Swiss Army Shelves

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Introduction: Swiss Army Shelves

About: Architect/designer based between Chicago and SE Minnesota. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to peek in construction dumpsters :) ---the way some have to workout everyd...

Bare walls don't work! As a couple who like to cook we need our kitchen to work for us. This one afternoon project allows us to have everything in reach.

Swiss Army Shelves are part of a 'working kitchen'. A working kitchen puts tools at hand. We customize the kitchen to make cooking/baking effortless. I enjoy sharing a few of the ways we use our shelves. This setup is easily modified. Here's how! (see customization step)

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Here are the suggested tools and materials for building a Swiss Army Shelves.

Tools:

Materials

Cost: All materials lumber cost around $80 from HD/Lowes. All tools cost under $120 and were purchased refurbished online or used off craigslist. Links provided for where I would buy today on Amazon.

Step 2: Layout + Approach

Layout. Every location requires it's own design. Sure, you could simple add shelves and space them up the wall. I find it more useful to start with a vertical element... the brown 2x6 shown on the left. In addition to limiting the number of wall holes the 2x6 provides a solid end to anchor the attachments and shelves. It also creates an aesthetic that feels open above our work-surface (see furniture island tutorial... to follow).

Spacing. I built the spacing around the height of my jars. These old Tropicana juice jars were salvaged post-Katrina. There I was working with a rebuild organization and these were found covered in mud. They shined up nicely after a month in bleach!

Shorter Shelves, Header Shelves. This is a simple strategy that feels more open. By using one shorter shelf there is more room above the work surface. It also allows for items to hang. We vary these items on occasion but tend to have measuring cups, coffee cups and a french press in place.

The header shelf allows for slightly larger items and provided helps frame the shelves.

Half Shelves. These show up in the final steps. They are useful for smaller items and create more density along the vertical 2x6 piece. This provides more storage and makes the open wall space feel more less dense by contrast.

Step 3: Mounting + Construction

Mounting Details. The photos are helpful to see how a vertical piece and an angle were used to create the mounts. This requires some fabrication but is a simple clean finish. My preference.

It is also possible to use metal angles or mounting brackets.

Follow these three steps through the photos. Also find the screw diagram to walk through assembly. Screw 1B is optional depending on your wall type and screw length.

  • Step 1 - Vertical Support
  • Step 2 - Horizontal Shelf
  • Step 3 - Angled Brace

Sizing and Cutting. I used a miter box and my handy Japanese saw to cut the pieces. Even easier if you have a miter saw!

See the details for sizing and screw locations. I was screwing into very solid stucco and didn't need anchors. If you're securing to drywall please be sure to align with studs or use anchors.

Step 4: Swiss Army Factor *Customization

A working kitchen puts tools at hand. We customize the kitchen to make cooking/baking effortless. I enjoy sharing a few of the ways we use our shelves. This setup is easily modified. Please share in the comments the tools you use to customize your kitchen.

Hooks - by far the easiest way to put make tools easily at hand. We use them to keep coffee cups, strainers, mixing tools, the french press, garlic/onions/oranges over the workspace. We also have a key hook on the left which is by the side door. That key hook also has the perch for my gf's little friends!

Strainers - these serve as an extra set of hands. The flush hooks make it easy to move universal strainers over to the stove. We use them as an extension of the counter space... we are very limited

Utensil Caddy - another extension of the counter space. We have a cooking and baking caddy that we can easily substitute depending on what 'mode' our kitchen is in. This makes it easy to have the right tools at hand. Oversized items fit nicely along the side in an old olive oil container that is screwed to the side. -Ikea Caddy on Amazon

Magnets - always a favorite! The knives are always ready. We have a few other tools but our main knives are the 7" Santoku and 8" butcher.

Storage Containers - we use a mix of the Tropicana jars I mentioned earlier, tomato sauce jars and old salt shakers. The salt shakers were picked up from a local restaurant that was closing. If I was buying new I'd look for a tall mason jar and low profile shaker.

Milk Crate Shelf - as simple as it gets... this is one screw and a milk crate. It provides for a shelf and place to store materials on their way to the garage/basement.

Step 5: Next Step - Rolling Island

Thank you for reading! Please comment with any improvements you've tested or build at your kitchen.

Here are a few recipes I've put together using the Swiss Army Shelves:

Recipes. On my personal page I share my three favorite books for various interests. Here is the direct link to our three favorite cookbooks.

Cheers!! Jeff

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    13 Discussions

    I don’t see a range hood, you don’t fry or boil anything? Do you need one take and wipe down everything weekly?

    1 more answer

    Thanks Tom. Was wondering if the lack of hood would get attention.

    We are renters so we came into a kitchen lacking a hood... that said, never really used it in the past. We do limited frying and the boiling isn't an issue for us. We wipe the back of the range but only when we see spots.

    Having recently taken over the cooking (and cleaning) responsibilities in my household, I can really appreciate these shelves. It is obviously a REAL cook's system. You don't even label your spices... I'm not that good yet but I absolutely love the use of recycled jars to get larger containers for some of the spices. So simple yet so cool!

    2 replies

    Thanks! Funny how it works... we keep having to sniff to find the gram marsala (vs chili powder) but have no problem spotting the different shade of granulated garlic vs onion powder.

    It piqued my interest enough that I had to google "spice labels" and of course there are many very elegant options on Etsy for premade stickers to label spice jars. Of course, you could always just make your own too.

    Como escribí en la imagen estoy emocionado...

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    1 reply

    Yes, we love drawing in staples from different cultures. Having the beans out makes it easy to remember to soak them overnight! Also helpful for breadmaking. I'm finding ways to work masa (cornmeal) into most dishes.

    If a carpenter, cabinets with door shelves would be a nicer look and still easy access. Unless its a cabin or a Swiss Army field kitchen. Just a thought.

    1 more answer

    Not sure the question... yes, I can see cabinets being popular in the kitchen :)

    The challenge we faced was providing a low profile solution for the space above the stove/counter. cabinet doors would swing out in an awkward way. While it may look a bit cluttered the consistency of the jars helps. It also means clear countertops which is preferred.

    Ha, thanks! Nothing better for a 10+ hr overnight drive from BA to Mendoza!

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