That old Victorian favorite, the shadow box, is very hot right now as we seek ways to personalize our homes and showcase those things that are most important in our lives.

Shadow Box
A shallow display case or deep picture frame, usually with a glass front, typically hung on a wall and used to display three-dimensional objects.

The shadow box has long been a popular way to display military medals, and small scale-model scenes are also traditional. In fact, almost any three-dimensional objects can make a one-of-a-kind display to treasure.

military memorabilia display case - shadow box - Maxis MinisAt a veterans’ nursing home that I visit with my therapy dogs, every resident in the Alzheimer’s wing has a shadow box on the wall outside their bedroom door. It’s a glass-fronted “memory box” collage of photographs, notes, war medals, signed baseballs, small musical instruments… memorabilia and keepsakes that help us to know who the occupant of the room really is, — not just “old Charlie in the striped robe” or, worse yet, “Room number 147” but an individual to be appreciated and respected.

Equally important, the “memory boxes” help us to jump-start a conversation, to find common ground with the seniors. And they help the residents to recall a time of youth and vigor and lust for life and purpose, perhaps to keep a little of that spirit alive against the ravages of age and illness.

Rather than the usual wall-mounted display cases, those shadow boxes were a planned feature when the nursing home was built and framed in between the studs of the interior walls.

Glass top shadow box - Maxis MinisFew of us have that luxury in our own existing homes. But a shadow box can be a beautiful and meaningful piece of wall art, too, with a few sturdy picture hangers.

And yes, it’s absolutely “do-able” to make your own traditional wall-mounted shadow box. You might start with an old picture frame or window frame, or simply put a backing piece on a small set of curio shelves. A sliding plexiglass or glass front is easily made with a few strips of wood moulding to keep the clear cover in place.

As for what to put in a shadow box — turn your imagination loose! has one of the more detailed tutorials I’ve seen, taking you step-by-step through the making of a fantasy shadowbox diorama — a shadow box that holds a miniature scene of with women warriors descending to fight fantasy creatures in a dungeon.

A partially three-dimensional replica or scale model of a scene or landscape, etc. for purposes of education or entertainment.

The diorama itself is clearly the builder’s real passion, and a perfectly adequate shadow box has been created to display it that uses a homemade wooden box fastened to the back of a picture frame.

To commemorate a special occasion — first day of school? first date? graduation? wedding? — I think a homemade shadow box would be a one-of-a-kind keepsake with a lot of meaning behind it, a piece of personal art to treasure.

What about taking a piece of your kids’ art off the refrigerator door to use for the background, add a favourite photo of Junior, and create a shadowbox display with his modelling-clay masterpieces?

In fact, making a rectangular shadow box is a craft project that kids can do themselves, or with a little adult help, for a keepsake or to give as a gift.

variety of shadow boxesFirst, you’ll probably want a frame (this is optional, however). Picture frames, mirror frames, window frames — any of these would work just fine, and can be picked up for “next to nothing” at a yard sale or rummage sale, perhaps even in your own attic!

Secondly, you need a box the right size to fit the opening in your frame. It should be no more than about 3 or 4 inches deep — and it could be much more shallow, in fact, depending on what objects you intend to display. Obviously, a collection of rare coins will not require as deep a display case as you’d need for displaying a trio of autographed baseballs, or a dungeon scene in miniature!

If you’re not much of a carpenter, think about the boxes that might be available to you already.

I once made a dollhouse style of shadowbox from six of the little wooden boxes that tangerines come in, 2 boxes across and 3 boxes high, all fastened together and each furnished like a different room in the house. Those tangerine containers are extremely lightweight, so they’re excellent for hanging on the wall. I just used a bit of wallpaper and fabric to cover up the spaces between the slats of wood.

You could even use a sturdy cardboard box as a base, if the objects you want to display won’t be too heavy. When we need a source of good tough cardboard, or boxes strong enough to carry a lot of books, the staff at the local liquor store is more than happy to donate the empty boxes that used to hold wine bottles — wonderfully sturdy!

For something extra-special, consider a fancy shape or a shadow box with shelves or dividers — either to make yourself or to buy and then fill with your own special memorabilia. Browse around eBay or Maxis Minis gallery of custom shadow box designs for lots of creative ideas.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Domestik Goddess

    jacob, there’s a terrific selection at Amazon – a quick search there on shadow box will turn up hundreds of choices. But for what you’re looking for, you might be best to do a search on shadow box display case to find some that have more depth and are especially made to display collections.

  2. jacob

    I was wondering if anyone knows where to find a showdow box to keep all my dads “ROPING” belonging, if any one has idea Please let me know.
    Thank you,

  3. Gordon Sanders

    Where could I find molding to make a 18″ x 20″ shadow box frame? I want to custom make a shadow box that could hold my son’s adventure in scouting from tenderfoot to eagle scout.

  4. domestika

    Not quite sure what you mean by “shadowbox shelving decor”… if you can give more detail about what you have in mind, I’d be happy to try to help.

  5. aundria knight

    i was wondering if you have any instrictions to making shadowbox shelving decor? id really appreciate a response . thank you

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