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How To Give Pantry Shelving Easy Rustic Charm

Earlier this month I revealed my rustic pantry transformation to you, where I performed a wire shelving unit makeover. This is probably one of my favourite DIYs ever, because not only was it simple, easy and cheap, it really is mind blowing that such ugly chrome pantry shelving could be transformed into the finished product.

Rustic farmhouse pantry shelving makeover from basic wire shelving

I didn’t go into a lot of depth in the reveal post because I wanted to devote an entire post to the process. Though this project required minimal effort and only a single day, it has a lot of steps and calls for some important technique. I have compiled all the steps involved and appended them with my tips, thoughts and lessons learned. I wasn’t able to find a single tutorial online, or even inspirational images, of a rustic wire shelving makeover, so I hope that you will be able to put this information to good use. Good luck with your metal wire shelving makeover!

How To Transform Your Wire Pantry Shelving

+ All Your Questions Answered

You have questions, I have answers. Give the locker basket tutorial a read if you want some more information about my inspiration, it’s a good starting point for technique. I do have some notes though. I highly recommend reading through this tutorial fully before you begin. It’s long, but you will want to arm yourself with all the info.


  • Tiered wire pantry shelving unit
  • 1 Can grey spray paint in a matte finish per shelving unit
  • Latex, acrylic or chalk paint in grey or greige of your choosing
  • Paint brush
  • Dark wax and clear wax
  • Clean cloth
  • 2 1×6’s (pine or spruce) per shelf, cut to the correct length. For a five-tier shelf you will need 10 sections. My shelves were 36″ long so I required five 6-foot long 1×6’s cut in half.
  • 10 zinc mending plates per shelving unit. I used 2″ plates.
  • 20 wood screws (1/2″ or 3/4″ long) per shelving unit
  • Power drill
  • Chop saw

PantrySteps1 PantrySteps2


1. Wipe down your pantry shelving, making sure they it’s clear of debris, dirt and dust. Then place them in a well ventilated area where over spray won’t be an issue.



2. Follow the instruction on your can of spray paint and paint those suckers all over. Allow to dry briefly between coats. Don’t worry too much about perfection, 100% coverage isn’t necessary for this project unless you are starting with white or black wire shelving.

Don’t Stress About Perfection

It took one can of spray paint per shelf for a good, slightly uneven I-don’t-care finish. What I mean by that is, I wanted some of the metal to peek through, I didn’t want to completely lose the shine. In some spots you can see the grey spray paint went on a bit sparse, where in other areas there is complete coverage. If you pull out a piece of real vintage metal there will be an uneven patina and my first step to replicating that was to avoid perfection with my base coat.


3. When the spray paint has dried to the touch and is no longer tacky get out your second grey paint. This paint, which you will brush on, is meant to create the textured effect described in the locker basket article. Don’t be afraid to get your fingers dirty, if too much paint goes on, or goes on too uniformly, use your fingers to smudge it around and lift some of it off.

Dry brush the top coat with dabbing motions!

In all the tutorials I studied for this project, everyone recommended dry brushing another grey paint over the spray paint to add texture and variation in tone. I agree. Practice on the back side of the unit as no one will see it. Make sure to wipe off excess paint with a paper towel, and then DAB the paint on in a stabbing, sweeping, random motion.

Tip: Use a greige paint. I found that mixing black and white together created a grey that was too cold for the look I wanted. A greige on the other hand had the necessary warm tones. I used Coco by Annie Sloan because I happened to have it on hand.

4. When the top coat of paint has fully dried break out the dark wax. Follow the directions on your can of wax, but read my tip below. This step isn’t strictly necessary for this project, but I enjoyed adding another level of dimension with the wax. I was able to work it into the crevices of the shelving unit, and darken the Coco paint in places to create a subtle begining-to-rust look. When you are happy with the look let everything dry, then apply a quick top coat to the front facing edges of your shelving unit (I used clear wax, not buffed) for durability.

