with a big ol’ snag I ran into, but we will come back to that.

The most important part of building this shelf was the supports and as most of the weight was going to be at the bottom, I decided to start there. After taking a careful measurement (5 or 6 times…) I cut and fit the first board into the window frame. I did pretty good :D At this point I did NOT attach anything to anything. I needed to see how it would all fit together, get it all attached to each other and then nail/screw it into place.

Next, I used some quarter round scraps we had to create supports for the next shelf. Then carefully measured the distance between the cabinets and cut the next board to length.

I put a couple jars up there to see what it would look/feel like. Not bad so far!

Then I did it 2 more times…

All the shelves in place, the next thing I did was attach a lip at the back of the two middle shelves. There is a good 2.5″ gap between the back of these shelves and the actual window. I didn’t want anything getting pushed back too far, sliding off and getting damaged or damaging the window itself.

I had purchased some super thin Hemlock trim that I then cut to length and used my nail gun to attach to the back. As you can see … I am not very good with the nail gun (another reason I wanted to do this project on my own: I needed the experience) and many of the nails went in at a bad angle and broke through the surface of the board. I trimmed off these nails and used a nail setter and hammer to press them back into the boards. I later puttied over these spots and sanded them down before I painted the shelf. You would never know there were once nails poking up from that board.

Next up was the supports. These are appearance grade boards, but like all wood (that I have encountered) they were bowed. This made it difficult to get an exact measure of how high to cut the support pieces. There was about an 1/8″ difference between each end of these lower two shelves so I cut all the supports the same length in the middle of those numbers (ended up 1/16 inch too high on one end and 1/16 inch too low on the other)

You can see the little gap where this end is just a bit taller

To make sure the spacing was right to fit my jars and maximize usable space, I went ahead and lined up all my jars, did a little math and marked where each support should be.

Making sure the jars fit

Marking where the supports should be attached

Note: I used the center of the window (not the center of the shelf) as a guide for where the supports should be, as there is more space between the window and cabinet on one side than on the other. I think it is much more pleasing to the eye/brain this way.  

Next I added in the supports for the second shelf. I did end up using some paint grade moulding scraps for these supports and regretted it … even after drilling the appropriate pilot holes, these boards split when I put my fancy screws in them. I lost about half a day filling these splits with wood glue and clamping them until it was dry. I also lost time sanding the glue flush/filling it with putty and then sanding (stupid crappy moulding….)

All my supports in place, I added some props to make sure it felt right before I attached them all.

I employed a similar method to find the best location for these supports by placing all six of my larger jars on the shelf and using the center of the window as a guide. I also added that cute little cube shelf bit because I thought it could use some more character. Love that little shelf. :)

Having triple checked all the support locations and carefully marking them (both top and bottom), it was time to attach them.

My supports: all cut exactly the same length

Gluing the supports into place and clamping them for a tight fit.

We don’t often use a lot of wood glue on our projects because 1. You should use clamps to hold the project in place while it dries and this often isn’t possible. 2. We are impatient. waiting for it to dry.

For this project though, I realized it really wasn’t possible or wise to start nailing/drilling these supports onto the boards (from the bottom side) and expect them to remain EXACTLY where I wanted them to be… So, I bit the proverbial bullet, glued and clamped them exactly where I wanted and waited and waited and waited…
Once they were good and dry I flipped them over and drilled pilot holes, inserted the screws and even got brave enough to add a few nails via the nail gun for good measure (no pop outs this time! GO ME!)

Once I had the supports attached to at least one board (the lower one), I put all the shelves back in the window, made sure the supports were standing up straight (I used a little drafting triangle for this and Hubby was both impressed and amused by that), I went ahead and attached the supports to the board above them. The three lower shelves are now one solid (and sturdy) piece that I can slide in out of the window together!

This is about where we ran into those snags I was talking about earlier…

First, this is where we all got sick. I am talking head cold of doom, don’t make me get off the couch, losing my voice and can’t breathe through my nose kind of head cold. All four of us. For about 3 days. GAH!

To complicate the head cold of doom, the kitchen is pulled apart and covered with tools (the MOST ANNOYING THING EVER when all you want is to make some stinking soup and get your butt back on the couch!!

