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Decorate with Drawers: 10 Steps to Make a Shelf/Photo Frame Out of an Unwanted Drawer

by Shahab Shokouhi

I hate it when I have a hankering to do something different with my home decor yet nary a clue as to where to start. Luckily, a perusal through the local thrift stores sorts me right out, and this week was no exception. A stop at a mostly-furniture resale store served me well as I stumbled upon treasures waiting to have new life breathed into them.

I saw an empty, grandiose frame that I imagined with a mirror inside, and a dresser with no drawers I wanted to fix up with shelves. But when I saw a bunch of drawers with no home (and no relation to the aforementioned dresser), I knew what had to happen: at least one of those would become my wall decor in the form of a shelf. Yes, a shelf.

Convert drawer to shelf

Since I have tons of pictures and sentimental papers I keep saving for a cool frame or a special way to display them, I decided to create a background for the shelf and then preserve my paper memories by placing a piece of glass against them, as if they were sitting safely inside a picture frame.

I made it up as I went along, but you don't have to. If you can follow my brainwaves of inspiration below, you too can proudly adorn your walls with adorable DIY drawer shelves.

painted drawer

1. Gather Inspiration.

What would you like your background to be? Decide this first, and then select the paint colors and location for the shelf. Once the inspiration sparks, the possibilities are endless. You could use wallpaper, drawer paper, photographs, vintage book pages, artwork, stationery paper, newspaper clippings and so forth.

For me, leftover floral drawer paper and a vintage biscotti advert I found in a Parisian flea market a few years ago inspired me most. I'd been saving the advert for a special place and this drawer couldn't be more perfect. You'll notice I also collaged vintage globe wallpaper, a pretty bird illustration from a thrifted book, and a torn-out excerpt on Avignon, another French city I love, from an old encyclopedia to fill up the extra space at the bottom.

drawer liner material

2. Measure Stuff and Gather Materials

Measure the depth, height, and width of the drawer, and decide if you'll hang it horizontally or vertically. I chose to do a vertical shelf so I could add another little shelf within the drawer. Now that you have the measurements, you can get to work on fitting the glass, the background and the inner shelf, should you choose to include one. When gathering these materials, be sure to also make sure you have primer, final coat paint and a drawer handle or knob.

3. Paint It with Primer

This will need some time to dry before you continue with the rest of the work, so go ahead and sand the drawer if necessary, and then paint it with primer so your final coat doesn't seep into the wood.

painted drawer ready to decorate

4. Cut the Glass

Because I had some leftover glass from replacing a window a few weeks ago, all I needed to buy was a glass cutter. It's a clever little tool that looks a lot like a pen, which makes the glass cutting seem pretty magical. But since chances are that you don't have any extra glass lying around, it's easy to order a custom cut piece of glass to your exact specifications online.

cut the glass

5. Fit the Shelf

I'm sure I could have paid someone at a hardware store a small fee to cut a piece of wood for the shelf, but since I'd spotted some curbside planks when walking my dog earlier, I figured free is always better. Then, using a circle handsaw on my back porch, I carefully cut the plank to perfectly fit between the two walls inside the drawer. Then I tested it, and it worked!!

scrap wood for shelf          install wood for shelf

6. Drill a Couple of Holes

Now that you've decided where to fit the plank shelf, drill a hole through each side of the drawer walls in addition to the sides of the plank. Later on, you can secure the shelf with screws through the sides of the drawer and into the new plank shelf. Don't forget to paint the little shelf with primer, too.

predrill holes for shelf

7. Paint Desired Color

Assuming the primer has dried, get to painting your reinvention with the color of your choice. Then crack open a beer and do a victory dance because you're nearing the end. And the really fun stuff comes next.

painting technique

8. Create the Background

While the paint dries and the beer is cold, get creative. Using the background materials you gathered earlier, create the final piece to place all at once into the drawer when it's dry. I used a glue stick to secure the biscotti advert and to create the collage.

install background decoupage

9. Place the Background, Glass and Plank Shelf

Time to put your creativity on display by placing the background into the drawer so that it covers the entire back wall. Then, gently drop the glass on top and secure it into place by screwing the plank shelf into its designated spot. Looking good, huh?

creative background

10. Screw on Drawer Pull

This is option since it's obviously not going to be used, but a pretty door knob does confirm that this is a drawer and that this is an extra quirky, super cool shelf. Whether it's an ornate glassy door knob like I chose or a handsome handle, be sure to screw it on after the glass is placed or else the glass simply won't fit due to the screws.

glass drawer pull

And now, enjoy! Because of the background, I placed my drawer shelf in the kitchen where spices and such will be housed, and I can admire every day my unique addition to my home. Where would you place your drawer shelf?

finished drawer converted to shelf           shelf hung on wall           shelf hung on wall from distance

About the author: Shahab Shokouhi is a glass design expert at Dulles Glass and Mirror, an innovative manufacturer of glass table tops, glass shelves, and all other glass and mirror products. Follow Dulles Glass and Mirror on Pinterest or on YouTube to see how they're changing the way glass products are manufactured, customized and delivered.