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How to Build Shelves Under a Staircase

This post is about how to build shelves under a staircase. I built my shelves to store craft supplies, but you could easily adapt this concept for anything you need to store in an angled small space.

How to Build Shelves Under a Staircase

Today I’m sharing my under-the-stairs shelving build plans for the craft/cat/storage/wine/etc. closet. I designed and built these shelves specifically to store my DecoArt paints, so the sizing and measurements are based on the typical DecoArt paint can.

That said, you can easily take these plans and adapt them to fit any under-the-stairs storage closet. You can make the shelves deeper to store more things, or you can build more space between each shelf. The idea can be easily customized based on whatever space you’re working with.

Before Pics: A Quick Reminder…

Before we get started on the tutorial for the shelves, here’s a quick reminder of the before pics. As you can see, my paints are all over the place. I have to dig around to see what I have, and those two boxes on the floor are also full of paints. Plus the closet is just a nightmare scenario and it’s hard to get to anything.

craft storage closet before organizing it

After I emptied the closet, I got to work building my shelving!

Here’s what I used:

(Affiliate links below; read more about those here)

And here’s how I built shelves under our staircase!

(Remember to wear a mask and eye protection while sanding and working with wood, and wear an appropriate mask while working with paints, stains, and finishes. Follow the directions and warnings from your particular brand. Do not use any tools without proper training, precautions, and supervision. Read my full terms of use here.)

Step 1: Cut all pieces for the shelves.

Then organize the shelf pieces (not the side pieces) like this:

pieces of wood

Step 2: Drill shelf piece pocket holes and attach to the left side of the shelf. 

I used my Kreg Jig to drill two pocket holes on each side of the shelf piece. The method of joining via pocket holes makes them super strong, and the last thing I wanted was for my paint shelving to fall apart and have paints tumbling everywhere.

When you’ve finished drilling pocket holes, screw each shelf into the left side piece. The pictures below show all pieces drilled into the left side. You can also see the pocket holes on the top of the unattached (right) side of the shelf pieces.

pieces of wood for the under-the-shelves staircase build

Step 3: Mark measurements for the right side.

If you set the shelving unit on its side and lay the right piece on top, you’ll see that the shelving pieces are SUPER uneven. That’s just what happens when you are working with cheaper, warped wood, but it’s okay. We’re going to fix that!

pieces of wood for the under-the-shelves staircase build

Pull the unattached piece down and set it along the attached side. Use a marker to mark where each shelving piece should hit:

pieces of wood for the under-the-shelves staircase build

Step 4: Attach the right side of the shelf to the unit.

The easiest way to do this is to flip the entire unit over so that you aren’t drilling upside down. In the picture below, you can see that the first few shelving pieces (from the left side) look pretty even. That’s because I had already forced those to line up with the marks I made in step 3 and drilled them into place through my pocket holes.

pieces of wood for the under-the-shelves staircase build

Some more progress…the first eight shelving pieces from the left side are lined up and attached!

pieces of wood for the under-the-shelves staircase build
pieces of wood for the under-the-shelves staircase build

Note: I ran out of wood at this point. My bad. After we mounted the shelves, I ended up adding two additional shelving pieces on the bottom to maximize space. I recommend against this as it was a little harder to attach them when the unit was mounted to the wall!!

Step 5: Mount the Shelves Under the Staircase

And this is where I got angry and had a DIY BREAKDOWN. Because the shelves were supposed to be mounted to this part of the space…

…but our measurements were like, 1/8 of an inch off. Ugh. I was SO angry at myself! I had this fantastic vision, and there was no way I was ripping apart the shelving to re-cut the pieces. So we decided to mount it on the wall you see when you walk in to the room:

empty storage closet
storage closet

We just used plain corner braces to mount the unit. We marked the studs in the wall using a stud finder and did two braces on the top of the shelves and two on the bottom.

Fixing the shelving into the wall

Mounted! And I couldn’t resist throwing a few rows of cans on to test it out.

adding paints to the shelving

Phase 2: How to Build Shelves Under a Staircase: The under-the-stairs part.

Closets under stairs can be so hard to use to their full potential. Since we effed up the measurements and had to move the shelving unit to the side wall instead of the back wall, I decided it would be really cool looking if we continued the shelving up the angle of the stairs.