AND I broke the garbage disposal….

That’s right, I broke it (for the third time in seven years … I should point out though, that I use it the most, so statistically, I would be the most likely to break it. Just saying (shrug)). I dropped some screws down the sink while I was working on the shelf and I thought I fished them all out, but I was WRONG!! One of them got wedged in there nice and tight. We took the whole thing apart and still couldn’t even get it to budge. So we got a new garbage disposal and added another $100 to the cost of this project! Grr!

The last snag, which Hubby came in quite handy for, was that this window, its frame and the cabinets are NOT level.

Seriously, the only thing level in this picture is the bottom window sill (I have a feeling the guys who installed this window a few years back, made sure THAT was level. I guess it was the least they could do…). Even those soft tops above the cabinets are different heights.

As much of a pain as it made this project, I really wasn’t surprised… Nothing in this house is level or square or straight (we’ve installed enough flooring to have fully accepted this…) We do know that the foundation of this house is solid, but overall it is just a smidge crooked. This is, mostly, because we live adjacent to a creek and the house is very slowly sliding into the creek as the soil around it is washed away. If this window is any indication, we’ve dropped about 3/8 of an inch in 40 years (assuming everything was level when the house was built). Not bad, considering we’ve had a major flood (Completely flooded the house on the other side of the creek) and a major earthquake since it was built. Even if the house dropped another 3/8″ in the next 40 years it would still be fine and we probably won’t be around by then to care anyway. (shrug)

Between the boards being bowed and the “non-levelness” of all this; it was a bit tricky to get everything to “acceptably level”, but Hubby is amazing and between adjusting a couple of the supports and then finally nailing everything into place we got it close enough. YAY!

Finishing

Once it was level and the shelves FINALLY nailed into place permanently (no more sliding it in and out to work on it), I puttied in all the nail holes, sanded them flush, and caulked all the seams to fill in any gaps or ragged edges created when I cut the boards.

Be warned: caulking the seams like this only works when you are going to PAINT the project! So many times I’ve wished I could use the caulking when I was using a clear finish on wood projects, but it just doesn’t work that way. Even clear caulking would fill in the gap, but you’d still SEE the gap and I doubt any Woodworker or Carpenter would recommend such a thing anyway. 

Before caulking

After caulking

Then I got to put on the primer! I used a good stain blocking, anti-mildew high quality indoor/outdoor primer as I know this shelf is going to take A LOT of wear when objects are slid on and off it. It is also going to take a beating from water as the sink is directly below it. I can testify to this as the window sill and moulding took a beating from water/food particles/general nastiness and had to be re-caulked and re-painted about once a year for the past 3 years or so.

I will also share that it took me almost a whole day JUST to get this thing primed. I was SO sick, but refused to just let the unprimed shelf just sit there! Not only was water and such getting splashed onto it every second it sat there unprimed, but PAINTING IS MY FAVORITE PART!!

I’d been waiting a whole week to paint this thing and no stupid cold was gonna stand in my way!! I earned it!! Now picture me sitting on the counter below this shelf with a paint brush in my hand, coughing into my shirt, sniffling, and generally just moaning in misery WHILE totally enjoying myself, Zenning out with my passion. (You can laugh and shake your head, I know Hubby did) What can I say? I am a complicated Goddess!

Primer is on!

I also had to get primer (and paint) onto the backside of this thing. Not only because my brain demanded that level of perfection or because the backside needs to be protected from water/nastiness, but also because you can see the backside of this shelf from my backyard. It would have looked horrible from outside and driven me NUTS. So, being the resourceful girl that I am: I grabbed an old make-up mirror and used it to see where I needed to add paint on the backside. (I suppose I could have opened the window, gone outside, gotten a ladder and seen and painted most of the backside from there, but I was sick and it was RAINING!)

Using an old make-up mirror to see where I needed to add paint on the backside

Tip: Using the mirror to see where I needed to add paint worked really well, but I found it a lot easier to NOT use the mirror when I actually applied the paint. I just saw where it was needed looked at the shelf (not the mirror) to apply the paint, and then used the mirror to check my work. It went a lot faster once I figured this out. Trying to apply paint while looking at the bare spot in the mirror was frustrating (it’s backwards!) and time consuming.

