How To Choose A Floating Shelf

Space-saving and stylish, floating shelves are a modern storage solution that is perfect for displaying your treasured keepsakes. The invisible design of the mounting brackets, give them a neat, streamlined look that is ideally suited to modern and contemporary homes.

There is a massive range of shapes, sizes, and styles to choose from, so to help you find the perfect floating shelf for your home, here is our comprehensive guide.

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What Styles of Floating Shelves Are There?

  • Flat Shelves

The most common type of floating shelf is the standard flat panel. It consists of a single rectangular or square shelf with hidden internal supporting brackets. Flat shelves have a clean, minimal look that is ideally suited to contemporary homes.

  • Lipped Shelves

Lipped shelves have a U- or L-shaped design that forms a lip at the front or around the sides of the shelf making these shelves perfect for storing spices in the kitchen, toys, and trinkets in a children's room, or for displaying wall art.

  • Box Shelves

Box shelves look like a cube and offer double the display and storage space by enabling you to place items in the center of the shelf and on the upper surface. They have a simple, streamlined design that won't overwhelm your room while still showcasing your display items.

  • Contoured Shelves

Contoured shelves are traditionally inspired and slightly more ornate than other floating shelf styles. They have a tapered design that gives the appearance of crown molding. This style coordinates well with shabby chic, country, and transitional style homes.

  • Mini Shelves

Mini shelves are designed to support only 1 or 2 display items and often come as a set of 2 or more shelves. They are perfect for displaying candles, fresh flowers, or indoor plants.

White Flat Floating Shelf
Solid Wood Flat Floating Shelf
White Contoured Floating Shelf
Mini Floating Shelves in White
Contoured Floating Shelves in White
Modern Round Box Floating Shelf

What Are the Best Materials for Floating Shelves?

  • Wood

Solid wood adds warmth and texture to your home, and most types of wood can support more weight than other shelf materials. Look for stunning live edge wood shelves that keep the raw edges visible to showcase the natural loops and whorls of the wood. Live edge wood shelves give your space rustic elegance and makes an eye-catching focal point in an entryway or living room.

  • MDF

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is an inexpensive alternative to solid wood,but unlike wood, it has an exceptionally smooth surface. This tough material comes in a wide variety of finishes from high-gloss lacquered style shelves to soft natural wood grain, so it is easy to find a finish to suit the style of your home.

  • Metal

Metal is a highly durable material that can support a significant amount of weight. Metal floating shelves are perfect for industrial or urban homes but can also add an interesting textural contrast when installed in a farmhouse or Scandinavian style rooms.

Look for floating shelves constructed from heavy-gauge metal that is powder-coated to prevent corrosion. This is especially important if you are installing your shelves in wet rooms such as bathrooms and laundry rooms. 

  • Glass

Glass shelves let you create a bright, airy storage area that displays your items to their best. However, as glass is fragile and translucent, the shelves are not mounted using standard internal brackets. They are usually framed with metal or wood, which is then mounted to the wall.

Glass shelves make a stunning addition to bathrooms for storing and displaying toiletries. Look for a floating glass shelf that features hooks or a rail underneath for towels.

  • Acrylic

Acrylic is a modern material that is durable and easy to mold, allowing for floating shelves with novel and stylish shapes. The tough thermoplastic is easy to maintain and lightweight, which means that the shelves can be mounted with minimal brackets depending on the weight capacity.

The clear glass-like appearance makes acrylic floating shelves a great addition to small homes to create the illusion of a larger space, and these shelves blend well with contemporary décor such as Scandinavian and industrial.

3 Piece Solid Wood Floating Shelf
Wooden Double Floating Shelf
Modern Wood Floating Shelf in White
Aluminum Floating Wall Shelf
Metal and Glass Bathroom Floating Shelf
Simple Glass Floating Shelf

Which Type of Floating Shelf Bracket is Best?

  • Internal

Most floating shelves feature an internal bracket system that is mounted to the wall then inserts into the hollow shelf structure, making them completely invisible. Internal brackets can have cylindrical prong-like structures or be designed as a complete frame. Both offer exceptional durability and can support a wide range of weight capacities.

  • External

Though external brackets will not technically give shelves the appearance of floating, many industrial or farmhouse style shelves use this style of brackets due to the rustic appeal of the exposed hardware.

Some styles of external brackets wrap around the top, front, and bottom of the shelf, while others sit underneath the shelf frame and are barely visible.

Long Box Internal Floating Shelves
White Internal Floating Wall Shelf
Slim Internal Floating Shelf in White
External Glass Floating Shelf
External 3-Tier Floating Wall Shelf
External Classic White Floating Shelf

What is the Weight Limit of a Floating Shelf?

The weight capacity depends on the material, the depth of the shelf, and the strength of the brackets.

Standard shelf brackets are designed to support between 20-85lbs., while heavy-duty brackets can support up to 300 lbs. The deeper your shelf, the less weight it can support. So, choose floating shelves that are just wide enough to support your books, photographs, and keepsakes without extending too far out into the room.

Floating shelves should always be installed into wall studs where possible as they offer the most supportive base and allow you to load your shelves to their full weight capacity. If you are unable to use or locate wall studs in the location you wish to place your shelves, you will need additional wall anchors to hold the screws from the brackets in the drywall, plaster or masonry.

Always evenly distribute the weight of the items when loading your floating shelves. This reduces the strain on the brackets and prolongs the life of your shelves.

What Features Should I Look For in a Floating Shelf?

Appropriately Sized Brackets

The right sized bracket will ensure not only that your shelf can support a wide range of display items, but it also ensures the shelf is safe for use and won't fall or tip. For internal brackets, the ideal size is approximately ½" smaller than the thickness of your shelf.

Heavy Gauge Steel Brackets

Regardless of which material your shelf is constructed from, choose a system that uses heavy gauge steel brackets for mounting as they are both safer and longer lasting than wood frames.

Rounded Corners

Depending on where you install your floating shelves, the exposed corners could pose a hazard to children. Shelves with slightly rounded corners or semicircular designs minimize the risk of injury for safer storage.