Think outside the box

You do not need to live large, you just need to live clever. Living clever, means thinking outside the box. And thinking about ‘living clever’ is what drove the idea for the wall boxes I made as part of our bathroom update, and a solution for its almost total lack of storage space.

What is it about boxes? You put something in a box and it immediately becomes more interesting. There is something about the promise of contained objects, which beckons, like a gift.

When I think of putting things in boxes, particularly an arrangement of boxes, I am always reminded of the way sculptor Louise Nevelson’s compelling sculptures operate: the box, used in a grid, was a recurring motif in her practice, a way of imposing order on chaos.

Louise Nevelson ‘Untitled’ 1964. Image source

Nevelson used the wood detritus she found on the streets of New York (balustrades, old bits of wood, parts of demolished buildings) and arranged them, contained in boxes. The grid provides a structure for the accumulation of objects within the boxes, as does her use of color, or lack thereof. She invariably spray painted her work black, white or gold, unifying what otherwise would have been an amorphous mess into one iconic work.

Nevelson’s work deals with the way the past becomes fractured and incorporated into the present, it is large scale and its presence is powerful, iconic. So, it is probably a little cheeky to take lessons in how to make effective storage away from looking at her sculpture.

But that is how my brain works.

The use of a grid of boxes, and monochromatic color bring order to a collection of stuff. Hmmm, sounds like a solution to our bathroom storage needs to me.

While Nevelson was an influence, there is another factor that led me to think of wall boxes. They are in keeping with the age of the house. Our house was built in 1955, and it has mid-century modern bones, which were hidden under late 60s/early 70s décor. The major driving force behind all my remodeling efforts is to bring out the mid-century pedigree of the house.

So it seemed pretty logical that new shelving in the bathroom should make reference to a classic 1950s design feature: the shadow box.

The shadow box. Image source

The shadow box was used to display all your groovy modern nick-nacks, as you can see in the photo below.

1950s interior with shadow box in use. Image source

Clearly I wanted something a little more practical than this, something I could use as display, but also that was deep enough to be functional shelving.

This bathroom does double service: it is the kid’s (and guest’s) bathroom, as well as being the only toilet on the main floor of the house. Whatever went in there had to be both practical, and aesthetically pleasing. So, my idea was to provide 3 wall boxes that were attractive and served as shelving for the bathroom.

Once I had done a steam punk number on the vanity, it seemed pretty obvious that this was something I could do with my wall boxes: clad them in flashing and use upholstery nails as rivets. It was just a matter of finding some boxes.

Yes, I could have made them myself, but I remembered that Ikea used to do some simple ply storage boxes that I could modify very easily.

So off I went to Ikea. That store is so exhausting, it feels like you wander around it for days, and that you will never escape. After taking a long meandering path around everything I didn’t actually want, I eventually found these Pränt storage boxes. Even better, they had metal edging on the corners, which was p-e-r-f-e-c-t.

Prant storage boxes from Ikea. Image source

They aren’t meant to be hung on the wall, they are supposed to sit on shelves, but we can’t let what Ikea thinks things should be used for get in the way of what we want to do with them. Just try googling the words ‘Ikea hack’ and you will soon find whole sites dedicated to just this.

You can find them on the Ikea site here (and no, Ikea did not sponsor this post, nor do I endorse their products, they just happened to have what I wanted). By the way, if you decide you want some of these, you had better hurry as they are on ‘final sale’, which in Ikea terms means they are going out, never to return. I’m thinking of going back for more, myself.

So, I arrived home, pale with exhaustion having survived the Ikea endurance test, and began unpacking my Pränt boxes. Of course they were flat packed and needed assembling.

Almost everything at Ikea is flat packed and needs assembling. These were actually easy to assemble.

Before I assembled them, though, I took them outside and spray-painted the interior sides the same flat black as I used on the vanity cabinet doors and drawers (thanks Louise Nevelson).

Next, I assembled the boxes.

Assembly in progress


Then it was a simple matter of cutting the metal pieces to size, and attaching them to the boxes using construction adhesive.

One problem I had was that the boxes were too thin to nail my rivet/upholstery nails into. The spikes of the nails would have come through the other side. And I thought being stabbed by sticking out upholstery nails might be something of a disincentive to actually using them.

So I cut the ends off the nails, leaving a short stub.

Shortened nails

I measured and marked where I wanted the nails to be positioned, and I pre-punched a hole using a nail to mark the spot.

I applied a dab of construction adhesive to each spot, and then used the stub of the nail to correctly position the upholstery nail heads in the pre-punched hole.

Gluing in the nails

I did two sides, and then waited for the adhesive to dry before doing the other two. This way I didn’t dislodge any of the nail heads.

Once it was all glued and everything was dry I was ready to install them on the bathroom wall.

The Pränt boxes come in 4 different sizes, 3 of them with lids (like the photo above) and one without. I bought one medium size, one large and one lidless. The lidded boxes are the same depth, but the lidless ones are shallower.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I wanted to use different depths to create more visual interest. Also, if all the boxes I used were deep, then they were going to crowd the space in this tiny bathroom.  Using different heights adds to the illusion of space, particularly if the lower one is closer to the bathroom occupant.

I measured the size of the space I wanted to hang them in.

The space waiting for my boxes

And then played with the boxes on the floor to figure out a pleasing layout.

The perfect arrangement

Then it was merely a matter of transferring this to the wall.

Before I show you the process, let me introduce you to a good friend of mine: the stud solver.

The stud solver (these come in metal or plastic)

With this little gem you can attach up to 50lbs securely to drywall (or gyprock as we call it in Australia), without needing a stud behind it.

You drill them directly into your drywall.

And screwed into the wall

They act exactly like masonry plugs, you put them in the wall and then screw into them. Voila, things stay where you want them. Magic.

I marked where I wanted the top corners of the boxes to be, checked that they were level, and then screwed each one into the wall.

Marking the corners of the boxes on the wall

Screwing boxes into the wall

One box up

Two boxes up

Three boxes up

I deliberately chose to use the shallower box closest to the bathroom entry. The deeper boxes are behind and above it, giving an illusion of depth.

Now for the fun part. Decorating the boxes.


These glass jars were also from Ikea. I found them as I was wandering around trying to escape from the maze. I thought the frosted glass exterior, and chrome lids had a nice ‘science lab’ sort of vibe, with fitted with my industrial/steam punk effect. Strangely, they weren’t flat packed.

They also lighten up the black interiors of the boxes.


The second shelf holds spare towels. I am not convinced of the practicality of storing towels in a steamy bathroom, but if you saw our linen cupboard (which is all of 8 inches wide, and better suited to dolls house bed linen and towels) you would understand why they are there.

Besides, I think they look pretty.


The third shelf stores spare rolls of bath tissue (or toilet paper as we call it in Australia), so now there is NO EXCUSE for anyone not to change it over when they use it up. (And this means YOU).

So there you have it, how to make yourself some wall box storage for your bathroom. Not everyone will cover theirs in metal, of course, but you could use wallpaper inside or outside, or simply paint them.

It is simply a matter of thinking outside the box.


6 responses to “Think outside the box

  1. OMG, so industrial looking and cool!!!!!!

  2. Pingback: Throwing in the towel | Quirk Street

  3. Pingback: Prant storage boxes become steam punk wall storage « Ikea « Cool Internet Projects

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  5. Pingback: Left on the shelf | Quirk Street

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