DIY for the Homeschool Room Day 5: TRAYS ON DISPLAY! The Montessori-Inspired Shelving Unit

~5 Days of DIY for the Homeschool Room~

DIY projects are like children. They are moody, messy, and an incredible amount of work. You spend a great deal of time with them and you love them dearly in spite of how needy they can be. Some days your time spent with them is lovely and others days are a total disaster and you really wish you could just throw up your hands and subcontract them out already! But at the end of the day (or week, or month, or year), these . . . works in progress—with all their mess, moods, and mayhem— are so fulfilling, so uniquely yours, so worth it all.

We’ve adopted so many new projects lately, it’s started to feel like the handyman corner version of the movie “Yours, Mine, and Ours.” Although, if you’ve been following our DIY projects these past two weeks, then you know that the “yours” (my husband) and the “ours” categories have a lot more representatives than the “mine” (little-ole-me) column. And today is no exception. This one was mainly a “his” venture, I’m happy to say, and a very successful one at that. I contributed only in dictating what I wanted (something I’m very good at), staining half the wood (something I’m not very good at), and filling the finished shelves with lovely school trays for our children (possibly my favorite thing to do ever). The result is better than I ever imagined, and such an upgrade from our previous Homeschool open shelves from our city apartment (which served us well in their season).

Day 5: The Montessori-Inspired Shelving Unit

I’m genuinely so in love with this shelving unit, it’s hard to contain my excitement. I love the color the tea & vinegar stain turned out, I love the wide planked shelves, I love how much money we saved on it, I love how large it is and how abundant the shelves are. And I love the symbolism of this unit. At the risk of giving myself away as a bit of a hippie and a lot of an overthinker, over-feeler, and sometimes over-sharer, I will own that a sort of enchantment came over me as I filled this completed unit with our school materials and activity trays.

As I adorned these shelves with all of the educational gems I’ve been collecting over the past four years, I was struck with a sort of reverence at the realization that these planks were once a tree . . . a tree whose purpose was to bear fruit or produce some sort of beautiful gift or useful offering to those who inhabit the land around it. And here these shelves are, overflowing with a bountiful harvest for our children to pluck at will from it’s branches . . . to hold in their hands beautiful and nourishing fruit for their minds and souls. I assure you, I don’t hold that such things as rocks and trees possess a soul, and yet . . . I feel that in some strange way this tree has completed it’s destiny—it’s God-given purpose to provide abundant nourishment to the children who wait beneath it’s generous branches.

If that’s all too much for you (I hear you . . . we used pine, not cherry wood after all) then let me switch to a more practical course. You’ve got to have somewhere to house all that Homeschool stuff. And trust me, you can’t find something like this at Ikea. Montessori shelving units like this one are usually only found at specialty shops (or more likely “shoppes”) usually in some quaint and obscure country that most of us can’t spell or pronounce or even locate on a map . . . and will usually run at least a few hundred dollars, not including overseas shipping. Whereas the materials for our DIY unit came in at under $100 (not including power tools). I call that a DIY WIN!

See, I may be a sentimental hippie at heart, but I’m also practical! But, alas, I’m not very handy . . . which you (or someone who loves you a LOT) truly need to be to tackle this project. My husband was a carpenter when we were first married, so he does really know what he is doing. He classifies this project as “medium difficulty” and has broken down and simplified his plans to be doable for anyone with at least some wood-working experience.

So, if you have power tools at your disposal. . .

and aren’t afraid (or incapable) of using them . . .

if you want to save a few hundred bucks . . .

and don’t mind a layer of sawdust over your entire garage . . .

or having tea-stained fingernails for two weeks (ok . . . maybe three) . . .

then I invite you to build your own Montessori-Inspired Shelving Unit to house enchanting educational trays and learning materials as a bountiful, nourishing tree for your own children. I’ve got the plans and pictures and I’m happy to share them with you!

Building a Montessori-Inspired Shelving Unit

school room14

Don’t worry. My husband wrote out these plans.


