The Ciliaris Ladder Shelf

Our narrow sideyard gets partial sun, and is a perfect spot for succulents that prefer some shade. Putting some shelves here has been a long-awaited project, but I was ambivalent about what to buy or what to build. I didn’t want anything too bulky or rectangular; and since the sideyard is narrow, I wanted something that can take advantage of the space as much as possible.

I’ve built ladder bookcases before, and I thought the concept could be borrowed for the outdoors. The shelves can then lean against the neighboring wall, using the available space without seeming too bulky. The only question is how to make the actual shelves easily and efficiently. Building shelves isn’t fun—to allow drainage from pots, they would need to be louvered or slotted, and putting those together isn’t something I would particularly look forward to.

Here comes IKEA to the rescue! The ÄPPLARÖ is a series of outdoor furniture, mostly made out of solid acacia wood, stained in a dark brown, walnut-like color. Each ÄPPLARÖ shelf is about 27″ by 11″, slotted with 5 horizontal slats. At $10 apiece, it would cost more for raw materials alone. The shelf is intended to be hung on a vertical wall panel from the same series, and come with brackets for that purpose; but we won’t be using them. Instead, we will attach them directly to the sides of the ladder.

The final ladder will be just under 7′ tall, with 6 shelves, separated progressively from 12″ to 16″ inches in 1″ increments; this allows shelves to accommodate plants of different heights. Like my ladder bookshelves, the ÄPPLARÖ shelves will be held in place by sliding into routed slots in the side rails.

The side rails of the ladder are made from 2 × 6 redwood. The routed slots are 3/4″ wide by 1/4″ deep. With the ladder jutting out 16″ over its 7′ height, the slots are angled at 80° to keep the shelves flat.

Perhaps the trickiest part of the project is staining the redwood side rails so that they match the walnut-like color of the pre-made shelves. After several failures at mixing different deck stains to get a matching color, I decided the easiest solution might be to use the stain that IKEA recommends and sells for those shelves—the VÅRDA outdoor furniture stain. Despite being applied on totally different woods, the colors match pretty well, likely because VÅRDA is more of an acrylic, surface-based stain instead of a oil-based penetrating one. Only time will tell how well the stain can hold up against the elements.

The next trickiest part of the project is assembly. It’s not easy balancing the shelves on one rail, while laying the opposite rail on top. But with an absurd number of clamps, and attaching a few shelves at a time, it can become a one-person job.

After each shelf is slotted in place, they’re attached to the side rails using 3″-long washer-head outdoor star-drive screws. They’re absolutely delightful to use, if that’s actually possible for something so mundane.

And of course, everything in the garden gets a botanical epithet. These shelves are named after Aloiampelos ciliaris, the climbing Aloe, which by the way, absolutely loves our garden climate.