Great ideas for shelves

Create the storage you need with inspiration from these shelves for kitchen, living room, hall, garden, mudroom, bathroom, and more


Thomas J. Story

Floating book shelves

Typical store-bought floating shelves are suitable only for displaying objects, as they have a weight capacity of 10 or so pounds. That's why California architect Stephen Atikinson created what might be called built-in floaters of pine and red oak, with seriously strong support.

The total cost of the project was $500. Wood trim hides the brackets supporting the shelves, creating an elegant appearance reinforced by the larger display shelf at the bottom.

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Custom drink station in the reader's dream kitchen.

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Custom drink station

The beverage center of our reader-voted dream entertaining kitchen keeps glasses, wine and cocktail fixings within easy reach. The custom shelves ensure that all the drinkware fits perfectly in place. Open shelves and mirrored backs add interest.

Two under-counter GE Monogram wine refrigerators each keep up to 57 bottles at preferred temperatures. 

Mud room shelving and storage

Photo by John Granen

Designated clutter zone

Pegs, buckets, and colored bins (from $11; help keep this mud room organized. The shelves were an easy DIY using salvaged bleachers.

Having a storage space just off the kitchen of this home helps prevent stuff from piling up on the dining table.

Kitchen details

Thomas J. Story

Simple window shelf

A single shelf in an unexpected place can expand your storage right where you need it most.

This one in front of a kitchen window frees counter space and keeps cooking ingredients handy.

Walls removed

Thomas J. Story

Storage room divider

A freestanding cabinet provides open and closed storage while serving as the principal divider between the open living-dining and kitchen areas in this remodeled ranch house.

cabin kitchen/dining area

Photo by John Clark; prop styling by Molly Hurd

Make it casual

Thrifty choices in the kitchen of this northern Washington cabin include a mix of open shelves, plywood walls, and laminate cabinets.

More:  Inspired cabin escape

Kitchen storage cubicles/shelving

Clutter-control cubbies

With storage and display shelves resembling large egg crates, the simple wall system shown here defines the kitchen, dining, and living areas of this California cabin, and keeps everything in plain sight.

The ladder leads to a loft, and the inside of the box actually houses a bathroom.

Create a still life

Create a still life

Books find a home alongside art and other treasures on these lightweight suspension shelves. The airy unit serves double duty as storage and display case.

Tip:  Leave books off the top shelf. Reserve that space for unusual objects so they don’t have to compete with a row of titles.

Updating a classic in San Francisco

John Sutton

Let in the light

A two-story bookcase of wood and glass acts as a room divider and light chimney, bringing sunlight into the parlor of a remodeled San Francisco Victorian.

Stowing Collectibles

Thomas J. Story

If the shelf fits, use it

18 horizontal inches of wall may have more possibilties than you think. Designer Lotta Jansdotter put a Benno CD tower on its end and used it as shelving for books and curios.

2008 Menlo Park Idea House

E. Spencer Toy

Create a niche

Simple, readymade floating shelves look like a custom wall unit thanks to dark pumpkin paint on the wall behind them.

The fireplace facade is clad in a stone veneer from Eldorado Stone. A dark-colored concrete tile from Smith-Laredo defines the fireplace hearth. 

See more of this house

Bookcase display

Photo by Thomas J. Story; styling by Miranda Jones

Leave some open space

Rather than filling her shelves with books, L.A. designer Kelly LaPlante left room for shapely objects and empty space to create a pretty display.

"I first visually balance the case as a whole," she says. "Then I arrange the contents of each shelf." See more of her place here.


Thomas J. Story

“Rough and tumble” bath

Shelves shaped like skateboards (from Pottery Barn Kids) add fun to a wall of concrete wall tiles mimicking masonry. Bright towels pick up their color for another accent.

San Francisco Idea House

Thomas J. Story

Surprising shared shelving

Three built-in shelves serve the bedroom wall and the entry on the opposite side. Lumicor resin panels containing recycled materials let in natural light.

The wall art is a digital image transferred onto fabric then stretched into place with a tiny metal frame. Wall covering by Planet Profile.

More great ways with shelves

In the Mudroom

Thomas J. Story

In the mudroom

Galvanized steel planters provide just the right amount of rugged storage ― and a fun metallic glint ― above coat hooks in a mudroom.

