Bathroom Makeover Challenge Part 4: Install a Recessed Shelf

Returning with the fourth part of her Bathroom Makeover Challenge is DIY expert and professional furniture maker Natasha Dickens of Little Red Industries. In this post, Natasha takes us through how to install a functional and stylish recessed shelf.

I love the idea of rolling with the surprises that a renovation can reveal. Rather than covering up the issue, it’s more challenging and rewarding to find a solution and put a unique twist on the design of a room.

When I removed the oddly-positioned mirrors in my bathroom, I discovered that one of them was hiding a former window cavity. The hidden window cavity was the perfect size for recessed shelving to make up for losing the vanity drawers and shower caddy while making a feature of it and continuing the handcrafted theme. Designing the shelf with the dowel as the supports adds some mid-century-style and continues the theme of using Tasmanian oak to make this a truly unique reno.

The dimensions of your shelf may differ, but the key is to buy lengths of DAR pine that will fit flush into the shelf while allowing for plywood backing. In this case, 90mm pine fitted perfectly with a 7mm thick plywood backing. The shelf is finished in the same specialised anti-mould paint as the bathroom wall for a seamless look. The timber shelves are made from 65 x 18mm Tasmanian oak with 25mm Tasmanian oak dowel supports. 

The frame is made from 30 x 19 Tasmanian oak picture frame moulding that’s cut to fit once the shelf is installed. Use a moisture-resistant adhesive like Bondall’s Bondcrete, which dries quickly and clear, and seal all new timber in Monocel Gold Clear Timber Varnish in Satin.

STEP 1: Measure up and make a frame to go inside the cavity, double-checking it fits easily before countersinking and securing with two 40mm screws each join.

STEP 2: Use the frame to mark out and cut the plywood backing then paint the back to protect against mould.

STEP 3: Attach the backing, countersinking and securing around the edges with 25mm screws.

STEP 4: Design the setout of your shelf, cutting three Tasmanian oak shelves to fit snuggly inside the frame. Working from the base, one section at a time, cut the dowel supports to fit as you go.

STEP 5: Use a 25mm Forstner bit with a drill to make 4mm-deep recessed holes to hold the dowel at the bottom and top. Add adhesive then position the shelf above, fitting it snuggly into the frame.

STEP 6: Working on the next shelf up, cut the dowel to fit, make the recessed holes at the top and bottom and position the shelf without adding adhesive so that it can be removed to finish the top section. Measure the top dowel support to fit, make the recessed holes, apply adhesive to the holes and assemble.

STEP 7: Check the shelves are straight by measuring each side, from the base, adjusting as needed then leaving to dry.

STEP 8: Remove the shelving assembly from the frame to lightly sand all over using 180-grit abrasive paper. Apply three coats of Monocel Gold Clear Timber Varnish in Satin over all surfaces, including under the shelves, leaving to dry between coats.

STEP 9: Paint the frame inside and out with the same paint as the bathroom walls, applying two coats.

STEP 10: Reposition the shelving in the frame, attaching the shelves to the frame with 40mm screws, measuring both sides from the base to ensure they’re straight.

STEP 11: Cut 30 x 19 Tasmanian oak picture frame moulding to fit around the frame, countersinking the screw holes before sealing, leaving to dry, then attaching to the frame with 25mm screws.

STEP 12: Position the shelf in the cavity, securing it to the framework, countersinking and using 60mm screws, covering with filler, sanding and touching up with wall paint. And there you have it!

STEP 13: Use Bondall’s Waterbased Turps to clean up any spills before you call it a day.