How to Gain More Storage With Shelves in Unusual Places

Running out of room to put your stuff? Here are some creative ways to fit in extra shelves

By Becky Clarke / Courtesy of Houzz.com

Having dedicated places to store and display your possessions is key to a tidy, practical and beautiful home. There are often areas around a house that could work a bit harder with the addition of one or more shelves. Here’s a selection of ideas.

Stay simple. A single, slim shelf above a sink not only looks attractive, but it also allows you to add personal touches to the room. Make sure the wood is varnished or waxed to protect it from the inevitable water splashes.

Always be careful when drilling into a wall where pipes and electrical wires are likely to be hidden. Run a metal and voltage detector (relatively cheap to buy) over the place you want to put the shelf first to ensure that there’ll be no mishaps.

Take them up the stairs.We’re used to seeing stair walls left blank or decorated with just a few pictures. Use the space to its maximum potential by asking a carpenter to add shelving where appropriate. Your books and belongings will become an attractive and colorful display.

Make sure you can access the shelves easily and safely. Store decorative or rarely used items on tricky-to-reach shelves, so you’re not balancing precariously on the stairs.

Build it bedside. Even though it’s pretty small, this ledge next to the bed is big enough to hold a book or glass of water. Mount the shelf high enough so that you don’t knock everything off in your sleep, then paint it to match the wall.

There are plenty of mini wall shelves on the market. Or you can cut one yourself from a plank of wood, round the corners so that they’re smooth, then fix the shelf on small brackets.

Go behind the sofa. A long shelf behind the sofa is a real bonus since it turns a generally unused area into a useful and decorative space. Pull the sofa forward a few inches if necessary, then dress the shelf with books, pictures and ornaments.

This example is part of a box casing, but you could use the same idea to fit a simple shelf instead. Cut a piece of ¾-inch-thick wood to the desired length and smooth the cut ends with sandpaper. Use a level to mark the underside level on the wall (position the shelf slightly higher than the sofa back). Fit brackets to the wall and screw the shelf on top.

Reach upward. You can add a column of invisible bookshelves in even a small space — the sort that fit under the back cover of a book, meaning that only the books are visible, as if magically suspended. Hang a set behind a door, above a side table or on either side of the bed to make use of blank wall space.

Even a solo version of this type of shelf will do a good job of scooping your bedside reading off the floor.

Use a beam. If you have an open-plan area with a steel I-beam bisecting the space, make the most of it by using it as a shelf, either for small treasures or, if it’s wide enough, for paperbacks, as shown here. Paint it the same color as the ceiling for a discreet look, or try a strong shade — like this dramatic black — to make it a feature in itself.

This is a great place to display a collection. If you don’t have one yet, start one! Gather something like pure white vessels, which look great jumbled together on a shelf. Keep an eye out for pieces in thrift stores — the odd crack won’t matter if they’re up high.

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Find a nook. A small powder room is often left as a plain box, but by adding shelves, you’ll gain the storage space of a small bookcase as well as add heaps of personality. Make sure your shelves are less than 8 inches deep (or recessed into the wall, as shown here), so they’re perfect for paperbacks but not so deep that they stick out into the room too much.

In a small space, screw short battens to the side walls and rest a plank on top; add a central support on longer spans.

Look behind the door. Small walls behind doors are generally ignored, with perhaps a piece of furniture popped in place. Try fitting slim shelves — no more than the width of a paperback — and even if the door opens inward, it shouldn’t be obstructed. Go floor-to-ceiling, and you’ll get a huge amount of storage that otherwise would’ve been wasted.

Put a handy shelf above the hooks. Wherever you have a row of hooks — in a hall or bathroom, for example — there’s a natural place for a shelf just above it.

In a hall, it’s ideal for baskets of gloves and scarves; in a bathroom, it works well for toiletries awaiting their turn. This is a missed opportunity if you leave the wall bare!

Gain storage without it getting in the way. A high shelf for rarely used items is a good way to incorporate loads of storage without cluttering up a work area. Keep items in small boxes that aren’t too heavy so that they’re easy to lift up and down. Also have a mini stepladder on hand to avoid standing on a wobbly chair.