Behind-Door Open Shelving

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Project by Keith Kelly posted 02-22-2016 09:14 PM 1390 views 7 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was a functional project for my home, as well as an opportunity to learn a few untried techniques and finishes.

I have a fairly thorough writeup along with many more pictures on my blog.

This project – in particular the “black gesso” – was inspired by the works of fellow LJ Don Kondra. I found surprisingly little usage of it in online woodworking communities, but the properties of it make it quite nice to have around.

There’s one thing I can’t stand: that unused wall space where a door opens. The next few home projects involve reclaiming some of that space. In our house, a few spaces behind doors (such as this one) have 9 inches of depth…and 9″ is plenty for some bookshelves.

Design considerations:

  • Open shelving is a must. I wanted these shelves and their contents to feel like part of the room, rather than closing itself and its contents off from the room.
  • I’m a sucker for subtle curves. They add several extra steps to the build process, but it’s totally worth it. Somehow the subtle curves help blend the unit with the room itself.
  • Structural elements must be part of design.
  • Must be able to move this unit elsewhere. I mounted this so that it can simply be lifted upward to detach it from the wall. The design is based on 16″ centers to be easily compatible (and strong) in many places of a home.
  • No visible fasteners.
  • Variety of wood species. Our house has solid oak doors, oak trim, oak cabinets, oak oak oak oak.. It’s nice, but it’s just a lot of oak, oakay? Long term, we would like for a natural mix of wood species around our home. This shelving unit is a deep dive into providing a basis for the mix. Its purpose is really to bring all the species of wood together, and say “See? Look how well we all get along.”
  • Hardest wood on bottom shelf. This was strategic. This is the shelf that’s going to take the most beating. It’s kid-height and will have kid toys pounding on it daily.
  • Naturally supportive joinery. In fact, the shelves are not actually attached to the supports other than a resting friction fit. The joinery is designed to prevent movement in the directions these shelves will naturally want to move when pressure is applied.

-- Keith | Subscribe:

4 comments so far

View RICOCO's profile


47 posts in 3066 days

#1 posted 02-22-2016 11:26 PM

I love the use of different species for the shelves. Simple, Elegant, and Functional the SEF principal at its best. Also a great use of space.

-- Paul

View pottz's profile


6043 posts in 1468 days

#2 posted 02-22-2016 11:43 PM

nice job very clean lines and the mix of wood is a cool idea being that very little of the furniture in my house matches either.great look and use of dead space.

-- sawdust the bigger the pile the bigger my smile-larry,so cal.

View Matt Vredenburg's profile

Matt Vredenburg

193 posts in 3898 days

#3 posted 02-24-2016 02:18 PM

Nice job. I love the different choices of wood for the shelves and your creative finishing technique.

-- Matt, Arizona

View Cameron Robertson's profile

Cameron Robertson

56 posts in 2247 days

#4 posted 05-08-2017 08:25 AM

The area behind doors is usually left abandoned and I personally feel that it is a lot of wasted space. Currently I have a storage cabinet that fits just snugly behind the door. We obviously use it for shoes and coats and it really helps to keep the mess in. Nevertheless, great shelf you have got there and I love how it adds a touch of modern interior to the area.

-- Cameron Robertson, Manager of storage Dee Why -

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