I would like to build some shelves for the cupboard under the stairs. I quite like the layout in the following picture:

enter image description here

My cupboard is roughly per diagram below, were I would like to put a 3-layer shoe rack next to the shelves (the walls to the left and rear of the show rack are dot-and-dab, everything else is stud walls with metal studs.

enter image description here

I would like some recommendation on out to build something like this which results in level shelves. In particular:

  1. Do I build everything in-situ, starting from the battens on the wall? Or
  2. Do I pre-build each shelf, including frame and top and secure to wall afterwards?
  3. Any other combination of the above?

I am quite happy to suggestions on how to build something functionally similar to the picture that is not structurally built like in the picture.

2 Answers 2


Exactly how you go about this is entirely up to you and either of the ideas you have presented will have advantages and drawbacks.

  1. Building in place.

    • You can ensure that everything is square and level as you build it, accounting for small variations in the floor or wall as you go.
      • ProTip™: When I built similar shelves in my shed, I cut 2x4 spacers to put each shelf on as I assembled to hold the next one up level and identically spaced from the lower one.
    • Depending on your design, you might be able to use less material or lighter material on the back side because you're attaching it directly to the wall and are using the wall for some of the support.
    • It might be difficult holding pieces in place in cramped quarters while you get everything arranged just right and screw it all together.
    • There will be loads of trips back and forth between the assembly area and the prep/cutting area.
  2. Pre-build

    • You can make a jig to ensure all your units are nice and square.
    • You can work where you have lots of room and near your large cutting tools so you're not making dozens of trips back and forth.
    • You'll probably want to put adjustable feet on the bottom of each leg to ensure that you can get the unit square and level once located in its final resting place.
    • You may have a hard time carrying fully assembled, wooden shelving through the house and wrangling it into the cupboard.

This is the order I would do this in:

  1. If you are not certain of the weight bearing capacity of the wall, you should consider installing a sheet of plywood on the wall that touches the floor. If you have molding at the floor, remove it so the plywood sits on the floor.

  2. Mark the wall/plywood for your shelves. Then draw in the thickness of the shelves and the battens. Use this drawing to make sure the items you want to store will actually fit. For example, hold a cereal box up to make sure it fits between the batten and next shelf.

  3. Install the battens, making sure they are level left-to-right.

  4. Cut one upright (I suggest the middle one, and leave it long), one shelf (I suggest the bottom one) and the front stringer. Install those, making sure the shelf is level front-to-back.

  5. You now have one supported shelf that you can use to double-check your plan.

  6. Depending on which is more convenient, either install the rest of the uprights and then the shelves, or install the shelves and then the uprights.

  7. Don't forget to install the stringers on the sides!

  8. Trim the uprights to the correct height.

  • 1
    This is good advice if you’re storing gold bullion or osmium, but I can’t imagine a normal storage situation where a couple of screws into studs for the battens wouldn’t be totally adequate. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 15:03

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