Build & Organize A Corner Shelving System

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!Hi, it’s Mandi from Making Nice in the Midwest. When my husband and I first moved into our ranch home two years ago, we weren’t quite sure how to fill out the long living room space, but we were sure we wanted some extra storage for our modest collection of books.

After quite some time of living with this empty corner of the living room, I decided the perfect solution for the space was to build an adjustable shelving system that could eventually be lengthened into a workspace. We needed it to be adjustable, nice looking, and not too expensive.

So, instead of buying a pricy shelving system from a home store, we bought shelving standards and poplar wood to make our own! The corner is filled out nicely now, our stuff is organized, and I love knowing I can reorganize the shelves as time goes on. Check out the instructions below to learn how to make your own and make it look nice too!

What you need:

  • wood planks in 7″ and 12″ widths (see tips below for planning out how much lumber to buy)
  • polyurethane, varnish, or other finish to seal the wood shelves
  • 1/8″ drill bit
  • drill bit and screws for attaching standards to the wall
  • power drill
  • shelving brackets in 6″ and 10″ lengths (see tips below for planning how many brackets to buy)
  • shelving standards (see tips below for planning which standards to buy)
  • wood stain or paint and primer
  • (optional: 1/8″ diameter dowels for joinery)

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!About shelving standards and how to hang them:
To get started, let’s talk about some helpful vocabulary. The long white vertical strips on the wall are called standards, and they have notches in them that are for hooking in shelf supports, also called shelf brackets. The beauty of standards is that they allow you to move shelves up or down without redrilling holes into the wall. Some people also find their vertical design to be visually appealing.

Standards must be attached to the wall by drilling screws through their occasionally placed screw holes and into wall studs. Because the standards will hold heavy shelves, they will eventually start pulling away from the wall if the screws holding up the standards aren’t anchored into studs. You may be able to use molly bolts or drywall anchors to attach shelving standards to an area of a wall that does not have a stud, but I recommend drilling the shelving standards directly into a stud if possible.

Planning how much lumber to purchase:
I wanted to save some money by purchasing narrower shelves for smaller books on the upper shelves, but I knew I wanted wider shelves on the bottom in case I wanted to use them for bigger items. Then I needed to decide how long I wanted the shelves to be.

The shorter shelves needed to be at least long enough to reach two studs on the wall, so if you’re not sure about stud placement, you should use a stud finder to mark out where the studs are in your wall and determine which two studs will hold the standards and supports for your shelves. Make sure you plan for your shelves to be at least two inches past where the outside shelf standards will be, or three inches past that outside stud.

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!Once you have determined how long you want your shelves to be, mark down the lengths on a piece of paper. I wanted the shorter shelves (on the left wall as shown) to be 32″, and the longer shelves to be 48″. Then, for the length of shelves on the shorter wall, subtract the width of the shelf to account for where it will butt up against the edge of the shelf on the other end of the corner.

For instance, I subtracted 7″ from the 32″ length of the shorter shelves to account for the width of narrower shelves, and then I subtracted 12″ from the 32″ length of the shorter shelves to account for the width of the wider shelves. Check out the above sketch to get an idea of how I planned out the wood lengths. (The sketch is rough and not to scale.) You can also see what the lumber looked like after it was cut, stained, and sealed in the image below to the right. When buying the lumber you need, make sure that you have enough length in each board for the lengths your wrote down for each shelf.

Bring a piece of paper to the lumber yard that lists the individual lengths and widths of wood you need for each shelf. They should be able to cut down the planks for you and help you decide what lengths of wood you need.

For instance, if you need five 4′ pieces of wood totaling 20′, don’t buy two 10′ planks, because that will only give you four 4′ pieces and then scrap wood that is useless for this project. Instead, buy three 8′ pieces of wood, which will give you 4′ more than you need, but that’s just how it goes! They should help you with that at the lumber yard, and they should even be able to cut down the planks to size so you don’t have to do that yourself.

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!
Planning the standards and brackets to buy:

You should only need two standards for each side of your corner wall system, unless you have a shelf longer than 64″, in which case I recommend using three sets of standards and brackets.

On a short wall like I had (32″ long shelf), I hung the shelving standards on adjacent studs without skipping a stud, because there just wasn’t enough length to skip a stud and still have two shelf supports. On the longer wall, I did skip a stud in between sets of standards and brackets, because I wasn’t hanging anything extraordinarily heavy, and I had enough length to still hang two sets.

If I was placing my Encyclopedia Brittanica collection here (I don’t actually own one, but ya never know!), I would probably have used three sets of standards and brackets on this longer shelf section for more support.

When I originally planned out this corner wall system last year, I had more shelves in the mix, but now they are sitting in storage, potentially to be used again in the future. At the time, I had five 7″ wide shelves on each wall, and two 12″ wide shelves on each wall.

