What to Look for in the Best Floating Shelves, According to Shelfology’s Founder
Surprise: Everything hangs on the hardware.
Updated Jan 31, 2023 5:30 PM
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
Reading up on Domino’s shopping guides is like having your own personal product concierge. We do the tedious part—deep-dive research, hands-on testing, and tapping experts for advice—so all you have to do is hit “add to cart.” That’s why we call them Simply the Best.
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 seven 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 deal: Sorbus Floating Shelves
- Best metal: West Elm Floating Metal Shelves
- Best kids: Marie Kondo Wall Mounted Bookshelf
- Best length: Blu Dot Welf Wall Shelf
- Best acrylic: CY Craft Clear Acrylic Floating Shelves
- Best expandable: Urban Outfitters Expandable Metal Wall Shelf Set
Best Overall: Shelfology Aksel Floating Shelf
What we like:
- Multiple finish options
- Lots of depths, widths, and lengths available
Why we chose it: If you don’t know where to start with a floating shelf, start here, since there are a ton of finish, length, width, and length options to choose from.
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 options with 40-plus-pound capacities. “In other words, a kitchen shelf that needs to hold a set of dishes for six to eight people,” says Anderson.
Best Deal: Sorbus Floating Shelves
Material: Engineered wood | Weight limit: Estimated 8 pounds | Installation: Hidden bracket
What we like:
- Accessible price point
- 2 shelves you can stagger or mount together
- Sturdy install
- Smooth matte finish
- Included drywall anchors are a bit flimsy
Why we chose it: A set of shelves great for a corner of lightweight knickknacks, and for a steal, too.
Sometimes simple is best. These all-white floating shelves offer a neutral display, allowing everything from baskets to diffusers to take center stage. With a depth of 9 inches, they should hold even your large coffee-table books, and if you mount the pair together, you’re working with an extra-long 48-inch foundation. Made with engineered wood, they’re also water resistant and bathroom- and basement-appropriate. Plus the invisible mounting bracket offers more support than screws alone. “These are great little shelves. I have bought three sets now,” writes one reviewer. Another echoes, “Great shelves, nice and deep, allowing for potted plants.” Our only caveat, really, is that we’re not sure how long the 33% off discount will last (we also clocked this well-reviewed pair discounted on Amazon down to about $30), so jump on the deals while you can.
Best Metal: West Elm Floating Metal Shelves
Material: Iron | Weight limit: 22 to 36 pounds | Installation: Screwed to wall
What we like:
- Can hang them flat-side-up or -down
- Metallic finish is more unique than a wood or white shelf
- Available in gold, nickel, and oil-rubbed bronze finishes
- Metallic finish can be prone to scratches
Why we chose it: Not into a standard wood or white-finish shelf? These metallic shelves add just the right amount of glam and/or industrial vibes without being intrusive.
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; just be sure to move things with care, as the finish can get easily scratched. They even make great nightstands in a tight bedroom space.
Best Kids: Marie Kondo Wall Mounted Bookshelf
Material: Bamboo | Weight limit: 15 pounds | Installation: Keyhole hooks
What we like:
- Made from sustainably sourced bamboo
- Comes in 4 kids’ room–compatible colors
- Front rail and grooved base keep books in place
- 2 sizes, but different color ranges
Why we chose it: Kids’ bookshelves are inherently adorable, but the design of these are particularly thoughtful.
We can’t get over how cute this tidy bamboo shelf would look in a child’s bedroom or playroom. The grooved base and front railing make it ideal for layering all sorts of trinkets, stuffed toys, and books. And you won’t have to worry about anything toppling over in the middle of the night. With a 15-pound weight limit and 22-inch length, the shelves are best as a set. Go monochromatic or buy one in every color (there’s also pink, gray, and wheat) to create a cozy reading nook that maximizes storage. To us, the indigo blue hue brings to mind nighttime stargazing
Best Length: Blu Dot Welf Wall Shelf
Material: Powder-coated steel | Weight limit: Not listed | Installation: Additional hardware required
What we like:
- Available in 8 colors
- Fits well in kids’ rooms, bathrooms, and more
- Slim design adds a contemporary touch
- Additional hardware required
Why we chose it: Fit all the succulents your heart desires.
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 your ceramic vase collection 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
Material: Acrylic | Weight limit: N/A | Installation: Screws and drywall anchors
What we like:
- Clear material reduces visual clutter
- Comes in 2-, 4-, and 6-pack bundles
- Mounting screws may be visible if not covered by decor
Why we chose it: For those times you don’t want the shelf to be the star of the show.
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; just be sure to hide the screws with a well-placed piece of decor. 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.
Best Expandable: Urban Outfitters Expandable Metal Wall Shelf Set
Material: Metal | Weight limit: 4.4 pounds | Installation: Screwed to wall
What we like:
- Can expand from 11 to 20.75 inches
- Colorful, modern finishes (black, rose, and mint)
- Playful, scalloped edge
- Ships with hanging hardware
- Low weight limit
Why we chose it: A two-for-one, wavy detail exclusive to Urban Outfitters.
Leave it to Urban Outfitters to offer an eclectic take on a wall shelf. If you’re interested in something beyond a simple slat of wood, this scalloped piece is just the ticket. But the fun visual detail isn’t the reason this one earned a spot on our list of the best floating wall shelves. It’s actually an expandable piece; keep it at its smallest, 11 inches, or extend it to the full 20.75 inches. Think of it as an ideal spot to put lightweight trinkets on display, house your paperback books (most floating shelves we came across in our research aren’t designed to do this), or place a trendy mini lamp.
How We Chose These Products
The best floating shelves are one of the most practical pieces of decor you can add to your home, but they also vary greatly in style, size, and color. That’s why we reached out to Anderson to shed some light on what makes a floating shelf work (and what to look for in a quality one) and Casey for foolproof shelf styling tips. We then rounded up shelves made from wood, powder-coated steel, composite wood, iron, and acrylic so you can spice up or take full advantage of any nook or blank space in your home.
Our Shopping Checklist
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.
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.
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.
Styling Secrets for 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.
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.
The Last Word
Floating shelves are a simple, stylish way to show off art, bits of decor, or kitchenware without the visual clutter of brackets. Our favorite floating shelves from Shelfology are sturdy, easy to install, and come in a range of finishes and lengths to fit any part of your home.