After two coats of primer I was finally ready to put the actual paint on! YAY!

I spent a bit of time debating about what kind of paint to actually use. I knew I needed to use an enamel vs. regular latex paint as it needed an extra hard finish to hold up to having things slid across it and to all the water/steam/food particulate and the like that would be splattered against it (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve splattered something like spaghetti sauce across half my kitchen…Then again my kitchen is small so half my kitchen is not “very far” LOL). I shopped around on the internet, read in forums and “how to” sites and decided to go with something I already had on hand.

Last year Hubby and I painted the exterior trim of our house white (it was this nasty brown color before: YUCK!!). We found this great exterior acrylic enamel made by Behr and it worked like a dream, was water based for easy clean-up, anti-mildew, long wearing, low VOC and easy to thin/add paint conditioner to for our paint sprayer and such. After double checking my research and asking Hubby’s opinion I decided this would be a good route and as I already had almost a full gallon on hand, a cost effective route too (trying to make up that $100 bucks I lost for the new garbage disposal…) Regardless of financial concerns, it was a good choice and worked perfectly. I am sure it will hold up for, at least, a few years and it looks great!

Note: I’ve read and heard over and over again, not to use exterior paint on the interior of your home. I have to assume that this advice is mostly meant for painting walls, doors, and the like, but I didn’t see any harm in putting it on my shelf. My particular paint was also low VOC (meaning it didn’t have much smell or fumes) and I kept the area well ventilated just in case. I have a lot of experience with paint so I was confident it would work. However, I recommend consulting a professional (just the guy that works at the paint store can be very helpful) before ANY painting project.

To apply my paint, I REALLY wanted to use my paint sprayer to give it a perfect finish, but in my experience, the sprayer is not good when you have a lot of corners and joints. It just ends up running everywhere as you try to hit every spot at the right angle. Not to mention, I was sick (stupid cold!), and knew better than to challenge my brain at that extreme level, not to mention, if it didn’t work, it would set the completion of this project back a few more days while I fixed my mistake… So I just added some Floetrol/paint conditioner to my white exterior paint, grabbed a good paint brush and got ‘er done!

Something funny: There were a lot of tight spaces on this shelf and I found it necessary to chop off most of the handle on my paint brush. Fortunately, the handle happened to be wood, so I just set on my chop/miter saw, cut it to length, and had myself a nice short handled brush. I was kind of amazed with my ingenuity … so I thought I would share. :D

It took me another whole day to get two coats of my super awesome paint on the shelf. When it was done I stood back and marveled, the kids complimented me and Hubby was impressed. A JOB WELL DONE!

Hardware

At this point in the project is where I ran into one last snag and I am not gonna lie; I cried just a little. If you remember from my drawing I had planned to put a magnetic strip across the front of the top shelf to hold my pan lids. I was SO excited about this! However, my lids are made out of that stupid stainless that isn’t magnetic. (SO STUPID!!! HOW CAN STEEL NOT BE MAGNETIC!!) I know this is a common thing, but I guess I had forgotten … glad I tested it before I installed the magnetic strip…. Onward!

Yesterday, I went shopping! I spent over an hour walking around Home Depot looking at all their hardware, their kitchen and bath departments and anywhere else I thought might have SOMETHING I could use mount those stupid lids (and anything else I wanted to hang off these shelves) I also wanted, and still want, to find a way to incorporate a “recipe book stand”. So I was on the prowl for something to help with that too. I also stopped by the craft store and a store with a “housewares” department hoping to find a solution. I was unsuccessful, but I am not giving up!! It will just have to wait for another day.

All my hardware acquired, I headed home and FINALLY got to move into my new kitchen shelf. It took me a couple hours to attach all the hardware and move everything into its new home, but by dinner time yesterday everything was in its new home! I freed up a lot of space on my counter tops, and quite a few shelves in “other” areas of the house. I feel more sane already!! Now if I can just kick the last of this cold I will be one happy Goddess!

Enjoy!

Open kitchen shelving DIY window
open kitchen shelving in front of window DIY

Hubby says: Our kitchen has hats! Which earned him a depressed look from me :(

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