What to Look for in the Best Floating Shelves, According to Shelfology’s Founder
Surprise: Everything hangs on the hardware.
Updated Jun 23, 2022 4:40 AM
Sometimes it’s nice to close the doors on clutter with chests, cabinets, and buffets to house all your kitchenware, work papers, and half-used toiletries. But for those items you’re particularly proud of—a ceramic coffee mug collection or a thriving philodendron in a chic pot—there may be nothing better than a floating shelf, especially where space is hard to come by. “I love floating shelves in kitchens, because everything you need is easily accessible,” says Anastasia Casey of The Identité Collective. “They keep floor space accessible and sight lines open, and because floating shelves lack outside supports, you can store and display your most used items while allowing natural light to flood through.”
According to Shelfology CEO (and chief shelf geek) Kevin Anderson, the best floating shelves are deceptively simple: There’s actually quite a lot of mechanical support that makes these tried-and-true display systems work. “A ‘floating’ shelf is, of course, a shelf that projects off the wall without any kind of visible support, hence the silly moniker,” he says. “Is it magic? Sure, some call it that; we just call it engineering.” To take the guesswork out of which wall shelf is best for highlighting all your tchotchkes without diving too much into the technicalities, we rounded up six of our favorite finds, from the neutral to the colorful, including Anderson’s tips for mounting correctly and Casey’s foolproof styling hack.
- Best overall: Shelfology Aksel Floating Shelf
- Best value: Americanflat 14-Inch Floating Shelves
- Best metal: West Elm Floating Metal Shelves
- Best color: Marie Kondo Wall Mounted Bookshelf
- Best length: Blu Dot Welf Wall Shelf
- Best acrylic: CY Craft Clear Acrylic Floating Shelves
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Material: Floating shelves can be made from pretty much anything but are most popularly sold as solid wood, plywood, metal, and plastic. The higher the quality, the steeper the price tag, but solid wood or steel ensures longevity. “The heaviest of all floating shelves but also the strongest by far, ¼-inch steel shelves can hold 90 pounds per foot,” says Anderson. “This makes them equally great candidates for supporting stone slabs or displaying heavy collections.” By comparison, plywood is a bit less reliable but also very light.
Weight limit: This number largely depends on the individual product, so take care to review the manufacturing specs and confirm just how heavy all your baubles and books really are. Most shelves on the market don’t promise much—think: a 10-pound limit at best—which won’t make them great contenders as your next clutter catchall. The location is also critical to the success of your shelf. A supplier-provided weight limit means next to nothing if there isn’t a stud behind the drywall for it to latch onto.
Installation: Brackets—wall-mounted plates with projecting rods to reinforce the horizontal beam—are key to properly installing any shelf, whether it’s a fireplace mantel, picture ledge, or floating nightstand. “For a bracket to work right, the rods need to be strong enough to support the shelf and everything on it, yet still small enough to disappear completely when the shelf is installed over them,” says Anderson.
Best Overall: Shelfology Aksel Floating Shelf
When it comes to versatility and wall compatibility, Shelfology comes out on top—and not just because you can choose from a variety of lengths, widths, and depths, as well as finishes that range from walnut to white. Anderson’s company has thought of every headache that may possibly arise, particularly when it comes to weight. The brand’s minimalist floating shelves encompass everything from simple decorative ledges to 12-inch-deep shelves with 40-plus-pound capacities. “In other words, a kitchen shelf that needs to hold a set of dishes for six to eight people,” he says.
Best Value: Americanflat 14-Inch Floating Shelves
If you want to keep things simple—and under budget—snag a set of three 14-inch matte white shelves for less than $30 from this Amazon favorite. They can be installed separately or together as one long unit for a dramatic look on a bare closet or living room wall; the smaller size gives it the advantage of squeezing into tiny spaces and adding functionality to awkward corners. Featuring an ever-so-slight lip, your breakable keepsakes are less likely to slip and fall forward with this set. The only con amid all of these pros? The necessary nuts and bolts aren’t included, so you may need to make an extra trip to the hardware store to find the right screws.
Best Metal: West Elm Floating Metal Shelves
Options are always a good thing. Thankfully, this glam gold-finished-iron entry from West Elm offers a bunch of them: The two coordinating sizes (24 inches with a 22-pound capacity and 36 inches with a 48-pound weight load) can be purchased separately or bundled together, and you can hang them either flat side-up or -down, with or without a lipped edge. Use them as a glitzy base for neutral art prints and books or a collection of white ceramics with varied silhouettes. They even make great nightstands in a tight bedroom space.
Best Kids: Marie Kondo Wall Mounted Bookshelf
We can’t get over how cute this tidy bamboo shelf would look in a kid’s bedroom or playroom. The grooved base and front railing make it ideal for layering all sorts of trinkets, stuffed toys, and children’s books, and the lovely sakura pink hue is reminiscent of spring blossoms for an always cheerful look. But with just a 15-pound weight limit and 22-inch length, the shelves probably work best as a set. Go monochromatic or buy one in every color (there’s also indigo, white, and wheat) to create a cozy reading nook that maximizes storage with a rainbow of personality.
Best Length: Blu Dot Welf Wall Shelf
Speaking of color, Blu Dot’s slim floater promises to transform any blank wall into a trendy storage solution that brims with unexpected potential. Plus the powder-coated steel base is available in a palette of eight colors—marine blue might be the dreamiest—for a contemporary vibe that works in kids’ rooms, bathrooms, and beyond. But we love it for its size: At 40 inches, it’s long enough to fit all of your ceramic vases or that indoor succulent garden you’ve been nurturing all winter. (And if it’s not, you can always just buy another to install above it.)
Best Acrylic: CY Craft Clear Acrylic Floating Shelves
Designers rely on acrylic furniture like Lucite console tables and laptop stands for an airy look that reduces visual clutter in modern and minimalist spaces. The same is true of acrylic ledges. Similar to glass but far less fragile, clear floating shelves keep the focus on their occupants—from magazines to plants to figurines—without dominating your eye or breaking up a wall for a museum-quality display. These streamlined staples from CY Craft come in two-, four-, and six-pack options, with mounting hardware included, to install as a single row or staggered for a graphic arrangement.
Q: Is it hard to mount floating shelves?
It doesn’t have to be—just don’t forget the importance of a quality bracket. “Always install floating brackets into at least one wall stud,” advises Anderson, though he prefers drilling into two for additional support. “Never use just wall anchors, as they will be levered right out of the wall by the weight of the shelf.”
Q: Does it count as a floating shelf if there are visible brackets?
“This is like asking if the guy in the air is still Superman if you can see the wires—it just isn’t the same kind of juju,” says Anderson. “Visible brackets equals a regular wall shelf; no brackets equals a floating shelf.” If you’re worried about durability, warping, or buckling in the middle, it may be worth hiring a professional to install your selected unit into wall blocking.
Pro Tips on Styling the Best Floating Shelves
- For Casey, placing similar objects in a zigzag pattern, a method for creating similar vignettes and placing them diagonally when you have more than one shelf, is a foolproof styling approach. “Start with your largest objects first, shifting them from one side to the other at the 30/70 marks,” she shares. “Group like items—glasses, bowls—together in stacks to add height.”
- Go-to items include fresh produce, candles, drinkware, cutting boards, and pretty canisters—preferably glass vessels with decorative lids to showcase dried goods like flour or pasta.
- Don’t forget: Functionality is just as important as looks, so keep frequently used items within reach on lower shelves to avoid dragging a stool over on the daily.
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