How to Build Shelves Under Stairs [3 Easy Steps]

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Building shelves under your stairs is a genius way to create storage in an otherwise wasted space. This is a great project for suspended basement stairs with ample room for shelves or even smaller nooks of main staircases that could do with a decorative makeover. If you’re searching for a way to take advantage of these bare areas in your home and transform them into a useful space, then we’ve created the perfect guide for you to building shelves under your stairs!

Here are the basic steps to build shelves underneath your staircase:

  1. Measure and cut for your framework.
  2. Build your framework.
  3. Measure and attach desired shelving.

Building shelves under your stairs can be inexpensive yet time-consuming if you aren’t an experienced carpenter. Follow the steps below to create your own shelves!

Workplace with a computer and shelves under the stairs, How to Build Shelves Under Stairs [3 Easy Steps]

Creating Shelves Under Your Stairs

The standard building code angle of a normal staircase is 37 degrees. However, depending on the house’s age, what country it was built in, or even where it is located in your home can make this vary. For this reason, taking care to measure your own staircase and determine how much space you want for storage is up to you and your needs!

Materials

  • Measuring tape
  • Plywood (or other desired wood type)
  • Angle finder
  • Hammer or nail gun
  • 2-inch Nails

Step 1: Framework Measurements

For this step, there are a few measurements you will want to take. You’ll need your measuring tape, one that locks preferably, since you will measure larger distances.

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First, you will want to measure the run of the stairs. This is the floor’s length from where you plan to start the shelving to where you want to end it. This is going to be used for cutting the bottom of your shelf.

Secondly, you will want to measure the rise, which is the floor’s height to the highest point under the stairs you want the shelving to reach.

Third, measure the stairs’ slope or the diagonal from the point you want the shelves to begin to where you want them to end. It’s also important to determine the angle of your staircase at this point. This will allow you to cut the beveled edge of your plywood at the appropriate angle.

The beveled edge is an edge that is not perpendicular to the wood. Since the top of the frame will be at an angle, the edges of this piece and any edge attaching to this piece will have to be cut to this angle to fit together seamlessly. The easiest way to determine this is by using an angle finder tool.

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After you have taken these measurements, you can begin cutting your plywood accordingly. You should end up with four measured and cut pieces:

  • The bottom length with no beveled edges.
  • The shorter rise length for the side closer to the bottom of the stairs should have a beveled top edge.
  • The longer rise length with a beveled top edge.
  • The top slope piece will run along the bottom of the staircase and top of the shelf unit. Both edges should be beveled.

Don’t forget to account for the depth of the shelves you will need. You can purchase plywood that is identical length, so you can choose not to cut for depth at all. But if you buy larger plywood, you may want to begin by cutting the boards to the depth you want, but it’s recommended that it is at least 12 inches for it to be able to hold what you wish to store.

Step 2: Build Framework

You can build your framework in one of two ways, depending on your desired location and desired function of the shelves.

Build Into The Stairs

If you are okay with the shelving being more permanent, you can build the framework directly on to the staircase. This is best if you are building shelves that will run from one end of the stairs to the other, as this will give you a drywall or wood framework to attach your shelves.

You will do this by first attaching your slope piece along the bottom of the stairs with 2-inch nails. You can then attach both sides of the shelving unit to the stairs’ ends into the existing drywall or wood framework. Lastly, attach the bottom piece of cut plywood to the slope edges with nails or wood glue.

Using this method, you will have to measure and cut the bottom piece of plywood to fit between the two sloped end pieces as they will not be able to sit on top of this piece.

Removable Shelves

If you are looking for something less permanent or shelves that do not fill the entire space under the stairs, you can build the framework separately and then slide the unit into space. Keep in mind this may not be as secure.

For this method, you attach the four pieces of the framework outside of the staircase. You can use wood glue to attach the pieces before using your nails to secure it further. In this method, the shelf’s bottom piece can either sit under the rise ends or between them. Whichever you decide needs to be considered in the measurements. 

