Bathroom Shelf Ideas: Built-In Shelf Tutorial

I’ve always wanted to try inset shelving. Using the space between studs can look so sleek if done right. My primary bathroom was lacking storage, and I knew this was my opportunity to go for it! After some trial and error, my between-stud inset niche turned out just as planned. I shared it on Instagram a couple of weeks ago and it was by far my most popular reel to date. A lot of you requested a tutorial, so read on if you want to learn how to do this step-by-step!

You can also check out my ultra-quick video tutorial on YouTube:

This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.

Will a Niche Work in My Wall?

Before planning or buying materials, you’ll need to determine if a built-in shelf will work in your space. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you have drywall over your studs and standard stud spacing? Plenty of my European friends noted that they had concrete walls and couldn’t attempt this project.
  • Enough space? Your shelf needs to attach to at least one of the two studs it sits between. Studs are normally 16 inches apart. Find your studs first and decide if you’re happy with the placement available to you.
  • Are there electrical wires, pipes, etc in between the studs? You may have to put a hole in the wall to find out (see steps 4&5) but do your best to ensure your between-stud space is empty before starting the project.
  • This tutorial is for a bathroom vanity niche only; think storing your face creams and such.

Materials Needed

Project wood 3-4″ wide, 1/2″ thick, and enough length for your shelf frame plus any shelf tiers. (For example: A 15″ wide x 20″ tall shelf with one additional tier would need 15×3 + 20×2 = 85 inches (or an 8 ft long board)

Wood for back of niche (I used this nickelgap panel)

Tool of choice to cut into drywall: Utility knife, jab saw, oscillating saw, etc

Saw of choice to cut your wood (I used a miter saw) Note: You can rent most saws at Home Depot if you don’t have them to hand and don’t wish to buy one.

*Drill and drill bits: Pilot, wood-boring, and Philips head

*1-1 1/2″ wood screws

*Square

*Measuring tape

*Level / laser level (I use this one for everything)

*Wood glue

*Wood stain in color of choice

*Polyurethane

*Stainable wood filler (optional)

*Corner clamps (or super glue if you don’t have clamps)

*Paint (color of your surrounding walls)

*Brad nailer

*Caulk

Step-By-Step Tutorial

  1. Find your studs and decide on the size and placement of your niche. Studs are normally 16” apart (center of stud to center of stud). So if want your shelf less than 15″ wide, determine which one stud you’ll attach it to. Important: You have the option to attach to one stud instead of two ONLY if you have access to the other side of the wall for additional support screws. If not, you will need to go stud to stud or it may not be stable enough.
  1. Trace the cutout for the niche using a square and level. A laser level, if you have one, can assist in creating level lines as you draw. Note: Placement may need to be altered once you find out exactly where the studs begin.
  1. Turn OFF your electric! Even if you think there’s no electric there, you can never be too careful.
  1. Use a wood-boring drill bit to make a starter hole in one of the corners of your traced rectangle, then cut an opening within your traced rectangle, large enough for your smartphone to fit through.
  1. Use your phone to take photos/ video within the opening to ensure there are no obstructions, pipes, electric, etc.
  1. Cut horizontally until you find the stud. Then make adjustments to your traced rectangle if needed. This is why it’s so important to cut the opening before making the shelf! You can be flexible with the exact size of the opening.
  1. Once the lines are finalized, cut your rectangle in the drywall. I used a jab saw. Some people might prefer an oscillating saw. I also used a laser level as I cut. Cut just against the stud (or studs) without exposing them.
  1. It’s time to build your frame! You’re going to build a basic box. Using the measurements from your cutout, cut down your wood frame pieces to size using your preferred method. I used a miter saw.
  1. Glue your frame together with wood glue and corner clamps. If you don’t have clamps, you can use super glue in the gaps between your wood glue, and then use weights to hold in place. I built my frame with mitered edges because I planned on the edges being visible. I ended up painting the edges so this wasn’t necessary. Whichever way you build it, make sure the right angles are perfect!
  1. When the wood glue is dry, fasten with nail gun and finishing nails.
  1. Once your frame is built, add another tier (if desired) using the same wood. Attach with screws from the outside because they won’t be visible. Drill pilot holes before attempting to screw in!
  1. Use stainable wood filler for any noticeable gaps, then stain and poly of choice. I painted just the edges white to give the illusion of trim.
  1. Use thin project wood or backer board for the back of the shelf. I have paneled walls so I used leftover paneling. You can get creative with paint or wallpaper here if you want. Use a nail gun with 1″ nails to attach.
  1. Insert your shelf in the wall to test the depth. Decide if you want it to look flush with wall or protrude out. Mine protrudes about 1/4″.
  1. Now if you are attaching to both studs, installation is pretty simple – use a nail gun (with 1 1/2 – 2″ nails) to attach each side of the shelf to a stud. Then skip to last step. But if you are attaching to just one stud, read step 16!
built in shelf tutorial
  1. Fasten your shelf to the wall using a small block of wood. The block will sit between the shelf and the drywall behind it, so will need to be cut to your precise desired depth (see images). Screw the block in from the other side of the wall very carefully while a second person holds it in place. Then you can nail the shelf to the block in the back and to the stud on the side (nail gun with 1 1/2 – 2″ nails).
  1. You did it! Now just caulk and paint the seams for the finished look!

Shop This Bathroom

The Result!

This shelf is great for all the little annoying toiletries that tend to clutter the vanity countertop, but are still pretty enough to have on a shelf (i.e. nail polish, perfume, serums, creams). This size was the best solution for my bathroom and the minimal cosmetics I use. But you can make your inset shelf as large or as small as you’d like, so if you want to cram more things in there, I say go for it!

I hope this was helpful. If you attempt this DIY, I would love to see how it turned out!

Thank you for reading. Until next time!