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How to Build Recessed Bathroom Shelves

Gain extra storage inside the walls! I'll show you how to build recessed bathroom shelves or a wall niche between the studs. Make adjustable shelves with an easy-to-use shelf pin jig, so you can customize the space to fit your needs.

How to Build Recessed Bathroom Shelves
There's so much unclaimed space in your home, hidden between the studs in the walls. I wanted to reclaim some of that space in our bathroom remodel by creating a wall niche next to the sink for pretty toiletries. Building recessed bathroom shelves is easier than you think, and gives you convenient storage without taking up any floor space!

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Welcome to Week 2 of the One Room Challenge! If you're just joining me, you can see all my posts for this bathroom remodel here. This week was all about prepping the walls I destroyed during demolition, and getting ready to install lots and lots of tile. Skip down to the end of this post if you want to see this week's progress!

After removing the side mirror from the vanity area of our bathroom, I was left with this awkwardly angled wall.

future spot for recessed bathroom shelves on angled wall

There's no medicine cabinet, so I decided built in bathroom shelves would be perfect in this spot. It will keep clutter off the counter without shelves sticking out from the wall and impeding use of the vanity.

It's pretty simple to put shelves between the studs of any wall. Get your tools ready and build yourself a new wall niche!

Materials Needed to Build Recessed Bathroom Shelves

Don't forget your safety gear when woodworking! Here are my recommendations for safety glasses and ear protection. Drywall dust isn't good for your lungs (and you'll be making a lot of it!), so a respirator mask is a must. No excuses!

Don't want to go through the trouble of building your own recessed bathroom shelves? Here are some pre-made options! Then follow the tutorial for installation below.

How to Build Recessed Bathroom Shelves

Plan Before You Cut

Use the stud finder to locate the edges of each stud. Normally studs are 16-24 inches apart, but they're much closer together on this particular wall. At least it's centered over the vanity! Click to learn how to find a stud in the wall, with or without a stud finder.

Mark the studs, then decide how tall you want to make the space. Keep in mind the width of the trim you plan to use. If I went too much higher than this, the trim would look awkward up against the soffit. Too much lower, and it would run into the backsplash I'll be installing later.

Cut the Hole

Score the drywall paper with a utility knife and a straight edge. Then cut inside the line with the drywall saw. You can always trim off the excess later. Cut with the saw at an angle so you don't accidentally poke through to the drywall on the other side!

drywall cut with drywall saw for recessed bathroom shelves

Trim away any excess drywall along the edge of the stud. You want it to be perfectly flush with the edge of the wood. Also check that the corners are square and the top and bottom are level.

Cut the Shelf Pieces

Measure the exact dimensions of your newly cut hole, then cut a piece of 1/4" plywood to match. This will be the back of the shelf.

I used 1/2" plywood for this small set of recessed shelves. Consider using 3/4" plywood if you're making bigger shelves or plan to put heavy things on them.

Measure the depth of your wall cavity from the outer drywall edge to the back of the drywall on the other side. Subtract 1/4" for the plywood back.

Cut the 1/2" plywood to the dimensions of your hole to create the interior frame, as well as the interior shelves. Check your cut pieces against the plywood backing to make sure they all fit.

recessed bathroom shelves pieces cut and testing fit

 

Add Shelf Pin Holes (optional)

Add flexibility to your shelving configuration with shelf pin holes. This is easy to do with the Kreg Shelf Pin Jig! I'll be writing up a tutorial on how to use this tool later on.

Drilling holes in recessed bathroom shelves for shelf pins

Assemble the Recessed Bathroom Shelves

Apply wood glue to the ends of the vertical pieces, and attach the top and bottom with brad nails. I used these clamps to hold the pieces together while I wielded the nail gun.

assembling recessed bathroom shelves

Glue the back of the assembled frame, then attach the 1/4" plywood back with brad nails.

nailing the back of recessed bathroom shelves in place with a Ryobi Airstrike brad nailer

Install the Recessed Bathroom Shelves

Now, the moment of truth! Hopefully, your newly assembled shelving unit should slide right into the hole you cut out of the drywall.

It was at this point that I realized that the left stud wasn't installed straight! I inserted shims to get it level, then nailed through the shim and into the stud. Then I scored and snapped the shim flush with the wall. Luckily, all this mess will be covered up in the next step.

Installing recessed bathroom shelves with shim on one side

Attach the shelves to the studs with brad nails. If you're making a bigger recessed shelf that will be holding a lot of weight, use screws instead.

Recessed bathroom shelves installation

Attach Trim to Outside Edge

To cover up the cut drywall and plywood edges, you'll want to find a thin moulding that coordinates with the other elements of the room.

The trim I found at Home Depot is almost an exact match to the detail on the inside panel of the cabinet doors from Cabinet Door Mart I'll be installing on the vanity. Score!

Miter the corners of each piece to create a frame. Apply wood glue to the back and angled cuts, then nail them to the plywood shelf edges.

trim added to recessed bathroom shelves

Wood filler will fix up any gaps and nail holes. Caulk the outside edge where the trim meets the wall and the interior seams. It looks like a mess now, but it will look great once it's painted!

Filling gaps and holes in the recessed bathroom shelves with wood filler and caulk

Paint or Stain Your Shelves

Give everything a few coats of primer to even out the color.

recessed bathroom shelves niche

I painted the shelves a few shades lighter than the wall color for a subtle contrast.

recessed shelves added to the wall during a DIY bathroom renovation

It's a great spot for soaps, lotions and bath accessories! You can see all the final reveal photos here.

close up view of essential oils and candle in recessed shelves


One Room Challenge Guest Participant

Don't worry, I didn't waste a week of the One Room Challenge just on these recessed bathroom shelves! The rest of the time was spent repairing the wall damage done during demolition and prepping the vanity for tile.

The giant hole from my overly aggressive chiseling was patched up with the drywall cut out for the shelves. Everything was smoothed over with joint compound and is ready for new tile!

drywall repair patch

The damaged drywall paper was sanded down, then coated with GARDZ Problem Surface Sealer. This stuff is great for strengthening ripped drywall paper or gouges that are crumbling. You can find my tutorial for how to repair torn drywall paper here. All of these surfaces will be covered with tile as well.

applying Gardz Problem Surface Sealer to torn drywall paper

The hexagon sink hole in the vanity was cut into a more traditional shape for the new sink.

sink hole cut into plywood top of bathroom vanity

I had some leftover cement backer board from building my fireplace hearth, so I pieced together enough to cover the vanity. This was attached to the plywood top with thinset mortar and 1 5/8" backer board screws.

cement backer board on vanity top

Next week is all about vanity tile, sink and faucet installation! I'm excited to finally start making this bathroom pretty!

bathroom remodel in progress - recessed bathroom shelves installed and vanity ready for tile

Here's the checklist so far:

  • Repair wall damage from demolition
  • Install recessed shelves next to sink
  • Attach new backer board to vanity and cut hole for sink
  • Install vanity tile
  • Install sink and faucet
  • Frame mirror
  • Stain and install new vanity doors and drawer fronts
  • Install hand shower for tub
  • Tile tub
  • Tile walls
  • Stain window trim to match vanity
  • Paint walls
  • Build and install floating shelves (time permitting)
  • Decorate!

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