Experiments in home decorating, DIYing, and vintage furniture collecting.

How to install open kitchen shelves

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November 15, 2015

Before I begin to tell you about how to install open shelving in your kitchen, I should start by explaining that we moved last month into a new (old) rental house because we needed a dog-friendly landlord for our (extremely expensive) boxer mix mutt named Sophie, and desperately needed more space in general. The house is a 1934 Craftsman bungalow with high ceilings, hardwood floors and a bathroom with the original hexagon tile and cast iron sink and tub. After those good bones, there were no redeeming qualities: it was bent out of shape and desperately needed to be cleaned, painted, and loved. You would not have rented this house.

But the landlord was willing to entertain my ideas to tear down her upper cabinets, rip up a carpeted room to reveal the beautiful hardwoods, and paint the place from baseboards to ceilings in exchange for rent that is drastically below market price. It's a blank canvas filled with projects for this blog, the reason I went to work with paint in my hair for two weeks in a row, and why I count a few salespeople at Lowes as part of my social circle.
Needless to say, the place needed lot of work. The kitchen, by far, was the worst: so bad, in fact, that I didn't take 'before' pictures because you would judge me for agreeing to live in the place. (Think lime green walls, dingy brown wood, and derelict upper cabinets not fit for my Crate and Barrel collection.)
After lots of elbow grease, now it looks like this (a work in progress, but major improvement nonetheless):

After tearing down the upper cabinets (with work gloves, a crowbar, goggles, and lots of confidence), I sanded the wall where the cabinets had been mounted, repaired the drywall with drywall tape and spackle, sanded it again and then cleaned the walls, trim and ceiling. Then I primed and painted the walls, trim, and base cabinets, and got to work on installing the open shelves.

I wanted simple white shelves to match the base cabinets, and my goal was for the entire project to be as simple and cost-effective as possible (which should be the goal for all rental home projects). I settled on prefinished laminate white Rubbermaid 72" X 12" shelves that were $12 apiece and white brackets that were $7 each. Below are the step-by-step instructions and the materials I used.
Step-by-step instructions for installing open shelves:
  1. Take measurements of the area (length and width) where you want to hang the shelves.
  2. Using a stud finder, identify the studs in the area where you want to hang your shelves and mark an x in the center of each stud. (Disclosure: I failed to find studs in the area where I hung my shelves, so I used EZ Anchor Stud Solver Drywall Anchors to hang the brackets.) 
  3. The first stud x (or, in my case, 16" from far left corner) marks your first column of brackets. Moving 16" to the right, mark off your second, third, fourth columns of brackets (depending on the length you selected).
  4. For each bracket column, measure 62" from the floor and make a pencil mark - this will be where the lowest shelf should be hung (it matches typical height of the lowest shelve of a base cabinet).
  5. Moving up from your 62" mark and using a level to keep both marks in line, measure 14.5" up (or 76.5" from the floor) for the height of the second shelf. Repeat using increments of 14.5" for additional shelves.
  6. To ensure your shelves will be level, use a straight edge to draw a line connecting the marks in each bracket column (the line the shelves would sit on) and then confirm the line is level with... a level.
  7. Using a bracket as a guide, I penciled in the screw holes for each bracket on the wall.
  8. Using my new power drill, I pre-drilled all of the holes and then installed the drywall anchors, and eventually the brackets themselves.
  9. Once all of the brackets were in place, I placed the shelves onto the brackets and fit them to where I wanted them to sit exactly.
  10. Next, I penciled each of the screw holes needed to secure the shelves to the brackets (again using the bracket as a guide) and pre-drilled holes for the screws.
  11. Finally, I attached the shelves to the brackets with screws, and added all of my plates, bowls, serving dishes, etc.
(I also added these coated hooks that I found at Target to the bottom of the base shelves for my coffee mugs and LOVE them over my Nespresso machine.)

 My other ideas for this kitchen that I have yet to discuss with the landlord: installing a pegboard wall opposite the open shelving to hold all of my cooking tools; adding a pot rack above the oven; replacing the (terrible) overhead lighting with a chandelier; adding butcher block countertops; and tearing up the (awful) linoleum to reveal the hardwoods underneath (yes, I pulled up a corner of the linoleum to confirm).