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What are the Different Options for Wall Shelves?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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The many different options for wall shelves include a variety of structures and materials. There are wall shelf colors and styles to suit different tastes and rooms. Wall shelving may include visible or invisible hardware and it may be made of glass, metal or wood. The weight and space capacity of a wall shelf can vary greatly. Wall shelves may be narrow or wide as well as placed closed together or far apart.

How far apart the shelves are placed on the wall depends on what they're designed to hold. Book shelves are typically not overly wide, while those made for displaying decorative items such as pictures or vases may be quite widely spaced. Adjustable wall shelves can be set to the owner's preference and storage needs. Adjustable wall shelf styles may attach to metal tracks than run vertically or they may fasten to a backboard section.

Built-in shelving is an example of a wall shelf type with a backboard. These units are similar to bookcases in their appearance and are commonly built on either side of a fireplace. Wall shelves with a backboard as well as those without may be designed to hold light or heavy items. Typically, shelves made to house heavier items feature support braces, or brackets, underneath them.

Wall shelves designed for very lightweight storage may be narrow in design. This type can fit in kitchens or bathrooms to offer more storage for small items. In kitchens, a row or more of narrow shelves may hold jars of spices. A narrow wall shelf in bathrooms is often designed to keep clutter such as toothbrushes and lotion dispensers away from the sink area.

Shelving for walls may be wood, glass or metal. Closet, kitchen or laundry area wall shelves are often made of plastic-coated wire and are of an openwork design. Glass shelves can look elegant. Floating glass shelving can give a spacious, airy look to a room if they aren't cluttered with storage or display items. Floating shelves may also be made of wood or metal; they have invisible hardware used to mount them on walls.

While most wall shelving is available in neutral colors such as white, black and natural woods as well as metals, some of it is sold in bright accents. Bright blues, reds and other colors of wall shelves can brighten a child's room or other living space. People who add custom, unfinished wood wall shelving to their homes often either stain them to match the wood of their other furniture or paint them in a favorite accent color.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By backdraft — On Jun 08, 2012

I really like the look of modern wall shelves. I think they are as much about design as utility.

I used to date a woman that had a really cool series of alternating white and black shelves arranged on her wall. Most of them were empty and she was constantly rearranging the things she put on them. But that was what was most interesting about them. They were as much a piece of art as a place to put things.

By whiteplane — On Jun 07, 2012

What is the best wood to use for making my own wooden wall shelves? I want something that is beautiful, durable, cheap and long lasting. I know that is a tall order but there has to be something that will work.

By summing — On Jun 07, 2012

I have a friend that rigged up a really cool and simple system in his apartment. He basically screwed milk crates into the studs in his walls to make easy and colorful shelves. They work as well as any shelves I have ever seen and you can put things on top or inside of them. Plus, they provide a cool accent to his space.

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