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Building Pantry Shelves

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Great tutorial for building solid pantry shelves and getting rid of those wire shelves for good!

A pantry is an essential part of any kitchen. In our apartment, we didn’t have a pantry at all. We used whatever storage space was available in the kitchen cabinets, which wasn’t a lot. Eventually we accumulated too many pantry items and we decided to used a hall guest bathroom closet as our “pantry.” Once we moved into the house I was so excited to finally have an actual full sized pantry in our kitchen.

The pantry is located on the left side of the kitchen behind a set of double doors. When we moved in, the pantry looked like this…

Pantry Before Empty

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Yikes!!! I’m sure you are wondering how that could possibly be a pantry. There aren’t any shelves, which are essential in a pantry design. Well, there “were” shelves in the original design for the house – wire shelves. I told the project manager when we were finishing building the house that we didn’t want them installed in our pantry. Remember that apartment “pantry” I was telling you about? The one that was originally supposed to be a bathroom closet. That “pantry” had wire shelves, and they were not my favorite for food items. Stacking cans, jars, and other items was annoyingly difficult because of the gaps between the wires. Everything always seemed unbalanced and sometimes food items would go toppling over. I decided that in our new pantry I wanted something more stable with a cleaner overall look – wooden shelves.

Ben and I did this project together, but he is much better at explaining the DIY process for a project like this. So, I will let him take it from here to explain how to install your own pantry shelves.


The plan for the pantry was to install white wooden shelves and to paint it a contrasting color. The supplies and tools that we used were:

We started by taping off the trim inside the closet to prep for painting.

Taping the Baseboard Pantry

Taping the Inside Door Pantry

We measured the largest item that we wanted to store in the pantry and added some extra height to determine the spacing between shelves. The spacing that we came up with meant that we could fit five shelves in the pantry. We started at the floor and measured up to create enough space for our crockpot and pressure cooker. That marked the spot for our first shelf, which has a slightly larger spacing than the rest. After that, we wanted to evenly space the other shelves.

The important thing to remember when marking the location of shelves is that you have to take the shelf thickness into account. The spacing measurement we came up with earlier needs to be added to the shelf thickness to come up with your total shelf spacing. For example, if you needed to fit a 12″ item into the shelf and the shelf thickness was 0.5″, the distance between the the top of the first shelf to the top of the next shelf must be 12.5″.

Once we had our total shelf spacing figured out, we marked the locations of each shelf on the wall using a tape measure. Once all of our markings we created, we expanded each mark into a line using a level to give us a horizontal guideline.

Next we prepared the shelf supports.

Pantry Shelf Support Supplies

Each shelf gets a full length back support and two side supports that are cut 1″ shorter than the depth of the shelf. Using a miter saw, we cut all of the back shelf supports out of the 3/4″ x 2″ pre-finished MDF boards to the full width of the pantry. We then cut the side shelf supports out of the same material. The length for these was the full depth of a shelf minus the back shelf support thickness (3/4″) and minus 1″ so that they would not be visible. This gave us this equation:

Total Length of Each Side Support = Shelf Depth – 1.75″


Pantry Measuring Shelf Supports

Table Saw

Once all of the shelf supports were cut to the correct length, we drilled small holes in each of the boards to mark the location of each support screw.  The exact location of these holes is not critical, so just put one near each end of the side shelf supports, and three equally spaced on the back shelf supports.

Pantry Measuring Shelf Supports

Pantry Drilling Shelf Supports

Pantry Drilled out Shelf Supports

Once your shelf support screw holes are drilled, hold the first shelf support up to the first horizontal mark on the wall and run the drill through the holes in the shelf support board to mark the hole locations on the wall.  Remove the shelf support and run a very thin drill bit through each mark on the wall.  Make sure you take note of whether you hit a stud in the wall or if the drill bit just hits air once it is through the drywall.  If there is no stud at a hole location, you will have to install a drywall anchor to hold the weight of the shelf.  Any wall anchor will do, but we prefer the self-drilling style because they are installed in a single step – so much easier.  For holes that hit a wall stud, you will not need an anchor and will simply use one of the drywall screws to mount the shelf support board directly to the stud.

Ben Installing Shelf Support Pantry

Once all of your holes are drilled, and your drywall anchors are in place where needed, simply hold the shelf support board in place again, and mount the shelf support to the wall using the anchor screws, and the drywall screws.  Repeat these steps for each back shelf support and side shelf support.  Once you do it once or twice, this part actually goes a lot faster than it seems like it would.
Pantry with Shelf Supports Installed

Pantry with Shelf Supports Installed

Once all of the shelf supports were installed, we filled all of the screw holes and any miscellaneous wall dents with spackle and sanded everything.

Ben Sanding Pantry Wall

Next, we painted the entire pantry, including the shelf supports. Painting the supports the same color as the wall helped them to blend into the background so they could not be seen once the shelves were installed. The paint that we used was High-Speed Steel by Valspar, which is a dark gray to contrast the white shelves.

Christene Painting Pantry Gray

Painted Pantry Gray no Shelves

Once the paint is dry, it is time to install the shelves! Using a ruler or straight edge, mark a line on the finished MDF shelving boards that is the width of the pantry minus a quarter inch or so to give yourself some space to get the shelf into position. Remember: no wall is perfect. You may even find that some areas in your pantry do not have square corners or are thinner in the back than in the front.  All of this is normal, so just measure the smallest section where the shelf will be installed and cut your shelf to that length. Do this for each shelf, dry-fitting them to your shelf supports as you go to make sure everything is sitting level.

Once you have dry-fit all the shelves, you are ready to glue the shelves into place!  Remove each shelf and spread a thin line of wood glue on the top of each shelf support board. This glue is very strong when dry, so you don’t have to over-do it.  Place each shelf carefully on its glue-covered shelf support.

Pantry Shelf Supports with Glue

Ben Installing Pantry Shelves

Because the front of each shelf is technically unsupported, the shelf may want to move or bend until the glue is dry.  We took canned goods we had sitting in the kitchen and lined them up along the back and side edges to keep everything weighed down for about 12 hours until the glue dried.  Once the glue was dry, the shelves were rigid and our brand new pantry was ready to hold all our food!

Pantry After with Items on Shelves

As a final note, please consider the width of your pantry when attempting this project. Our pantry was around 3′ wide, and the shelf supports shown were plenty of structure to hold the shelves up. If you have an especially long pantry, or one that you plan to install a corner shelf into, you may need to install an additional shelf bracket.

Pantry After with Items on Shelves

Also – here’s a little before and after comparison.

Pantry Before and After


Yay!!! We finally have a completed pantry. I know it doesn’t look so great yet, but at least we had some functional storage to work with. I have all sorts of ideas for organizing this space and making it into a super functional and pretty pantry. I’m thinking lots of glass jars for holding all sorts of pantry staples and baking ingredients. For now, I think we are off to a great start for making this pantry into my dream pantry! Stay tuned for future pantry organizing projects and posts.

Do you have any awesome pantry organizing tips? What has worked best for you in your home? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you!

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5 Comments

  1. Sue Buonpane says:

    Love the Back wall color

  2. We have the wire shelves and I don’t like them either. I like the dark paint on the walls. Thanks for sharing with us at Merry Monday.

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