How to Build Shelves in a Knee Wall

final/decorated white shelves in knee wall

We built three sets of shelves in a knee wall. This blog post will describe each step: demolition, planning, building a base, cutting plywood, assembling, installing trim, caulking, and painting.


We decided it was time to renovate my craft room. My craft room is in our loft. This space is perfect for my craft and sewing projects. In addition, I use this space as my office and to practice violin. I use these shelves for books, notebooks, and baskets that store craft supplies.

To view a YouTube video about our total loft renovation click HERE.

Below is a picture of my craft room before we renovated it and built the shelves in the knee wall.

Below is a picture of the knee wall before demolition (and before the total renovation of our loft/craft room).

Knee wall before demolition


We took a lot of time thinking about how I would use these shelves in my craft room. I wanted each shelf to be over 12 inches tall to easily accommodate several 3-ring binders. In addition, I wanted them to be deep (the knee wall gave us plenty of space for depth) to accommodate large storage baskets. A design challenge was building around two cedar beams. We measured and sketched out several renderings as part of our planning process. This also helped Neal to accurately calculate the materials we would need — specifically how much plywood we needed to purchase.


First, we removed all the insulation on the back of the knee wall. To protect our lungs, we wore masks. We left the blown-in insulation on the exterior wall. Next, we removed the drywall. To do this, we used hammers, crowbars, and good old hard work. Originally, we were going to leave the top section of drywall in place; however, we opted to remove it so we could build a new header. It also gave us a clean slate so to speak for building and maneuvering the shelves.

Then we removed the studs in the knee wall.

Neal also had to move the HVAC vents. They were originally in the knee wall about (eye level). He relocated them to the floor, which is more aesthetic. To do this, he had to reconfigure the ductwork. Below is the final result. Notice the new vents in the floor.

We also had to turn off the breaker and disconnect the existing electrical outlets. WARNING: Hire a certified electrician to do any electrical work. Neal will move these electrical outlets in the baseboard. He will also add an outlet above the shelf on the left side for my television. (We partially removed the old carpet to clear out our workspace.)

Building a Base

Now that we had a clear palette, we double-checked our measurements. Next, we built a base from 2x6s on which the shelves would sit. We assembled this in our basement because it was raining outside. Lucy (one of our dogs) did her part to assist us.

Below is a picture of the base installed. The front of the base sits where the knee wall was previously.

Cutting Plywood for the Shelves

Each of the three shelf units was constructed out of three-quarter-inch cabinet-grade plywood. Using our table saw, we cut the sides, backs, tops, and shelves for each of the three shelf units.

We had to make some decisions about how to build our shelves around the existing ceiling beams. The final decision was to make the beams part of each end bookshelf. This is when Neal’s planning and math skills paid off.

Prime and Sand Plywood

Our next step was to prime and sand each piece of plywood.

Assemble Shelves

Then we assemble them like a puzzle. We put them together using screws. For two of the bookshelves, we had to cut out part of the backs and top for the ceiling beams.

Neal also had to cut out openings for electrical boxes that he would install in the shelf base — one on each side of the base.

Notice that we had to cut the back and top of each shelving unit on the end to accommodate the cedar beams. Later, you will notice that we painted this part of the beam white to match the shelf.

Build Header

We built a new header above each shelf out of 2x4s and replaced the drywall above and on each side of the bookshelves. The purpose of this header is to give us something to screw the drywall.

Adding Trim

To give these shelves more stability and to give them a finished look, we added horizontal and vertical trim to the front of the shelves.

Below is a picture after the trim was installed and the shelves were painted.

Then, we caulked all the cracks and painted each shelf. I am still amazed by how much caulk and paint transform a project. The picture below is after we built the half wall and installed vinyl plank flooring (more on these projects later in this post).

Here is the final result after the craft room renovation was completed.

Click HERE to see a detailed YouTube video on how we built our shelves in the knee wall.

Here is the fine result!

To see a detailed video of how we built our shelves in the knee wall from start to finish, watch the YouTube video below.

To view a YouTube video about our TOTAL LOFT RENOVATION click HERE.

Don’t forget to Pin this for future reference.

Before and after picture of building shelves in knee wall

Let us know if you have any questions or what you think by commenting below. Happy DIYing!

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