do it yourself, home inspo, my works

Making dining shelves out of wooden crates

For quite a while after moving in two years ago, our dining room walls were devoid of any décor. Because they’re made of cement, painting or drilling into them required a certain amount of finality—any change introduced to these walls would have to be tolerated for at least two to three years. So I really took my time poring into my design books, shelter magazines, Pinterest, tumblr, and design-related IG accounts to gather ideas for shelving.

Empty dining room walls
Our then almost-empty dining and living room walls

I knew I needed storage. At first, I mulled about buying a country-style china cabinet I had seen in Papemelroti—it was made of unpolished, unstained tanguile wood, with curvilinear brackets and wrought iron cabinet pulls. I didn’t want to use dark wood for cabinetry, so I thought of just having it painted a creamy white to match my kitchen cabinets. It cost only P13,000—a small amount, compared to other china cabinets I had seen in stores—but still an amount that needed me to think seriously about purchasing it.

Then I saw this photo on Pinterest:

luxury-kitchen-coffee-bar
Image courtesy of Pinterest

It appealed to me because I love the idea of a coffee station—everything you need to brew yourself a cup of joe in one place. It would make things easier for my husband, our resident barista, who often finds himself brewing coffee for both of us while half-asleep early in the morning.

But then, this would entail having the whole cabinet system custom-made. And while we already have a supplier for custom recycled-wood-and-wrought-iron furniture (another blog entry on that one in the future), I am too impatient to have to go through the whole process of discussing the design, and waiting for weeks to have it made and delivered.

Good thing I also saw this other photo. 711e6654f6e85697e124ed9986c4b955I’ve always loved the look of wooden crates, and I see it often used in American shelter magazines and books, particularly for country-style design. No matter how modern I’d like to think my design aesthetic is, at some point, there will always be that country-style girl somewhere in me (something I inherited from my mom!). Now these crates-turned-shelves appealed to my shabby-chic sensibilities, and I figured, it’d be a great way to display some of my china or glassware.

I pitched the idea to my husband, who liked the idea of a wine bar. But since the wall I had in mind is currently being used as our coffee station, we figured the shelves would have to be both a wine and coffee bar—we’ll have a wine-glass rack on one side, and a coffee-mug rack on the other.

Now before we continue, a disclaimer: I didn’t exactly create these shelves all by myself (which partially nullifies my calling this a DIY project), but hear me out.

While I would love to completely embrace the DIY mindset, cultural factors in our country keep me from doing so. Am I just making up some excuse for being too lazy to hang my own shelves or paint a wall in my bedroom? Maybe. But after many years of watching DIY shows on lifestyle channels, I’ve come to realize that it’s much easier to DIY anything in the US, for example, mainly because of the availability of ready-to-install materials. Plus, it’s much easier to hire a carpenter or handyman to do the dirty work for you. You can count yourself especially lucky if you’ve got a family handyman/carpenter/plumber/electrician you can trust with those custom-made projects.

That said, DIY-ing (as a term used loosely) is immensely fulfilling, particularly for a home decorator like myself. I’ve often complained to my husband about not knowing how to use our handy electric drill, and while I would really love to practice on our walls, he would sometimes make me rethink my plans by saying, “Paano kung tabingi? Paano kung masira yung dingding?” But time and again, I would find myself looking at a blank wall and imagining the floating shelves I could put up there, of picture frames and artworks that could populate the stairwell wall, of the cabinet system I have long been wanting to build in our laundry area. If only I knew how to use the tools and equipment at home—just imagine all the possibilities! No need to schedule with Jhay (yes, Jhay, with the ubiquitous h), our ever-so-busy, go-to carpenter. No need to pay for labor. Just roll up your sleeves, open the tool box, and build away.

Now even if I didn’t completely DIY these shelves (I’m sorry it’s been taking so long to discuss these shelves!)—I had Jhay’s help in actually drilling the materials into the walls—when I look at them now, up on my dining wall, I feel that certain pride of having my “work of art” on display. I may have gotten the idea on Pinterest, but the execution is (mostly) all mine. At the very least, a DIY home project makes for a good conversation topic. Guests often take notice because it’s not something you’ll find in the stores, which gives me an excuse to brag (because apart from feeling good in your home space, isn’t bragging one of the benefits of having a nice-looking house?).

I digress.

Gathering materials

The problem is, while wooden crates abound (as junk) in the US, here in the Philippines, it’s a rarity and a luxury. In one of my favorite local shelter magazines, I saw a wooden crate being sold for P1,250. There were also wooden crates being sold in Marketplace, a country store in SM North’s Interior Zone, but they weren’t the right size nor price for the project I had in mind.

It was only until a friend of mine had posted in Instagram about using wooden crates as night tables did I find out about the crates sold in Urban Abode (in Ortigas Home Depot). They were made of sanded pinewood, just the right size I wanted, and at that time, only cost P650 (they’ve since raised the price to P850).

Now before purchasing anything, it pays to measure the space you’ll be working on (one of the most important rules of DIY). This is something I carelessly forgot to do. Stupid, I know. I immediately went to Urban Abode with my hubby in tow. Because I didn’t have the right wall measurements, I couldn’t estimate how many crates I needed. The peg only had four, but I thought, what if we could fit two more? The actual crates looked smaller than I imagined, and I wasn’t sure if four would be enough. So I went ahead and bought six crates.

