One of the easiest storage solutions is to create your own DIY ladder display shelves using an old ladder for the frame. Not only will you save time, but the money saved makes this project a winner in my book!

DIY Ladder Display Shelves

DIY Ladder Display Shelves

If you’ve been around for a while, you know these ladder display shelves start at $99 and go up depending on size. But, today’s tutorial shouldn’t cost you much and the result will be more personalized to your style (depending on how you finish it.)

pottery barn ladder display shelves
I know you’ve seen them, those adorable ladder display shelves, I really wanted one.  But, the price tags were enough to send me running from the store with my purse gripped tightly in my hands. I mean, really? The one above from Pottery Barn costs $229! I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like spending more than $50 on something I can build myself.

Fast forward a few weeks, and when I saw this ladder at the Habitat ReStore for $15, I knew it had the potential to fulfill my ladder display shelf dreams.

old rickety ladder
The skeptical cashier tried to persuade me not to buy the ladder, warning me not to climb on it because it was too rickety. But, who cares about rickety, I was in love with the paint splashes all over it!

old ladder resting against white porch wall

So, I hauled the old ladder home (and received funny looks along the way because it was hanging several feet out the back of my car.) Little did they know that I was about to transform that old ladder.

Materials:

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Instructions for Building DIY Ladder Display Shelves:

For this project, you can leave the back of the ladder intact, or pry off the top rivets to separate the front from the back. This gave me the ability to make two things from one ladder. (Be sure to read to the end to find out what I made with the backside!)

Start by measuring the width of each step (and subtract 1/8″ to account for the slant of the ladder.)

measure width of ladder steps

Use 1″ x 12″ pine boards or any size you choose. (I had some leftover shelving material I bought from a yard sale, so it was already pre-finished.)

Cut the boards to the appropriate width on a miter saw or ask the lumber store to cut them for you. Yes, it was a total coincidence that my boards were covered in paint splotches too!

stack of 1x12 boards

Dry fit the boards to make sure they fit your ladder. My heart was thumping now because I could really see the project taking shape!

dry fit shelves on ladder

Next cut some 1″ x 2″ strips the same width as each shelf. These are for the backs of your shelves. If necessary stain your shelves or paint them to match your ladder. Or paint the entire ladder and shelves with chalk paint or a paint plus primer.

dry fit 1x2's to front of shelf boards

Attach the 1×2 strips to the back of the shelves, using wood glue.

adding wood glue to front of shelf

Hold until the glue has gripped the trim piece.

attach shelf front

Or nail the 1″x2″ pieces to the shelves.

attach front of shelf using brad nailer

Choose how far back you want your shelves to rest on the ladder steps. Using a combination square or ruler, mark a line on all the shelves. (I chose a 3″ setback.)

using carpenter square to measure depth of shelves

Pre-drill the location for the screws on each ladder step. Turn your ladder upside down and set the screws inside the holes. Line up your pencil lines on the shelf to your ladder step.

2 screws under ladder step into shelf

Clamp the shelf, or get a buddy to hold the shelf as you drive the screws into the bottom of each. Repeat the process for all the shelves.

3 screws under ladder step into shelf

Then flip the ladder back over and admire! My total cost was $15 because I had the other materials on hand. But, even if you have to buy the screws and lumber, it should cost a lot less than a Pottery Barn shelving unit at $299!

My favorite part about this shelf is the paint splashes.

This DIY Ladder Display Shelf sits on our screen porch. But, this beauty would look good anywhere in your home.

close up ladder shelves decorated with coastal decor

I’m contemplating making one for my new master bathroom.

close up rustic ladder shelves

The minnow trap hanging pendant light is also an easy DIY project.

ladder display shelf resting against wall

So what do you think? Do you like it? I bet you could build one of these ladder display shelves for yourself in an hour or two.

Oh, I almost forgot, if you are wondering what I did with the back of the ladder. You can see how I gave it a quick makeover turning it into a display easel.

ladder easel

Have a great week and I’ll see you soon.

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DIY Ladder Display Shelves

63 replies
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  1. Susie
    Susie says:

    I’m so jealous that you went to Scotland. It’s a magical place. You ladder idea is great. I’m going to have to try one for my patio.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    i love everything you have done…you have taught me well, master. um…i’m just like a few other people here and wonder about the sliding prevention issue. i see where it would stay put on carpet, but on a wood or tile floor…this baby would slide right about from under its contents. at least it would seem to me. i can’t wait to find out the answer to this one, then i’m all over it. thank you for such GREAT projects and teaching! btw: i LOVED edinburgh…LOVED it! too bad you didn’t get there when they perform the tattoo in september. THAT was phenomenal!

    Reply
    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Edinburgh was amazing, as was the countryside! Wish we were going to be there for the big international festival coming up. They were building the stands near the castle while we were there.

      The ladder is not anchored to the wall. It leans against it and because the foot lays flat against the floor. It doesn’t slide or tip. Although, if you have small children, I highly recommend that you use an “L” bracket to attach the top step to t

      Reply
      • donnak
        donnak says:

        What size screws did you use to attach your shelves considering the size boards you used if I follow this plan exactly. BTW….I have my grandpa’s old ladder 😉

      • Brittany Bailey
        Brittany Bailey says:

        Donna, I don’t remember exactly, but set your screws up next to the width of the steps on the ladder and your shelf board. The screw length should go through your ladders step and about halfway through your shelf board. Make sense?

  3. HudsonHero
    HudsonHero says:

    What a beautiful place to visit. I remember taking the train through the country to Edinburgh. I was a student and stayed in hostels (the one in Edinburgh had bed bugs). The people were amazing and totally made the trip for me. So glad you could travel with hubby.

    Like Tami, I am wondering about securing to the wall.

    Reply
    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      The ladder is not anchored to the wall. It leans against it and because the foot lays flat against the floor. It doesn’t slide or tip. Although, if you have small children, I highly recommend that you use an “L” bracket to attach the top step to t

      Reply
  4. Tami
    Tami says:

    This is beautiful…

    QUESTION: is it just leaning on the wall? Or do you have it secured to the wall? If not how are you preventing it from sliding?

    I always wanted one but the price is an issue for me…but I love to do this project…can’t wait to hear your response & start this project…thank you!

    Reply
    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Tami, the ladder is not anchored to the wall. It leans against it and because the foot lays flat against the floor. It doesn’t slide or tip. Although, if you have small children, I highly recommend that you use an “L” bracket to attach the top step to the wall.

      Reply
      • Nichola
        Nichola says:

        Not sure if this thread still works but I have a ladder bookshelf made from iron and timber and it is sliding down the wall how can I keep it in one place?

  5. Bonnie@Creative Decorating
    [email protected] Decorating says:

    That turned out great! When I first started looking at the pictures, I thought there is no way that old boring ladder would turn out anything like the inspiration. I was sort of right because it is BETTER than the inspiration! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  6. Tina
    Tina says:

    Beautiful ladder shelves! What a great job recycling an old ladder!
    Nessie? Loch Ness Monster. Sounds like you’ve been to Scotland! My son and his friend are planning a trip there next summer! I’d love to go!

    Reply
    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! You guessed it! Scotland is very beautiful. I highly recommend a day in Edinburgh and then hopefully he can get out to tour the country side. We drove up to Ben Lawers through Stirling and then circled around and back to Edinburgh through Perth. I am still awe struck by the beauty!

      Reply

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