Plus it would help to maximize storage space. To visualize it, I put up some painter’s tape. Although I didn’t end up going quite this route, it will still give you an idea:

tape on the wall

Step 1: Cut all pieces.

…Which is easier said than done. I did a rough cut for the 90-degree lefthand piece and then for each shelving piece, giving myself a few inches to work with as I worked down to more exact measurements. I opted against doing the long slanted piece on the right and instead created a stair-like design using smaller pieces.

Step 2: Start building out the “stair” shelves.

For each stair shelf, I cut a piece that was roughly 4.5 inches (the little piece on the right of the below photos). Then I cut a shelf piece that was the perfect length to fit between the 90-degree lefthand piece and the 4.5 inch piece. I drilled two pocket holes into each 4.5 inch piece and two pocket holes on the end of each shelf piece.

This will make more sense when you see the photos!

building the top part of the shelving
building the top part of the shelving

I attached each shelf piece to the 90-degree lefthand piece by drilling through the pocket holes on the end of the shelf piece. In the photo below, I haven’t attached this to the wall; I just have it sitting on top of the bottom shelving unit so that I can get a measurement for how long the next shelf piece needs to be.

building the top part of the shelving

Make sure to attach a corner brace while you are constructing the shelving. If you look in the photo below, it would have been impossible to drill that corner bracket in once the entire unit was assembled.

Also make sure to attach the corner bracket where it will hit a stud. I just used our stud finder to make a mark on the shelf piece. Continue building out the “stair” shelves until you are done.

Step 3: Attach finished shelves to the wall under the staircase

Use your drill and 2 1/2 inch screws to drill through the corner braces and into the wall. Make sure you drill into studs because all of these paints are heavy! (There is a second corner bracket at the very top of this unit behind that big can of paint.)

And then I popped my paints on. Yay! I organized them by paint line and color. I have five DecoArt Americana Decor paint lines (Chalky Finish, Satin Enamels, Color Stain, Maxx Gloss, and Outdoor Living) and wanted each paint line to be together. And lest you think I’m a hoarder, I freelance for DecoArt, which is why I have so much of their paint on hand 😉

building the top part of the shelving
filling the shelving up with paints

I’d say I spent a good amount of time just standing in the closet and staring at the shelving. It is SO much better than what I had before, and I can see everything I have! Plus it takes up no floor space and very little space in the closet itself, except for the wall space of course.

What do you think? I think these plans could be easily adapted to fit any under-the-stairs space and help you really maximize your storage space. Make sure to come back next week for shots of the finished craft/storage closet space, plus I’ll be sharing a *HYUGE* DecoArt giveaway for you guys!

Pin this!

collage that says DIY under-the-stairs shelving

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  1. jamin mills says:

    Great us of space, I love it. You killed it with this idea and execution!

  2. Jes says:

    This is amazing! I’ve just started thinking about getting my paint organized! I’m thinking this on the back of a sliding door in the office that is currently being used as a storage room.

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      That’s a great idea. The first image in this post from Infarrantly Creative is actually a door that wheels out and has storage on the other side too 🙂

  3. Emily @ The Small Stuff Counts says:

    This looks amazing! I am definitely going to build something similar for my studio. I can totally relate to miscalculating and being so mad at yourself, but it ended up looking great in the end anyway! Nice job doing the staggered part under the stairs.

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      Thank you! You know, I actually think it is cooler the way it is now. Plus I have more room to fit all of the paint in one spot!

  4. Jessica says:

    this right here is organizational goals! good job Brittany!

  5. Nicholle says:

    I Love this!! My OCD heart is happy! XO

  6. yuni says:

    I so need to make this!! love it!

  7. Doreen @ Hymns and Verses says:

    What a great use for that space! Pinning to share with the hubs! I so need to get my paint organized!

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      Yes it’s been a huge space saver, and I can see what I have for each new project!

  8. Angie ~ ambient wares says:

    This is an insanely awesome project, Brittany! I love seeing aaalll those paints! I can really appreciate projects like this, creating much needed space as we have a small 1 bedroom, 1 bath house 😉

  9. Allison says:

    I actually like it better against that wall than the original wall you had intended, although I can relate to the frustration of having a project not go the way you had planned, for sure! Either way, awesome job! That paint wall is mesmerizing…

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      That’s what my husband said…the mistake opened the door for the awesome bit that goes up along the stairs! Thank you!!

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