Once you have attached these pieces, you can slide the unit into the desired space under the stairs, attaching the top of the framework to the bottom of the stairs with 2-inch nails if you want.

Step 3: Shelves

Now that your framework is built, you can begin to measure and cut your shelves. This will be up to your needs and how much space you need. Consider things like what you plan to store on these shelves if you want to have more shelves smaller or fewer shelves that are larger. All of these questions can help you decide what sort of space you need to create.

You will want to begin with your vertical posts. You may only want one post for a smaller shelf, while larger shelves could use two or three. These posts are what will be dividing your horizontal shelves, so think about the amount of space you will need between each one.

When measuring for these posts, start from the bottom of the framework and measure it to the top. Remember that the top edge of these posts will need to be beveled to accommodate the stairs’ angle.

These can be secured with wood glue and nails.

For the horizontal shelves, you have a bit of creative freedom. Each column created by the vertical posts doesn’t have to be identical. You can have one column of three or four smaller shelves, and then the next column can have two taller shelves. Again, it’s about your personal storage and needs. 

If you placed the vertical posts equidistance apart, then you can cut identical horizontal shelves and place them where you want. These will need to be secured with wood glue and 2-inch nails as they will be holding the weight of the items on your shelves.

Once your framework is secure and your shelves are attached, you have successfully built shelves under your staircase! For a visual representation of how to build storage under your stairs where there is currently drywall, check out this YouTube video.

What is the Space Under the Stairs Called?

The space under the stairs is usually called “understairs,” but that’s not the technical name. If the flight of stairs is not sitting on top of another flight, then the space below the stairs is called the “spandrel.”

How to Hide Under the Stairs Storage? 

Curtains

Curtains are a stylish and effective way to hide the storage underneath your stairs. You have the freedom to choose your preferred curtain style, whether that be something bold to add to the surrounding decor or muted to blend in with the rest of the walls.

For basement stairs, the curtains can be hung from the ceiling per usual installation. However, it’s not as simple as hanging a curtain rod and adding curtains if you want to follow the angle of the stairs. You can fix this by attaching hooks along the stairs’ outside slope and use curtain rings to hang the curtains on the hooks. 

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This will not allow you to slide open the curtains, but you can lift the curtain ring to unhook as needed. You may want to also consider hemming the curtains at an angle to keep the lower half from laying on the ground. 

Doors

You’ve already built shelves for under your stairs, so why not take it a step further and add some stylish doors!

These can be as easy as cutting two plywood pieces in the same shape as your original frame and attaching hinged to existing posts or creating new ones. However, if you’re looking for something a little more polished, you can get custom doors made to fit the style and measurements you need.

Don’t Hide It

Storage doesn’t always have to be hidden, as long as it looks organized and put together. You can do this by staining or painting the shelves you built and use matching storage containers or bins to create a cohesive look.

How to organize under the stairs shelves?

Organizing the storage you put on your shelves can keep the area from becoming cluttered and messy. Here are some great products you can use to keep your space looking tidy.

Labeled Storage Bins

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Labeled bins with lids will keep your storage out of sight by also allowing you to know what you’ve stored where. You’ll keep yourself from having to search through every container to find one thing you need.

See-Through Storage

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Much like labels, see-through storage containers will allow you to know exactly what you’ve stored where. These bins are perfect for spare blankets, sheets, and clothes.

Small Containers

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These small bins are perfect for the odds and ends that wind up in storage. The lids make them perfect for stacking, and they’re stylish enough that you won’t have to hide them.

In Closing

Workplace with a computer and shelves under the stairs

Taking advantage of the space under your stairs is a great way to create new storage in your home. If you’re looking for more information on stairs and home decor, check out these posts:

Are New Stairs Supposed To Creak? [And How To Stop That]

How Much Floor Space Do Stairs Typically Take?

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