The Hundred Dollar Shelf

29 Aug

Last weekend I tackled our coat closet.  It was a hot mess: broken shelving, spackle, and straight up holes.

This was a particularly maddening redo because I had already redone it once.

This closet (like all of ours) came to us with one shelf and rod in white wire shelving.  Standard.

When I redesigned it, I wanted to maximize storage space: shelves in the nooks for shoes and a double-hang rod for our short coats.  Not knowing any better, I used the same white wire shelving that the contractors had used.  If it was good enough for them, surely it was good enough for me!

Three weeks ago, we threw an enormous house party.  About an hour before folks were to arrive, we heard a tremendous crash and looked in the closet to discover that the shelf-and-rod had come down.  There was nothing to do about it so we piled everyone’s coats in the corner and pretended it hadn’t happened.

After I sobered up and got the chance to assess the damage, I was hurt but not that hurt.  It was something I’d made, and it had broken, sure, but it hadn’t ripped out of the wall — I did that much right.  The plastic shelf clips on the wall broke, pitching the shelf forward, and the brackets  just … folded.  You can see the mangled remains of one in the picture above.  I think I had already started patching the drywall at that point.

Basically, I got suckered by Closetmaid advertising.  They said it was easy, and I was scared, so I picked the “easy to install” system.  First mistake!  It’s a cheap piece of shit.  Or, considering I paid $200ish for it the system, an expensive piece of shit.

I had a horrible time installing the wire closet.  The anchor clips had to be pounded in with a wrench wedged in there, since I couldn’t get to the pins with my hammer.  It was sweaty miserable work.  Not to mention, many of the shelves the worker cut for me didn’t fit in my closet! I ended up giving away probably a third of them, and the hardware I bought for them.

At the time I didn’t know how to use wood. Now I feel better about it.

When I went to redo it, my heart was set on plumbing pipe.  Like this:


Or this:


What could be sturdier, right?

It seemed easy, but I ended up sweating this design a lot.  It’s indestructible if you can support the pipes on the ground, as in the first example.  But my boyfriend and I wanted to be able to put large boxes above and below.  This meant no obstruction on the ground and none on the ceiling — I couldn’t even hang it from the ceiling studs.  So this meant a design more like Daniel’s (second example), with a separate bar for hanging.  Pipe shelving like this wouldn’t fold like the brackets, but I was sacrificing the best part of the mechanical support pipes could offer.  It would all hinge on a first-class anchor job.

I’d already shredded the closet, so first I set to repairing it.  This was tedious.  There were so many holes, and such big holes, I had to go to Home Depot in the middle to buy more spackle.

I spent the first of my birthday money on a mechanical sander, knowing that I could not possibly face this task without it.  After the putty dried overnight (some spots took two applications) I sanded the spots until they were flush.  DO wear a mask for this, and goggles if you have them.  No joke!  I haven’t been covered in dust like that since Burning Man.

Then I painted — four coats (!) of a sunny tangerine.


These must be finished photos, because I see the white paint I bought to touch up our trim.  It’s minor, but it makes a difference.  It also means I don’t fight with my boyfriend who super helpfully offered to help me cut in, but got tangerine ALL OVER the trim.  Domestic harmony is totally worth $12.

The color looks great even at night in person, but I’ll have to try to photograph it in daylight — it’s fun, cheerful, and juicy.  I love it!  I’ve already started painting the laundry room door in it.

Next, I stained the wood for the shelf support and shelf.


Bottom: stained wood with the Minwax “Ebony” stain I used.  Top: the raw pine.


See how different it looks?


And with a little stain: it’s sexytime.  What a difference!  I did not bother polyurethaning it after staining because seriously, it’s going to be a closet shelf!

This was my first time staining anything and I will definitely do it again.

The pipe business could double as a sobriety test.  The first night I tried and failed to put them together — then succeeded no problem the next morning.  The same thing happened after a glass of wine the second night.  By the third day I had put things together and realized what the problem was.  Look, I’d never drink and operate power tools, but some home improvement tasks benefit from a beer or two (painting, anyone?).  Anyway … maybe try this well rested.

Next time I would assemble the whole business on the floor and then put it on the wall.  But I am so used to doing things alone I thought it would be best to do it bit by bit on the wall.

First I found the studs in the wall.  I held up my shelf support and decided where I’d place my screws/anchors.  I took it down, pre-drilled holes for the screws in the wood, and held it back up with a level to mark where they’d go on the wall.  Then it came back down to install two drywall anchors.  Then it went back up so I could screw into the drywall anchors, and put all-in-one anchors into the two metal studs.

Next I pre-drilled holes in the back of the shelf, and used 2″ wood screws to attach it to the 1×3 about every six inches.  When I let it go, it looked pretty solid.

I had to enlist my boyfriend for the last bit.  He lifted up the pipe support and held it in place, pressing up a smidge, while I marked the holes in the flanges under the shelf and on the wall.

While he went back to his movie, I set several snap toggle anchors on the wall, and pre-drilled the holes under the shelf, being careful to support it.  Then I summoned him one last time and in a very tense minute, screwed the bolts into the toggle anchors on each side and then the screws into the shelf above.  I may have said a brief prayer and then we let things go.

“Can I do pull-ups on it?” the Boy asked.

“NO!” I said. “Or next time I will install it into you!”

Pull ups notwithstanding, it feels solid.  I think.  Oh God I hope.  I’m going to buy a few more self-drilling drywall anchors for the wall flanges, and maybe for the shelf support, and I guess I could put a few more screws in it, but … I don’t know, I would be amazed if it came off.

All I have to do is scrape off the stickers and sponge down my pipes for grease (I was too impatient to do it before assembly, whoops?) and I have the rockin’-est industrial closet rack ever.



Shelf round up:

THREE trips to Home Depot.

Things purchased I barely used, so I’m not counting in the shelf price:

Minwax Stain: 7.77

231 piece screw assortment pack (for the eight 1/2″ screws that fastened flange to shelf): 6.50

The rest of it:

6 heavy duty strap toggles: 7.96

6 all purpose self drilling anchors: 1.96 (should have bought two, sigh)

Total pipe: 59.16

1×12 8 ft board: 15.58 (used half, so 7.79)

1×3 8 ft board: 4.37 (used half, so 2.20)

Total: 79.07

Without substitutions, the whole thing came to $103-something, thus the post title: the hundred dollar shelf.  But you know what?  Totally beats a $200 Closetmaid shelf.  Even if you have metal studs like me, you could save by using sheet metal screws instead of the strap toggles, but I have stripped a lot of sheet metal screws in my metal studs and after watching the TV guys mount my flat-screen with these puppies, I am a believer.

Oh and the paint was $25 for a gallon, and I had to buy a $15 brush set, and a $7 container of spackle, and a $50 sander … but at some point I have to start thinking of DIY in terms of the movies I’m not seeing and drinks I’m not buying.

It looks so badass, I’m sad that it is in my closet.

I have enough board left to make four crosswise shoe/storage shelves in the side nooks you can’t see.  I also have one four-foot piece left over from when I was considering hanging two main shelves instead of one.   I have grand shoe rack and hat cubby plans, of course, but I’m going to wait on all those until we’ve lived with this for a while.  I couldn’t bear to rip anything else out of this closet … not, at least, for another year.



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