Living room update: DIY open shelving

DIY open shelving for display | Growing SpacesWe’ve always struggled to make the living space in this house work for us. It’s part of a large open-plan L-shape area that also includes our kitchen diner. We used a large open shelving unit from Ikea as a room divider and create smaller zones within the open-plan area, but we always felt that we were left with a living area that felt small and cramped, and a bit of an odd dead space behind between the living and dining zones. That dead space has been used in a multitude of different ways with countless furniture arrangements – toy storage, a kids’ playroom, a family craft zone – but recently we decided that the bulky shelving unit was actually really limiting what we could do with the space as a whole, and so we hatched plans to get rid of it.

One of my main bugbears about living in a 1970s house is the complete lack of period features. Having always lived in period houses, I really miss elements such as chimney breasts, fireplaces and decorative cornice. In our last house we built shelving into the alcoves each side of the chimney breast in the living room, and I wanted to find a way to do something similar here – creating the impression of a period feature. We realised that by boxing in the window, we could build two sets of shelves, with a single, long shelf running above the window, along the whole length of the space.

DIY shelves for display | Growing SpacesIt’s the sort of project my husband Ben loves – lots of sketches, calculations and in-depth design consultations with my father-in-law took place before they were ready to go ahead. Ben and my FIL used MDF to construct the shelving. They built the frame inside the window first using frame fixers to secure it to the wall. Next they fixed side panels to the end walls (again using frame fixers). The bottom shelf was first, attached to batons underneath. The rest of the shelves were then attached to the side panels using pocket screws (you need a pocket screw jig to drill the shelves).

Window ledge for houseplants | Growing SpacesWhat I love about the new shelves (as well as all their display potential) is that they have created some architectural interest, which was really lacking before. They look like part of the room’s structure, and add depth to the space. What used to be a dead space now feels like it has a purpose, and that’s helped to pull the whole room together. It’s taken us four years, but finally we’re happy with the living area. For now, anyway!



  1. July 6, 2015 / 10:36 am

    It’s so brilliant! Another triumph for Mr Young. As someone who has faded about trying to arrange a shelf with plants for half an hour and still isn’t happy with it, you certainly make it look easy x

    • Heather Young July 6, 2015 / 5:49 pm

      Believe me it gets faffed about with everyday – I’m never completely happy!

  2. July 6, 2015 / 10:45 am

    Wow – that sort of project would take four years over here!
    Looks great – bet you had a lovely day arranging those shelves. (PS. I’ve totally bought into the clothes folding technique from your video and I LOVE it!)

    • Heather Young July 6, 2015 / 5:50 pm

      Arranging the shelves was indeed a highlight – you know me well Alexis! And hurrah for vertical folding – let’s spread the craze!

  3. July 6, 2015 / 9:20 pm

    That is do gorgeous! Wish my otherhalf was more handy!

    • Heather Young July 17, 2015 / 6:14 pm

      Having a handy other half is a total godsend. Makes life so much easier!

  4. July 9, 2015 / 12:14 am

    Love your open shelving so hard to get that relaxed displayed look, as an ex visual merchandiser it’s hard to not over do it, but you’ve got it perfect! We are always fiddling with our shelves too 🙂

    • Heather Young July 17, 2015 / 6:13 pm

      It’s such a fine line isn’t it? I’m never 100% happy but it’ll do for now 😉

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