Don’t wipe off the wax!

In a normal project with dark wax you would apply a coat of clear wax first, and you would carefully wipe away the dark wax. You will not apply a coat of clear wax first, as you want the dark wax to sink into the paint and deepen the patina. Be very careful when removing the excess wax, as wiping it off will smear the wax into the surrounding paint creating streaks. Dab the wax off with a dry cloth, it’s very effective. Apply sparingly so that there is very little left over wax to lift off.

Bonus: Sand lightly and judiciously in a few places for a more distressed look and an unexpected pop of metallic sheen.


5. While your shelves are drying cut your 1×6’s to the correct length. If you are making over the same five-tier shelving unit that I used then you will need to cut them into 36″ lengths. These shelves are 13″ deep between the posts, which is where your wood planks will sit. This allows for a 1″ gap between the planks.

6. If you are working with newly milled wood you will want to distress the surface if you desire a rustic barn board or driftwood finish. Leave to dry for 10-20 minutes in a warm well ventilated space. If you like, apply a top coat of polyurethane or wax (not buffed for a matte finish) to protect the surface.

Jenn’s Tips For Distressing Wood

I live at the beach, not at the farm, and so I wanted to imbue the planks with more of a driftwood feel than a barn board look. Barn board can tend to be a very cool grey, but I find that driftwood has a warmer undertone.

Using a paint wash, dark wax, and physical techniques (i.e. banging with car keys, etc), you can create a faux barn board or drift wood finish quite easily in very little time. For a barn board look you will want to go with a truer neutral grey wash, and for driftwood you will want to use a greige and an off-white paint to produce highlights. Have on hand a small cup of water, a clean cloth and your paints of choice. Dip the cloth into the water, dab it into the paint and rub it into the wood. Add more water to thin the paint if necessary so that the wood grain is visible beneath. Use the off-white in the same way to create dimension and highlights.


7. Bring the dry shelving units inside and position them in your pantry. Carefully align the dry wood planks on each shelf, separating the planks as much as possible so that they are resting against the posts of the shelving unit.

Tip: I recommend allowing the wood to acclimatize to the humidity levels in your home for a few days before permanently fastening to them together, as the planks may shrink or expand slightly.

8. Measure 1 to 1 1/2″ in from the plank ends and screw the zinc mending plates onto the planks, so that the mending plates bridge the two parallel planks of wood. Use two screws per plate and two plates per shelf.


The Shelving

Because I was working with a shelf that was 13″ wide I had the option of using 6″ wide boards with a gap, or buying 8″ wide boards and cutting them with a table saw. The latter option was too much work and I liked the idea of having a space between the boards. I braced the two planks together by screwing in mending plates at each end. This was in part a precautionary measure to prevent the planks for jostling, but added a secondary industrial touch that I am quite fond of.

Tip: For the top shelf you will want to put the best side of the wood plank facing down, so that when you look up and see the wood you see the beautiful distressed finish you’ve created. No one will ever see the top side of the top shelf unless they climb up on a ladder.

9. You are done! Style your shelves, kick back and enjoy.

Rustic farmhouse pantry shelving makeover from basic wire shelving

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  • Reply The Mama Nurse

    This is such a great DIY! Will be pinning for later 🙂

    March 30, 2016 at 7:43 pm
  • Reply Megan Cole

    Could I skip the spray paint step if I was using a white shelf and annie sloan chalk paint??? I have to paint my shelf indoors.

    July 12, 2017 at 3:18 am
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      The reason that I used the spray paint was to give the shelves a quick all-over matte base. My original shelves were chrome. I think it purely depends on the type of effect you are trying to achieve. If your white shelves are super glossy you have to consider that. The annie sloan paint will stick to anything, but unless you plan to hand paint the entire shelf with chalk paint and then layer over for the aged distressed look, you are going to have the finish showing through. Definitely share a photo when you are done!!!! I want to see.

      July 18, 2017 at 8:47 am

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