I purchased two brackets for each shelf, but the brackets I purchased are actually shorter than the width of the shelves in order to save money, but also to achieve a nice profile. More on that next! I bought my standards at Home Depot, but I had trouble finding shorter shelf brackets at local hardware stores, so I looked online and found them at Cabinet Parts right here.

Hiding the raised bracket edges:

Because I purchased shorter brackets than the width of my shelves, and the brackets have raised notches on the ends that stick up to keep the shelves in place, I had to drill into the underside of the shelves so the notches could slip into the shelves, keep them in place, and look nice from all angles. I did this by placing the shelf onto the brackets and marking where the notches hit with a pen, then drilling out a very shallow hole where I marked with a power drill.

I also wanted to connect the where the corners of the shelves met by using little dowels. This kept the shelves from shifting or coming apart. To do this, I measured in from the edge of the wood (the same distance for each shelf) and drilled a 1/8″ hole there that was vertically centered. I drilled two sets of matching holes for each pair of shelves, then inserted short 1/8″ dowels into the holes to connect them.

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!Decorating the shelves:

After the shelves were assembled, I brought out all of the books I wanted to display, and arranged them according to color and size. I did this to make the corner look less cluttered, and I don’t have a large enough collection that organizing by color would make a particular book difficult to find.

After they were placed in organized piles, I began setting them up on the shelves, keeping no space between the books on the higher shelves, and some spaces in the lower shelves. If you have enough books to fill out each shelf, then by all means- do it! I simply don’t have that many books, so I used decorative accessories to fill out the spaces in between.

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!The photo above is what the shelves looked like after I nicely arranged the books. You can see the various gaps I left, in particular the large space on the left side where I hung larger artwork. I filled out the other spaces with a framed photo, a clock, two plants, a storage box, and a little ceramic dog.

I tried to balance out the colors in the shelves by having dark colored books caddy corner from other dark books, and the same for other colors, like reds, whites, blues, and even the greenery of the plants. The beauty of the shelf standards is that they can be rearranged whenever you want, and more shelves can always be added or removed from the setup.

It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!It's pretty simple to build your own shelving system. Click through for instructions and styling tips!For the holidays, I added string lights for a festive, cozy feel, and during the rest of the year, a table globe lamp lends light to this little corner of our living room (and you can buy books by color for shelves as well!).

These shelves are a fun, personality-filled part of our house that makes it feel more like a home and take a look at all our wood working projects to see which shelves would work best for you (these are a great built-in option if you like that look). –Mandi

P.S. Check out more home decor on our wishlist and shopping pages!

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson.

  • I love this and just finish putting mine up! Can I ask what color stain you used???

  • This is a helpful article; thanks for taking the time to share! We homeschool and I’ve been looking for cost effective ways to Make use of wall space for our growing collection of books. This may just fit the bill!

  • This is a great project and thorough instructions! I think I will try something similar in the 2nd bedroom / office of our new apartment. Was also fun to see we had a couple of the same books 🙂

  • Hi!
    Fantastic design! Featured you in one of my blog pieces you can read here

    You can find your reference in the section “Reading nooks for your hungry little bookworm”

  • Thanks for posting this with such wonderful detail! I’ve been planning this “track shelving,” as I like to call it, for a week or so and am PUMPED! This furthered my excitement and also pointed out some important tips. 🙂

  • Mandi- this is awesome! I was just staring at at an empty wall and lamenting about the unused space. I wanted something affordable, functional, with unlimited decorative potential- this DIY fits the ticket perfectly. I look forward to a more organized New Year! Thank you

  • This is a good site here loving article thanks for sharing information good color your site i read it i enjoy this blog.

  • I absolutely love the idea of adjustable shelves! I have so many things in different size and I love to re-organize, so this is definitely a project I will keep in mind for future. xx Kaisa //

  • I think so much of the appeal of this is how you’ve arranged everything. Well done!

  • I just love your corner shelves idea. I’m thinking about trying this in my living room. Might be a beautiful way to display and store china in a small space.

    Thanks for the inspiration!


  • It is very simple but perfect DIY idea. I’ll try to make it in my garage…but not for books 🙂

  • Love these shelves! You guys make it look so easy haha! Maybe I will try something smaller for my tiny apartment. I really like the lights hanging on the shelves!

  • I love it, Mandi! I would love to do something similar in my studio. Do you have an estimate for the total cost for the corner shelves? Thx!

  • Just fabulous shelving! Painting from a craft kit? Is it paint on paper? My interest is grabbed.. I have a painting on bark, much smaller than the one pictured, almost exact design, vibrantly coloured, from Mexico, circa 60’s/70’s. Must find out more about this… 🙂

  • Totally inspired to put corner shelving in our dining room where we need more storage and I couldn’t figure out what would look nice! Now can you get the hubby to put this together?