  • wood (we used pine, which is more cost effective)
  • measuring tape
  • table saw (otherwise, Home Depot and Lowes will often cut your lumber to the specified width)
  • white vinegar (at least a half gallon)
  • black tea (at least a box)
  • nail gun (or a hammer and a lot of grit)
  • wood glue
  • router or pre-bought wood trim


  • Dimensions we used for our unit:
    • 108″ long x 18″ width x 34.5″ tall
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: regarding lumber, always carry a measuring tape to verify the width and thickness of the boards you are buying. For example, your standard 2×4 piece of lumber actually has dimensions of 1 1/2 x 3 1/2.
  • The Top:
    • First, determine the length and width that you desire for your unit. Our unit was 108″ long. So, to begin we cut three planks to this length. These will be your longest boards. You can choose wider, skinnier, fewer, or more planks depending on the look and overall width you desire.
  • The Sides:
    • Determine your overall desired height of your unit. We chose 34.5″ since we have a five year old and nearly two year old. This allowed us to structure upper shelves for our big kid and lower shelves for our little.
    • Once again, this depends on your width, so we cut a total of six planks to our desired height. This meant 3 pieces for each side.
  • The Bottom:
    • Since we used pine boards, the overall thickness of the wood was 3/4″. So, for the bottom pieces, we cut three boards to 106 1/2″ to account for the thickness of the two sides.
    • If you are planning to put molding at the top and bottom of the unit (like we did), you will need to make sure your bottom shelf is built off the floor. This way, it will be flush with the molding.
  • The Shelving:
    • You should decide how many shelves you would like to have before you begin. This helps to make sure you allow yourself a large enough unit, so your shelves are actually a functional size. Accounting for the thickness of wood for the shelves, you can calculate how big you want your shelf spaces to be.
    • What we did: we wanted 3 shelf rows and 3 columns. So, we cut a total of 6 boards to 106 1/2″ for the horizontal shelves. Since we wanted 3 shelf columns, I cut enough for 6 vertical shelves (3 boards each, totaling 18 pieces).
  • Supports
    • Something important to the structural integrity of the unit is placing supports. If you look in the 4 interior corners of the unit, you will see 4 small triangle pieces affixed in the corners. This helps stabilize the unit, eliminating potential rocking.


  • Once all the pieces are cut, it’s time to stain.
  • What we did: we love the antiqued vintage wood look. A great way to obtain this is with a fun method that involves a few simple ingredients. If you place white vinegar and a clump of steel wool in a jar/bucket for a few days or longer, a fun chemical reaction occurs. Depending on the amount of tannins in the wood, applying this liquid will oxidize the wood, giving it a gray tone. Since we used pine, which is low in tannins, we first treated the boards with heavily steeped black tea which imparted the tannins we needed. We then allowed the boards to fully dry and then rolled on the vinegar solution. Make sure you evenly cover with the vinegar and allow it a few minutes for the color to come out. If you miss a spot or two, all you have to do is touch the spot with some vinegar solution. It’s our favorite way to stain . . . so cheap, non-toxic, and it truly turns out great every time. Just don’t allow pooling of the vinegar.
  • The results of this staining method are awesome and we use it all the time. But for this unit we wanted a little more depth of color so we then followed the antiquing with a very watered down wood stain that imparted a bit more warmth. This entirely depends on the color palette you are working with.
  • We highly recommend you stain before assembly. Staining the unite once assembled is sure to deliver uneven results.


  • Once everything is ready, you can begin assembling the unit.
  • We used wood glue in all the joints, followed with a brad nailer.


  • For our favorite Montessori manipulatives and materials plus tray ideas, subscribe below for our upcoming series!

Check out our Homeschool Room Reveal!

Thanks for reading,

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

5 Replies to “DIY for the Homeschool Room Day 5: TRAYS ON DISPLAY! The Montessori-Inspired Shelving Unit”

  1. This was so beautiful.
    I wish we had the time and patience to do a big project like this. So much work went into this. I love everything about it.
    The shelves are beautiful!
    The organizing on the shelves are beautiful.
    Though I don’t envy that process, the outcome came out gorgeous.
    Like seriously, do you guys take orders!? I need a pantry.
    There is NOTHING like a home made, love filled item!

Leave a Reply to RandomnestfamilyCancel reply

%d bloggers like this: