Not Martha

DIY: shoe rack for a tight space

Hi there, for this post I’m collaborating with 3M DIY.

A few years back I made a shoe rack for the tiny corner by our back door which is the only place to put shoes when we enter the house. There isn’t enough room to fit a regular rack and the space is tight enough that I wanted to avoid having anything hard that I (because I am clumsy) could bang my shin on as I am reaching for my coat or hurrying to shut off the house alarm. At the time I took some inspiration from a designer rack (that was tragically built too long to fit into our space) and set up a series of short shelves that the toes of the shoes perch on. We’ve used it for the last, wow, five years but of course it very quickly went from the spot to hold four pairs of shoes to the spot where we unceremoniously dump about ten pairs.

Our original rack was installed using a series of L-brackets and when we were putting it up we realized that if we’d mounted the shelves on a backing instead of the wall itself we would have to drill a whole lot fewer holes into the wall. So, with the shoe situation only getting worse I decided to make a version that would hold six pairs of shoes instead of four and this time make it with a backing.

I realized that no matter what we’d still put shoes on the floor under the rack itself so I hung it high enough on the wall so that it short boots put underneath wouldn’t run into the soles of shoes on the lower part of the rack. This means we can neatly (or some approximation thereof) store eight pairs of shoes in a compact space and if I do bump into anything it will only knock a shoe off the rack and cause no pain. Excellent.

I’m happy with the result but I’ll admit it was more complicated to build than my earlier version. It does feel sturdier though. I can report (or, really, brag) that I build and installed this all by myself because my loyal manservant had supposedly important things to do. Like go to his job.

As I was making this I would complain to Scott in the evenings that it was so much work and that I don’t think woodworking is something I would be adding to my Do Not Like list (right next to dealing with out of control ivy). But now that I have it up and it’s being used I’m already wondering what other custom storage I can build for my house. I found sanding surfaces down to be very therapeutic.

Click through to see instructions.

You’ll need:

  • 1 sheet of 1/2″ plywood cut to size (see below for determining dimensions, I used birch)
  • 1 or 2 boards of 1/2″ x 2.5″ wood cut to width (I used poplar)
  • 1 or 2 boards of 1/2″ x 5.5″ wood cut to width (I used poplar)
  • sanding blocks
  • stain and sealant or paint
  • 4 drywall anchors
  • wood screws, I used #6, 1.25 inches
  • safety googles
  • mask for dust or fumes
  • work gloves
  • a good sturdy drill
  • a way to hold up a few things while you mark and drill, or a friend to hold things in place for you

Here is the diagram I used to determine size (those orange blobs are supposed to be shoes as seen from the heel, I added them later in Photoshop and apologize for the decidedly un-shoe like appearance of them):

I determined that upper and lower shelves that are 2 inches apart are good for all of our shoes. I set each set of these 3.5 inches apart to allow for the tallest of Scott’s shoes, though if you are and all-female family that plans to mostly store flats here I think you could get away with spacing each set of shelves only 2.5 inches apart. With these two measurements in mind I figured I could fit three sets of shelves and not run into the long rain coat I hang in that corner.

I went to a hardware store and bought one sheet of 1/2″ plywood and a few 1/2″ x 2.5″ and 1/2″ x 5.5″ boards and had them cut to size. For me this meant 20 inches wide, and the plywood was cut to 16 inches high.

Here is what I did: I sanded and stained my wood, then marked and drilled holes.

Here is what you should do: Mark and drill holes then sand and stain (or paint).

I marked and drilled holes through the plywood from the back to the front and it chipped up the front surface. The nice surface I had just spent so much time sanding and staining and sealing and waiting for. Darn. I’m sure if I worked with wood more often this would be a mistake I wouldn’t make. In any case, don’t be like me.

Mark holes to drill in the backing

I found my sewing rulers work really well for marking the grid of where to drill holes.

Drill holes

I did four wood screws for each 20″ shelf and they seem incredibly sturdy. I used #6 wood screws so I used a 5/32nd drill bit for the backing (so that the screws can slide right through).

While you’re drilling the holes to attach the shelves, also drill the holes for the drywall anchors, your package should tell you which drill bit size to use. Place the holes below the wider shelves and you won’t be able to see the mounting hardware while you are standing.


I stained my wood so I dutifully used three different grades of sanding block. I thought I’d hate this part but I found it really enjoyable (with a few podcasts to listen to).

I wore a dust mask and safety goggles while I was building this because wood dust did fly everywhere and I like my lungs and eyes. The 3M TEKK Protection masks with the cool flow valve made a huge difference. I’m used to using a mask for gardening and it gets hot and humid underneath and makes me cranky. I wore this one for a while before I realized that I was very comfortable. In fact while I was sanding my biggest complaint was that I kept getting sawdust on my iPhone.

Stain or paint

I awkwardly propped up boards to stain and seal them, I only did the three surfaces that face the hallway. What? I’m lazy, and we’ll never see the other sides. Promise.

I accidentally tracked a bit of the stain on the deck that Scott painted earlier this summer. Sorry sweetie!

Mark spots for pilot holes

To mark the pilot holes for the shelves I set the shelf were it would go, then set it down and drew a vertical line. I drilled shallow 1/8th pilot holes into the shelves, and marked the position of each before I moved on to the next one.

Attach the shelves

I propped the backing up held up a shelf and started the screws using a wratcheting hand screwdriver. Once the screws were sunk I switched to a power driver. Time consuming but safe. Also, maybe you shouldn’t forget the wood glue the way I did. Oops.

Ta da! Dusty and imperfect but solid!

Mark wall for anchors

To clear the tops of Scott’s boots I determined that the whole thing needed to be set about 6 inches off the height of the floor. Not having a second pair of hands I used black beans and Douglas Adams to hold the whole thing up to the correct height so I could mark the spots to put the drywall anchors. Thanks Mr. Adams! Thanks, uh, beans!

From the ground you can see the screws that hold the rack to the wall but…

From the point of standing the screws are out of sight.

I mentioned above that I ruined the finish on my stained boards. How did I fix them? I took the Pretty Woman approach shown above. It’s a bit There I Fixed It but most of the ruined finish is hidden at the spots the shelves are attached, and what you can see is hidden in shadow. And Sharpie. It’s like I never messed up that badly!

A few notes: If you are renting and hoping to avoid putting any holes in the walls you could lean this instead. I only have 20 inches of width to work with, but I don’t think the way I’ve constructed this would be strong enough to hold more than three pairs of shoes per set of shelves so experiment a little before committing to something bigger.

Conclusion: It took a bit of time to build but since we know we’ll use it for a long time the effort was worth it. This compact she rack remains a better solution for our tight corner than anything we could buy in a store.

This post is a collaboration with 3M DIY. To learn more about safety and preparation, visit

All content and opinions are my own.

· comments [21] · 09-17-2012 · categories:the home ·

21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 margo // Sep 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    just great. i would not even have the nerve to tackle it.

  • 2 megan // Sep 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Why thanks Margo! I had a little experience working with wood from doing theater in college. Its still really intimidating to drill half-inch holes in your drywall though.

  • 3 Jen // Sep 17, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    What a GREAT idea! Very impressed, as always!

  • 4 pam // Sep 18, 2012 at 9:43 am

    i’m never going to make it myself (i know me) but i’d love one of these that would fit my three kids’ shoes! they seem to multiply and get everywhere. (like my kids.)

  • 5 megan // Sep 18, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Jen – Thank you!

  • 6 megan // Sep 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Pam – You can find the 2.5 and 5.5 inch wide boards sold in 2 foot lengths at the hardware store, they are nice and smooth already and would just need a coat of latex paint. Use the L brackets (like in the first version) and it would be really easy to set up. It just means more holes in your walls. We used half of those plastic drywall anchor screw setups for our first version and it was sturdy until the day I took it down.

  • 7 Sara // Sep 19, 2012 at 6:46 am

    Nice. I would add/glue a layer of felt fabric or something similar on the underside of the toe hold. Should prevent scratches on leather shoes when you pull shoes the wrong way.

  • 8 liz // Sep 19, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Very cute! And you could even store stuff on those little ledges! Umbrellas, shoe polish….

  • 9 jet // Sep 20, 2012 at 5:48 am

    woooow this is brilliant, love it, i have a stupid electric closet that needs something like yours.
    thank you for the sharing and the great diy.
    I’m i will make one;-D

  • 10 megan // Sep 20, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Thank you! I hope yours works well for you. Send pictures please!

  • 11 Daniel // Sep 21, 2012 at 2:55 am

    Awesome! We’ve got a small front foyer, with split level stairs, and no room for storage. This is what I envisioned, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how it needed to be built. I think I’ll add some sides to it for strength and put a boot tray underneath for the winter months. Thanks for sharing!

  • 12 Kristen // Sep 24, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Oh my gosh girl, this is brilliant!

  • 13 megan // Sep 24, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Thank you!

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  • 15 Seanna Lea // Sep 25, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Very nice. I don’t know if that will work in our space. We have a longish wall, which is great. However, the pile of shoes is just that, an unorganized pile. Any organization would be terrific but the coats hand awfully low.

  • 16 Robin Van Vleet // Oct 7, 2012 at 11:36 am

    A little modern for my decor, but this would be just fabulous in my boyfriend’s house! Thanks for sharing!

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  • 21 Steve Townsend // Jan 6, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Hi, this is really good. I went through dozens of designs getting more depressed until I saw yours. Even the measurements are perfect for what I need. I am going to make this at the weekend and I want to put progress pics on my DIY facebook page MyOldHouse34
    I will definately accredit you and point my friends to your page for this.
    It really is a wonderful design. Thank you for sharing.
    Take care, Steve

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