  • That’s pretty cool! I have a bunch of corners i need to decorate…and something tells me i just found out what to do with one of them!


  • Wow fantastic idea, especially for small spaces! I love the lights you set up


  • Thank you! Yes, I went to the University of Akron for interior design. This is a pretty rough sketch, but I still can’t even sketch without doing architectural lettering alongside it. 🙂

  • Ok this is for sure my first spring project. Do you feel like the shelves are childproof or could a small child pull them down?

  • Definitely thinking about doing this for my office! It works great for people who have a bagillion books like me!

  • This is such a cute idea. I have this little nook in my apartment that needs shelves. And this might be THE solution.

  • It’s sso great!!! 🙂
    I love books and I want this shelv in my room ;D

  • This is beautifully designed. Are you/your husband an architect? I recognize the handwriting… my Dad writes the same way. He built a lot of storage solutions in our home very similar to this one. I love the flexibility and the price point. So much more versatile than trying to find something “off the shelf” that would fit an unusual space.

  • Thank you so much for this post. It comes at a perfect time! I just moved into a new house–a tiny tiny house and am in desperate need of some storage for all of my books… I have a lot… This is such a cute and low cost idea. I love it–and the print placed between the standards is a really cute touch! Thanks! 🙂

  • This looks lovely!

  • Oh I cannot wait to have my own house! I would LOVE to do this.

  • I love this! Thanks for the inspiration! Been wanting a shelf for ages so need to persuade my dad to make me one, hah!


  • This is absolutely fabulous!! And I really really like the idea of doing this in my lounge rooms empty corner! Thanks for sharing… pinning this to show hubby!

  • Excellent idea Mandi it’s both utilitarian & artistic in that holds & shows off the books spines. I’m a book lover so this may only look artistic/beautiful to me. lol

  • I love this shelving, looks so simple to do and the end result looks great!

  • wow..that is so nice. i should try to make like this someday. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Oh yeah if you know how to fill a hole, it’s not too difficult to fill! I’d say each standard makes at least three small holes, unless you are using wall anchors, in which case the holes would be bigger.

  • This is so awesome, and we will definitely do this once we get in our own house again! Also love the color-coded books. 🙂

  • Great project! I love that you left spaces for artwork – and my goodness those moveable shelves are so handy!


  • Thanks! It’s actually vintage. I think it might have been one of those craft kits from the ’60s or ’70s where you paint it yourself.

  • I put my standard where the studs are in the wall, except I skipped a stud in between the two standards on the longer wall. I just used polyurethane because it is waterproof, and because my dad sprayed these for me with his siphon feed spray can, and he always recommends using polyurethane. I know varnish can yellow over time and can also crackle. Paint is great if you used a wood that isn’t very pretty. Just be sure to use primer first, and let the paint dry between coats and cute completely before putting up the shelves.

  • I have been dreaming of some open shelving on a wall in our dining room for months now. Thanks for the instructions on how to put it together. Yours looks fantastic!

  • Oh my goodness! Exactly what I need! This is a little industrial looking for my victorian home, but I’m sure I could modify it to fit in. We’re so broke for storage at my place ;(

  • Oh you have completely inspired me! I have one wall almost exactly like this in my office now. It would be awesome to extend it to the adjoining wall. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Angela @ Number Fifty-Three

  • This is a really great idea. We don’t have enough space for books and collectibles in our house and dread taking up room for stand-alone shelves. Thank yoU!

  • Oh Mandi! You’re posts are so refreshing compared to some of the other stuff on here. I love the idea!

  • I absolutely love this idea! My boyfriend and I have a huge book collection and can’t even fit it on the enormous bookshelves that we have now. Unfortunately we live in an apartment and I don’t wanna make too many holes in the walls. Are the holes that are made super big or not easily filled do you know? Because I would love to make some sort of storage like this.


  • Wow this is great. Super alternative to a heavy bookcase. I wish I would’ve seen this when I was renting.
    Great job!

  • Gorgeous idea…..if I had a corner somewhere in the house I would be doing something like this – unfortunately I’m de-cluttering, I have wayyy too much stuff!

    (Dear Thirty)

  • I absolutely love the idea of putting a framed picture between the two standards! I would have never thought of that. The shelving looks great!

  • This is functional and beautifully styled! Your photography is excellent! So enjoyable to see!

  • This is so perfect! Would definitely help save space.

    xo, Juliette Laura

  • I love how you left shelves out for the artwork. I wouldn’t have thought of that.

  • I love this idea! Definitely want to try it when I have the space. Also, where is the brown and white painting from? It’s lovely!

  • This is really a neat idea. How did you figure out where to put the standards initially? Also, what is the best type of varnish to use for these and do you recommend painting these different colors to spruce them up a little bit. Overall it looks great with the wood color.

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