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How to Make an Over-the-Door Display Shelf

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

Soft cuddly toy animals displayed on shelf fitted above our bedroom door.

Soft cuddly toy animals displayed on shelf fitted above our bedroom door.

Plush Toy Display Solution

My wife spotted hammocks for sale online that were designed for storing and displaying soft stuffed toy animals high up in the corner of a room. This gave her the idea that perhaps I could make something suitable above our bedroom door, for storing and displaying part of her collection. She showed me what she found online, and then after giving it some thought we sat down to look at all the options and their pros and cons.

The options we considered were:

  • Buy a soft toy display hammock
  • Make one ourselves
  • Make a display shelf in the corner of the room above the bedroom door
  • Do nothing

Pros and Cons for Each Option


Buy Soft Toy Display Hammock

Readymade, so nothing to do other than fit it in place

Not made to measure, so may not fit well in the corner above the door

Professionally made

Poor quality, if it’s a cheap import e.g. from China

Could look rather cute


Make Hammock Ourselves

Made to measure

Lack of appropriate skillset


Could look rather naff if not well made

Designed for purpose

Quality control

Could be cheaper to make

Design Shelf to Fit

Made to measure

View of displayed items obscured from underneath shelf

Designed for purpose

Ensure Quality control

Have appropriate skillsets

Options to use recycled wood

Could be made on a shoestring budget

Do Nothing

Costs nothing to do nothing

Unable to display the soft stuffed toy animals

We Weighed the Pros and Cons

After looking to see what was available on the web, and considering all our options, we decided I would make a bespoke, made-to-measure corner display shelf.

Step 1: Choose the Wood

Once we decided I would be making the shelf, rather than buying or making a hammock, I foraged through my workshop to see what suitable wood I had. Ideally I prefer to use real wood, but I also wanted to make it as one piece rather than join two pieces of wood together to make the corner shelf.

Short of buying a new sheet of pine or plywood, the only piece of wood I had large enough in my shed was sheet of MDF (medium density fiberboard) that a friend gave me. MDF isn’t a material I like using because it doesn’t have the wood grain, and I don’t like painting wood; I like the natural look.

So after a cup of coffee (and a bit of thought) I decided I would use the MDF, and create the wood effect by applying several coats of oak coloured floor varnish.

Alternative DIY Over the Door Shelf

Step 2: Measure and Mark

After measuring the width of the door I transposed that on the MDF and used the back of a saw as a square; marking off the line with a pencil.

Use the back of the saw as a square to mark the straight edge of the shelf with a pencil.

Use the back of the saw as a square to mark the straight edge of the shelf with a pencil.

Step 3: Round Off the Corners

Rather than straight edges, I decided large round corners would give more visibility to the displayed items on the shelf—and would be aesthetically more pleasing.

To create the curves I wanted I used an upturned plastic tub as a template; placing it at each end and in the middle, as I pencilled around the tub’s profile.

Using upturned tub as a template for marking out the large curved corners for the shelf.

Using upturned tub as a template for marking out the large curved corners for the shelf.

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Step 4: Cut to Shape

Once it was marked up I cut the MDF to shape with a jig saw, and then quickly sanded the edges to give them a smooth rounded finish.

Use a jig saw to cut out the shelfs shape.

Use a jig saw to cut out the shelfs shape.

Step 5: Varnish

As it was a nice day I decided to varnish outside on the bench.

In order to varnish both sides simultaneously, I placed a couple of metal pipes in the cracks between the slats on the bench top. As the top of the shelf wouldn’t be visible when finally fitted, after applying each coat of varnish, I rested the shelf on the pipes with the top surface facing down.

In this way, as the metal pipes are curved there’s minimal contact between the pipes and shelf. Also, by positioning the shelf on the pipes differently, after each coat of varnish, the lines created by the two pipes would be masked by the natural streaking of the varnish.

Varnishing with a brush tends to give a streaking effect which can mimic and blend in with the wood grain; provided you use your brush strokes in the same direction as the grain. If however you varnish across the grain rather than with it, then the final result can look awful.

However, as MDF doesn’t have a wood grain I applied the varnish along the length of the corner shelf (rather than across) to mimic the natural flow of wood grain.

Using a light oak coloured floor varnish I applied three coats; waiting two hours for it to dry between each coat. To achieve a smooth finish, prior to applying the final coat I gave it a quick light sanding with fine grade sandpaper; then cleaned off the loose dust with white spirit. When using the white spirit you only need a small amount on a cloth, and then leave it for ten minutes to dry before applying the last coat of varnish.

Three coats of oak coloured floor varnish applied to give wood effect.

Three coats of oak coloured floor varnish applied to give wood effect.

Step 6: Choose the Right Mounting Screws

When fixing shelf supports to the wall, the screw should extend at least one and a half inches into the wall (if not longer) in order to provide a good strong permanent fixture.

Using screws that are too short means that they will loosen overtime; with the risk of the shelf or unit coming away from the wall. If it’s a brick wall (as is common in Britain) then you also need to ensure you use the correct size drill bit for the wall plug.

My preference is to use the brown coded wall plugs with a number 4 screw and a 7mm masonry drill bit.

Step 7: Fit the Shelf in Place

Above the door, fitting was simple; as I used the top of the door frame architrave as a natural shelf support. As it was a corner shelf I simply extended the architrave onto the adjoining wall as a matching support for the other half of the shelf.

For the second shelf support to match the door frame architrave, I happened to have a spare piece of matching wood in my workshop; and before fitting it to the wall I:-

  • Pre-drilled three holes (one at each end and one in the middle), and countersunk the top of each hole, ready for screwing to the wall, and then
  • Varnished it to match the shelving.

Likewise, I pre-drilled the fixing holes along the back of the corner shelf, and countersunk them to ensure the screw heads would protrude above the surface when fitted.

The using a spirit level I first screwed the additional shelf support to the wall, and screwed the corner shelf to the top of the door frame architrave and the adjoining shelf support.

Step 8: Arrange Your Display!

Once I’d fitted the shelf in place, and got approval from my wife, it was then up to her to get the step stool out and spend the next half hour arranging her display of cuddly toys on the new shelving to her satisfaction.

Display shelf above door.

Display shelf above door.

Simple Guide to Making an Above Door Shelf

Your Comments

Arthur Russ (author) from England on February 02, 2017:

Thanks, learning the basic woodworking skills at schools was a good foundation, but since then I’m mostly self-taught. Over the years I’ve learnt most of my skills by picking up tips from others, watching DIY programmes on TV and from reading ‘how-to’ articles on the web.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 30, 2017:

WOW! Great having a handyman like you around. Thanks for sharing your talent! Next your very own tutorials.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on January 30, 2017:

Great project!