Awesome shelving unit

(This is an old post I started writing back in November 2011. Even though it is not very timely, I thought you all might still want to read it!)

When we started making plans for decorating our current apartment, Daniel asked for some websites to read for inspiration. You see, my blog feed reader basically consists of equal parts design blogs and feminist/womanist/progressive blogs (with a sprinkling of critters sites, of course), and I’m also on Pinterest regularly. Daniel mostly reads about fashion and food, so while he isn’t design-illiterate, he literally just didn’t know where to look for ideas and inspiration. The first place I sent him to was The Brick House. Morgan’s blog has been a major inspiration for all the projects we’re attempting in the new place. Her aesthetic is spot-on and she is a major deal-hound.

So I promised a long time ago I would show you how we built the shelving unit in our living room. I have to be honest and admit that we ripped off the whole concept of the shelf from The Brick House. When I showed Daniel a picture of her unit and told him I wanted to copy it, he was immediately on board.

Shelving unit from The Brick House

shelving unit

Our version

Despite the fact that Morgan had pretty much laid the whole thing out for us, this was still a beast and we made so many (expensive!) mistakes. But it is just awesome, don’t you think? Here is how we did it:

First, we planned some changes to the inspiration unit to better fit our needs. We added an extra short shelf on the right to accommodate all our books, and then to keep the whole thing balanced-looking, we shifted the lowest shelf to the left side.

The whole shelving unit is built with steel plumbing/gas pipes and pine boards from Home Depot. It is only attached to the wall at the top with 4 screws in each flange, but since the poles are all steel and completely inflexible, the unit is really solid and stable.

After we had our favorite design sketched out, we planned how many pieces of each size pipe we would need. Here is our final* shopping list:

Assorted lengths of 3/4″ black gas pipe (you can totally use cheaper 1/2″ pipe for a slimmer look)

  • 20 – 6″ pipe (for shelf supports)
  • 4 – 8″ pipe (for the top pipes that go to the wall)
  • 11 – 12″ pipe
  • 2 – 18″ pipe
  • 2 – ~32″ pipe (custom cut & threaded to the same length as 18″+tee+12″)
  • 1 – ~43″ pipe (custom cut & threaded to the same length as 12″+tee+12″+tee+12″)

(You can buy one big 10′ pipe and have the guy at Home Depot to cut and thread it into our three custom-length pieces).

Fittings for 3/4″ gas pipe:

  • 20 – elbow joints
  • 16 – T-joints
  • 8 – base flanges


  • 2 – 1″x12″x88″ pine boards
  • 3 – 1″x12″x48″ pine boards

(We bought three 1″x12″x8′ boards and had Home Depot cut them to the lengths we needed).

    Other stuff:

  • black spray paint
  • drill and spade bit (I think we ended up with a 1 1/4″ size bit)
  • wood stain – we used Minwax wood conditioner and stain in Special Walnut 224.

After a trip to Home Depot, we came home with a ton of greasy, dirty black gas pipes from the plumbing section. We decided to use black gas pipes instead of the shiny steel water pipes because gas pipes are a little cheaper and we knew we were going to paint them anyway.

Daniel laboriously peeled the sticker off each pipe and washed them in the bathtub with lots of soap. Then he spray painted them black. (Pro tip: assemble the pipes or tape off the ends before painting or you will muck up the threads).

building the shelving unit

Meanwhile, I sanded and stained the shelf boards and drilled holes for the pipes to go through. Each shelf needs 1 hole for each upright that goes through it. The holes go along the front edge of the shelf.

Once all the components were prepped (and we caught and fixed all our mistakes!) we laid everything out and got to building:

building the shelving unit

In the photo above you can see how all the components come together. The elbow joints sit at the back of each horizontal shelf support. Each shelf rests on top of the flat ends of the elbows and the top of the T-fittings. Four of the flanges are used as flat bases at the bottom of each upright (they’re not drilled into the floor) and the other 4 flanges sit flush against the wall and are screwed in.

There were a few tense moments before we were sure everything would lock in place, since there’s not a lot of wiggle room. But the assembly part came together so much quicker than all the tedious prep – it only took about 10 minutes total to build.

building the shelving unit

building the shelving unit

Ta-da! Our giant, awesome, custom shelving unit. It takes up the whole wall and it only cost a couple hundred dollars to make, including the cost of our errors. Speaking of mistakes…

* Here are all the things we messed up at first, and their approximate cost to fix. Homemade may be better, but it is only cheaper if you don’t fuck up.

  • Bought 3/4″ black gas pipe instead of 1/2″ like we planned to (and like the Brick House unit). I have no idea how that happened. Cost difference: +$60
  • Bought 8″ pipes for shelf supports, drilled the holes in the wood shelves, and then I realized I drilled the holes as if for 6″ supports. Since we had already washed and painted all the 8″ pipe, we couldn’t return it. Cost: $50 and an extra trip to Home Depot
  • Bought the wrong size spade bit to drill the holes in the boards. Cost: $5 and an extra trip to Home Depot
  • Realized we forgot to buy a board for one of the shelves we had planned. Cost: An extra trip to Home Depot, plus the cost of the board we were already planning to buy.

Yes, that is 4 extra trips to Home Depot over the course of a week. Later that week, we blew a fuse in the kitchen and had to run to HD again before we could make dinner.

One response to “Awesome shelving unit

  1. Pingback: oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies with sea salt | a fistful of basil

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