Our four year old son is a lucky little man -he lays claim to one of the coolest rooms in our house!  With a 13-foot vaulted ceiling and double-arched window that looks out into the treetops, it’s the perfect space for some serious toddler make-believe (like pretending it’s the Berenstain Bears’ treehouse) and post-play snoozes. As anyone with babies and kids can relate, the mass of toys, books, and everyday essentials can pile up quick, and not having some sort of organization to it all can lead to a continual state of kid crap chaos! While Caleb may not appreciate some of the finer architectural details of his room just yet, his Mom sure does; I was definitely taking advantage of all of the space to create a modern but fun kid’s room.

When we moved into our new house over a year ago, Caleb was still in his converted crib-to-toddler bed and most of his toys and playthings were in boxes.  We had his bed placed against an expansive wall by the window, but I soon realized this 9-foot wall was best suited for some open shelving. Not only would shelves fill out the sprawling horizontal and vertical space of that wall, but they would help us combat all the kid clutter, while displaying some of Caleb’s nicer toys and books.

The inspiration for my open shelving idea came from a Martha Stewart Living Magazine cover and article that showcased Martha’s grandkids’ nursery/playroom. That particular issue came out in September 2012 – Caleb was only nine months old then and we were still renting so I couldn’t make any drastic design changes to his nursery at that point, but I saved that beautiful image in my mind knowing I’d want to use it in the future.

As shown in the photo below, the open shelving is a focal point for the entire room, displaying colorful wooden toys. I think designing a nursery/playroom with neutral paint colors and furniture with clean lines is smarter than trying to decorate around one color or a “theme.”  Kids accumulate so much stuff during their early years that it’s much easier to curate their collectibles when you’re not worried if it goes with your off-white shabby chic color scheme or Minions décor. Caleb has many wooden toys like the ones in this photo (thanks to the great collections at The Land of Nod). Not only are wooden toys like this more durable and higher quality than cheaper, plastic, “themed”  toys, they really are classic, beautiful pieces that look great displayed.  Against our blue-gray walls and wood and white furniture, these colorful toys are a form of art in the room!

After moving Caleb’s bed to a different wall in the room, we played around with some painter’s tape to estimate the heights of the shelves once they were in place. Generally, when we’re making big design changes like adding large items like this, moving furniture, or changing paint colors, we’ll outline the area with tape or even paint a part of the wall, then leave it in place for a few days. This gives us a chance to live with the feature, see it during different times of the day, in different light, etc.  By doing this, we’re able to see if we really like it or if the design could be tweaked.  For these shelves, I think we moved the tape several times before settling on the final heights. Notice in this photo, we have a paint swatch on the wall too.  We painted Caleb’s room this beautiful blue-gray shade – Sherwin Williams Evening Shadow.

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

Next it was time to start thinking about the shelf construction and wall attachments.  A few months before we tackled this project, we created a 12-foot desk for Nate’s and my shared office. We worked with local woodworker Rick Dinardo at The Molding Source in Mooresville to design a custom desktop for the space. We were so impressed with Rick’s work (Hoping to have a post up soon on our desk and office space) that we enlisted him again for the shelves – and he didn’t disappoint! We needed two 9 1/2 foot shelves for Caleb’s room.  We asked Rick for suggestions on the best wood for this type of project.  He recommended soft maple because it stains and paints well and is hard enough to resist scratches and kids’ wear-and-tear.

The shelves were $75.00 each – a pretty good price if you ask us for custom pieces.  Here are the specs:

  • Two soft maple wood shelves
  • Length: 9 1/2 feet
  • Thickness: 1 inch
  • Depth: 8 inches

Make sure to pick out your brackets before choosing the shelf depth. We needed 4 brackets per shelf.  To keep costs down, we went with the 7 1/8″ Ekby Valter Bracket from Ikea.  At $3.00 a pop, we didn’t have to take out a second mortgage just to put up a few shelves!

Ikea Ekby Valter Bracket

The picture below shows the shelves soon after we brought them home. (The shelf on the right shows the wood in its natural state before stain was added.) I’m kicking myself for not getting a picture of them before taking them out of the car to show just how big these suckers really are! I’m sure I looked cute driving through town trying to keep the front end of the shelves still on the dashboard while the back end stuck out my SUV’s hatchback window…

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

Here’s another view of the shelves during the staining process. The top shelf shows the piece in its natural state while the bottom shelf has one coat of pre-stain on it. I just love the unique grains and colors of this soft maple!

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

We used Minwax’s Special Walnut wood stain.  When staining wood we always start with a coat of pre-stain, 2-3 coats of the stain (depending how much the wood soaks up after each application), and a topcoat of polyurethane.

Here you can see the difference in color after 2 coats of stain are applied (right) compared to just one coat of pre-stain (left), and our little helper in the background.

Now it was time to liven up those Ikea Ekby brackets. We spray painted the brackets white to tie in with Caleb’s white Jenny Lind bookcase already in the room. Spend the extra couple of bucks and choose a higher quality spray paint; I usually go with a Rust-Oleum primer and paint combo.  When spray-painting, remember that several thin, even coats with ample dry time between each coat will yield nicer results than one, thick, clumpy coat.

Ikea Ekby Valter Brackets for DIY Shelves

With the shelves stained and brackets painted, we were ready for installation!

Start by marking the positions of the studs in the wall.  Anchoring the shelves into the studs will provide the most secure installation.  If the wall studs aren’t in the ideal position, drywall anchors may also work (just keep in mind anchors will not hold as much weight.  We spaced our brackets 32″ apart (every 2 studs).  We marked the wall studs with painter’s tape, which was easy to remove after installation.

The thickness of our shelves covered the top mounting hole that is used to attach the bracket to the wall.  Therefore we had to hang the brackets on the wall first  We marked the center of each bracket on the bottom of the shelf, then temporarily attached each bracket to the shelf using one screw.  We attached the brackets to the shelves BEFORE mounting them to the wall so that we could account for any imperfections in the shape of the shelf.  For instance, if the shelf was bowed at all, the brackets on the ends might be slightly higher or lower than those in the middle.

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

With the brackets temporarily attached to the shelf (using 1 screw/bracket), we lifted the shelf to the desired height on the wall.  Starting on one end, a 2″ screw was used to fasten the first bracket to the wall (in the lower mounting hole).  We then fastened the other 3 brackets (remember, we had 4 brackets per shelf) making sure to keep the shelf level.

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

After the bottom of each bracket was mounted to the wall, we removed the temporary screws holding the brackets to the shelf and took the shelf down.  Now that the upper mounting holes were accessible, we finished fastening the brackets to the wall, taking care to ensure each remained in vertical alignment. (This picture also shows where we initially marked the wall studs with painter’s tape for easier installation)

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

The last step was to replace the shelf on the brackets, fastening it in place with self-drilling wood screws to make a secure joint.  This is my favorite shot of the shelves before we styled them.  I love the color of the stain and how the grain and unique features of the soft maple species come through.  I also love that the brackets kind of look like railroad tracks.  Caleb loves trains, so it’s another personal touch that makes this project so special.

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves

Caleb was excited to help me decorate his shelves.  Having a set space for his stuff really does keep everything organized and easier to find when he wants a certain book or toy to play with.

Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves
Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves
Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves
Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves
Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves
Combat Kid Clutter with Fun Open DIY Shelves