I wasn’t able to take a photo of the actual crates pre-DIY, so I ripped this photo off from Urban Abode’s Facebook page:

Image courtesy of Urban Abode's Facebook page
Image courtesy of Urban Abode’s Facebook page

I guess buying six worked to my advantage, since having four crates was just right, and I had two extra as a just-in-case option. Because another rule for DIY-ing, especially if you’re a first-time DIY-er like myself, is to always have extra materials on hand. You’ll never know how sound your building skills and capabilities are, so in case your first (or second) tries don’t go over too well, you’ll have enough materials to rectify the problem.

I quickly scheduled for Jhay to come over (if you’re like me, you’re always in a hurry to execute your ideas, or else you won’t be able to sleep). The day before construction, I gathered other materials I needed for the look I wanted, the main component of which is paint. It’s a good thing that we still have lots left over from when we renovated before moving in, particularly of the exact color of the dining room walls: Davies paint in Antique White, an off-white hue with a slight hint of red. I also bought sandpaper, which I ended up not using at all. While the crates were unfinished, I wanted my shelves to look old and unpolished, so those minor imperfections on the wood worked to my advantage.

I found the perfect size and material for the wine-glass racks in Ortigas Home Depot—black, powder-coated steel that was only 13” long—but couldn’t find a matching kitchen rack for the coffee mugs. We tried spray-painting a chrome-plated rack, but of course that proved disastrous. (Paint doesn’t usually adhere to chrome, no matter how much you prep the piece.) So the mug-rack would have to wait.

Next, I bought a pinewood shelf kit, also from Ortigas Home Depot. Since I planned to put glassware on the crate-shelves, I figured I would need support from below. I didn’t want to use L-rods like in the peg, so the pinewood shelf kit was perfect—it was the same material as my crates, used brackets for support (as opposed to floating shelves), and could be easily painted.

Construction commences

I set to work on the crates and the shelf kit, giving them a rough, one coat of paint. Since I only applied one coat, the paint dried quickly after a few hours under the sun.

My favorite part of this whole DIY project was personalizing the shelves with wrapping paper. Over the holidays I had received these lovely, Filipino-style toile de jouy paper designed by well-known furniture designer Ito Kish, in collaboration with Miel Cabañes.

(According to Wikipedia, toile de jouy “is a type of decorating pattern consisting of a white or off-white background on which a repeated pattern depicting a fairly complex scene, generally of a pastoral theme. The pattern portion consists of a single color, most often black, dark red, or blue.”)

This is what Philippine toile de jouy looks like:

Image courtesy of kish.ph
Image courtesy of kish.ph

I measured the bottoms of each crate and cut up the toile according to these measurements. Then I pasted the paper on to the bottoms using double-sided tape. I think the paper makes the shelves look more interesting; plus the black-and-(off) white palette adds a modern quality to this country-style installation (and matches my black-and-white kitchen cabinets).

On the day of construction, Jhay and I laid out the finished crates on the floor first so he could get an idea of how to install them up on the wall. We measured the wall to make sure the shelves would be installed flush center. It helps to print out pictures of the actual layout, so you or your carpenter has a guide to refer to repeatedly.

I also ordered a white buffet cabinet from Mandaue Foam a few days prior, but since it hadn’t yet arrived at the time of construction, I made sure to inform Jhay of the table’s dimensions, especially the height. This way, the shelves won’t be too high or too low, given we needed space for the wine-glass rack and our coffee-brewing implements.

Now before fully committing to installing the shelves, check first if the height and spaces between crates are right.

To do this, Jhay temporarily hung the crates using partially driven nails so I could check. Once I’d given my go signal, he drilled four screws on each corner of the crate and removed the nails. If you’re OC about those nail holes, you can have them covered with putty or cement filler (masilya in local speak), though you would need to sand this and paint over it, as masilya is often a brilliant white color. I didn’t mind, since the holes weren’t that deep and Jhay made sure the holes would be covered by the crates.

After the shelves were up, Jhay worked on drilling the wine glass rack on the left side. Since we plan on installing a vertical wine bottle rack on the space next to the shelves, we decided the left side would be the wine bar, and the right would be the coffee bar.

We dusted it off as soon as Jhay was finished, and I brought out liquor bottles, a wine carafe, dessert wine glasses I’d inherited from my mother-in-law, and some jars and other glassware for display. Because of the busyness of the toile pattern, the items displayed needed to be light on the eyes; hence, the glassware.

Et voila, here’s the finished product:

Photo courtesy of Toto Labrador for Cosmopolitan Philippines
Photo courtesy of Toto Labrador as featured in Cosmopolitan Philippines

Note that we didn’t install C-hooks for coffee mugs on the right side of the shelves. I’ve been searching high and low for black C-hooks locally, to no avail. For now, we’re okay with keeping our mugs and coffee cups almost out of dust’s reach in the cabinets.

I also still haven’t found the perfect wall-hung wine rack—preferably black wrought iron that can hold up to six bottles—to put up beside the shelves. Right now, only the liquor and spirits are up on the shelves, while the wines sit in a cheap wooden wine rack on the floor. Keeping my eyes peeled for The One. Hook me up if you see one that fits my specifications.

What do you think of our DIY wooden-crate dining shelves? Let me know your comments below!

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