Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
I co-host the Your Home Story podcast and believe you can love your home just the way it is, AND have the power to design and make big changes to make it better.
I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!
Mom to Otto born April 2018 and Lucy born August 2020!

DIY, budget-friendly floating-look open shelves!

I knew I wanted to include open shelves in our kitchen because I loved them so much at our last house! We did very simple DIY wood + metal bracket open shelves at our last house, and installed them over tile. It was a DIY success, but they were never that exciting looking.

For this kitchen (lots of white, more elegant, less boho than our last) we wanted more presence to our open shelves. Thicker, stained wood. I looked into floating shelves, but because of our stud locations, we weren't confident we could make any of the premade brackets work. Plus, the chunkier floating wood shelves available now are sometimes $200/shelf! We needed 3, custom length at about 27".

But, because of where the backsplash tile ended, it would have been awkward to use traditional brackets. Instead, we put together some beautiful shelves that have a floating look (from some angles!), have more thickness than a plain board cut to length, and are the perfect rich color for our kitchen!

Remember you can also check out other posts on this DIY kitchen reno:

Finding thick boards was a struggle for us last time, and this time, so we did something one of the lumber stores recommended--STAIR TREADS! They're thicker than a standard piece of lumber, they're deep enough for kitchen shelves, and they come in a couple materials. The ones I used are $9.98 each--when you add up the cost of the brackets you get to about $90 for all three shelves. Pretty good!!!

DIY, budget-friendly floating-look open shelves tutorial

You will need:

  • 3 stair treads (we used pine--cheaper and lighter weight, but don't take stain as well). Here they are in 36" wide and 48" wide.
  • 6 of these brackets--we ordered two sets of 4
  • Orbital sander
  • Chop saw or miter saw
  • Table saw
  • Small container of wood stain--we used Early American
  • Wood conditioner (if using pine stair treads)--unless you use a gel stain
  • Polyurethane
  • Fine grain sandpaper


1. Plan.

Stud placement is very important in this project! The brackets come with drywall screws but we don't have drywall; we have plaster--we could have chosen to use a plaster anchor, but felt much better about screwing right into studs. We ended up buying 3" black screws so we could angle them on one side. Find and mark your studs and decide if you'll mount your brackets at the edges of the shelves or somewhere in the middle.

2. Cut stair treads to size.

They are generally about 11.5" deep, and for kitchen shelves you typically want them 10" deep. (That's a good size to store plates and other larger items.)

First, cut them to the right length (we were filling the space between a narrow cabinet and window, so needed 27.25").

Then, cut them the long way to 10" deep.

3. Finish shelves.

Sand the cut edges (and the edges that came cut from the store, as they might be treated with something changing the texture) using an orbital sander.

Brush off the dust and apply a coat of stain. NOTE: I did not use any wood conditioner and on a soft wood like pine, the stain did not apply evenly (the worst was just the one side of that shelf you see on the far left). You can use a wood conditioner first, or I've heard gel stains work better for pine.

Brush off the stain; flip over and do the other side. Watch for drips around the edges!

Once the stained shelves are fully dry, apply the first coat of wipe-on polyurethane.

Once that's dry, gently sand with fine sandpaper. The first coat really picks up little texture in the wood and mine was definitely rough, and SO much smoother with just a gentle sanding!

Then apply another coat of poly.

4. Measure and hang.

We were working between the top of our window trim and the top of our backsplash (which lines up with the bottom of our upper cabinets), so centered the middle shelf based on those limits.

We drew level lines to make it easier to level the brackets and line them up with each other.

Dry fit the shelves (clap! They look so good, hooray!) and mark where the horizontal part of the bracket holes will go. Drill pilot holes.

Screw in. The brackets come with black screws, super easy!

Done!!!! Style and enjoy!!!!

We're still working out what we put on these but we love them so far!

This kitchen needed some extra warmth, with the white cabinets, backsplash, and countertops, and these deliver. I lucked out on that stain color. Love it!

The wood is beautiful up close, too. We like the grain that shows through!

They don't float the way a concealed bracket floating shelf does, but installing the brackets with the wall mount pointing up means they look less industrial, and we didn't have to drill through tile (and have the lower brackets on a different plane than the upper ones).

We are still figuring out what to put on them... at our last house we kept plates, bowls, and glasses (most of the most commonly used things) on them and they were also right above the dishwasher, and it worked out perfectly. But I also want to keep that pretty-and-functional colander on these, and some styling elements like that art. So we'll see!

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