Kitchen command center

Art Gray

Kitchen command center

Open shelves put dishware and utensils you use every day within easy reach. Farmhouse kitchen sink is from Waterworks.

More ideas from this barn-style home

In the Mudroom

From Fresh Dirt

Garden cubbies

Nursery pots and planting paraphernalia stay put in these cleverly constructed garden shelves. The upslanted edges of the shelves were inspired by nesting boxes in chicken coops.

Colorful touches

Thomas J. Story

Colorful outdoor shower

All you need for an outdoor shower can be tucked into little shelves made from scrap wood.

Condo makeover

John Granen

Storage wall

A single storage wall makes this compact Seattle kitchen feel roomy. 

More small-space solutions

Open Shelves

Jen Siska

Access what you often need

Open shelves are all about easy access, but they force you to edit. “When it’s in plain sight, you know what you’ve got,” says designer Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls. “You forget about things behind cupboard doors.” Oaktown cubby unit ($399) was from Stumasa.

master bath

Lisa Romerein

Provide privacy, keep space

The light and airy solution for space in this master bath was to contrast icy blue glass mosaic tiles with warm wood.

See-through shelving made from high-grade plywood defines a shower area without walling it off. Unobstructed light fills the space.

More: Bathroom solutions

Clutter Control

Jen Siska

Build in flexibility

Cubbies are ideal for storage and display ― and are easy to stack and rearrange. Cubes $60 and $80 from Stumasa. Office Basics accordion-style organizer $36;

Homework centers

James Carrier

Homework center

Adjustable Plexiglas shelves keep everything in this workspace handy but out of the way.

Brighten up a nook

James Carrier

Brighten up a nook

Create a colorful focal point in a small space by painting your shelves (including the back) a bright color. Here, pumpkin-colored shelves (Kelly-Moore's Deep Spice wall paint, KM3608-5) act as a backdrop to deep brown and burnt orange accessories.


Tame chaotic piles

Thomas J. Story; Styled by Miranda Jones

Tame chaotic piles

Open shelves can look cluttered. Unite unruly stacks by showcasing a collection of objects of similar shape and color. Even the most haphazard piles will seem intentional.

Keep horizontal stacks on lower shelves to prevent them from looking precarious.

Give them space

Thomas J. Story; Styled by Miranda Jones

Give them space

Extend built-ins to create a frame for the door or adjoining room. Take advantage of all that space by displaying photos, art, and some well-chosen trinkets among the books.

White paint keeps a book-filled wall from feeling heavy.


John Granen

Color-coded walls

Open shelves in this Oregon beach house are painted the colors of the shoreline. "We tell visitors to turn left at the green wall for the media room or left at the blue wall for the bathroom," says Homeowner Jo Landefel.

Closet becomes office

Thomas J. Story

Office in a closet

Her small San Francisco home didn't have space for a home office, so Sara Menuck converted her living room closet into a chic, streamlined work-station.

For $1,000, including materials and labor, her designer removed the closet pole and added an upper covered storage area, a floating middle shelf, and a work surface with an almost-hidden drawer. Says Menuck, "I hardly ever close the doors."

Design  Paris Renfroe Design (651/233-0063).

More  20 fun DIY projects


Tidy storage

E. Spencer Toy

Cabin cubes

Cube bookcase and bench storage by The Wooden Duck keep linens, clothing, and supplies organized in Sunset's Summer Retreat Home.


Kitchen open shelving

Photo by John Granen

Open kitchen shelving

Open shelves feel hospitable―guests can just grab wineglasses off the shelf―and force you to edit.

Try following this homeowner's rule of thumb: “If you use it more than once a week, have it out. If you use it a few times a month, stick it in a cabinet. Once or twice a year? It belongs in the basement.”

More ideas from a playful house

White open shelves

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Keep it simple

Paint things white and edit down your display. It's a kind of magic trick that makes anything look more pulled together.


This Old House

Pantry kit

"The typical kitchen cabinet has a lot of wasted space," says Lea Schneider, author of Growing up Organized. "You can't see or get to what's in the back, so things get forgotten and food items can get outdated, especially in lower cabinets."

A pantry kit like this allows you to see and access everything. These solid wood units allow you to customize the height of shelves and glide each unit out of the way on piano hinges.

From Pantry kits and 13 more storage accessories

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