This was one of the more fun projects in the home to date. We have gone back and forth for months as to what to do with this corner of the living room behind the couch. We decided that hanging shelves was our best solution for design and function. So I want to share just how we built these hanging shelves for under $100.
A little back story on the space…
Our living room runs on the smaller side in terms of proportions. It’s already filled with the furniture you see, so we didn’t want to add a ton more. I debated on whether or not a bookcase was the right piece or even an etagere to fill that wall. We needed something functional as well — we were looking for a space to display art and books. So all of this together presented a challenge. Not to mention, the space behind the couch was limited to under 15 inches.
I shared quite a few times on the home account just what we were thinking and received a lot of feedback. Thanks to some fellow designers and my cousin Aric, the co-owner of the design studio Love House, we devised a plan to turn it into this.
The best part? We did the entire thing for under $100. Most of the bookcases and etageres I was looking at were well over $500. We were on a budget and so I needed to do it as cost-effectively as possible. So I’m going to share exactly how we built this hanging shelf look.
How to Build This Hanging Shelf Look For Under $100
Placement and Style
The possibilities are endless when it comes to how you want to place these shelves. We were working with a space between a corner wall and window casing and had to consider three configurations:
- Centered between the wall and window casing
- Left aligned and touching the wall
- Right aligned and touching the window casing
I learned a lot about intention in design just in the process of deciding where the shelves were going to go. I really wanted the shelves to feel like they were “built-in” in the space and intentionally there. My first reaction was to center them (like I do most things). But one message came in and said (paraphrased), “if you left align it to touch the wall, it will feel more intentional. Like they were meant to be there. Whereas if they’re centered, they will feel like they are just floating around.” This resonated and I went with it.
As far as style, I really loved the idea of a white palette so that the focus of the eye is on the art and objects. I had seen many configurations of shelving units and my eye always loved the white brackets and with white shelves. So this is up to you!
What does your eye draw to? You could mix it up and use black brackets to add contrast. Possibilities are endless.
Sizing and Spacing
I wanted a longer shelf so I could place more but also needed the depth to be kept shorter. The best depth was 9.8-inch which meant I could lay most books down horizontally or stand them vertically. At that depth, I’d still have space between the couch and shelves as well. For length, this model came in three lengths and I opted for the 47.8 inches in length which allowed for a few inches between the right side and window casing. (Note: the length will be entirely dependent on the space you’re placing it.)
Spacing. I wanted 5 shelves (odd number always looks great in spaces like this) and wanted them spaced out with enough breathing room. A few inches below the top of the window and a few inches below the bottom of the window. Our kitchen shelves are 1.5 inches thick and are spaced 14 inches from the top edge of one shelf to the top edge of the next (12.5 inches of air between them). For the book shelves, we opted for 5/8 inch thick shelves and the same 14 inch top-edge spacing as the kitchen (13 3/8 inches of air between them).
Materials and Cost
- Rubbermaid 47.8-inch L x 9.8-inch D Laminate Wall Mounted Shelving (x 5)
- Style Selections 9.5-inch Shelf Bracket in White (x10)
- White Mounting Screw Packs in White Metal (x8)
~ $100 (may be a little less or more depending your city tax).
Depending on which shelves you choose, the price point could also go down on this. One thing to note: the white mounting screws are worth the money. It creates a seamless look if you choose white shelves.
*When choosing the number of packs of screws to get, make sure to note how many holes there are on the brackets. These brackets have 3 holes for the wall and 3 holes for the shelf itself, so 6 screws (3 long /3 short) are needed per shelf.
Hanging the Shelves
What you’ll need
- A Plan
- 12 inch and 4 foot levels
Step 1: Create a template for the bracket
Create a paper template with the bracket center line and hole locations. This makes marking out the hole locations much faster and more accurate (The first photo above shows the template in action).
Pro Tip: To ensure the finished shelves are the height you want, be sure to figure out the offset distance between the location of the holes and the final shelf surface — aka distance from top bracket holes to top edge of bracket, plus the shelf thickness.
Step 2: Plan and mark the bracket layout on the wall
Planning and marking the layout is the most time-consuming step, but taking the time to lay everything out accurately in advance makes the actual installation a breeze!
In our case, we needed two brackets for each shelf. We spaced the brackets 24 inches apart on center and centered the pair on the shelf. With 48 inch wide shelves, this spacing ensures that the furthest any point on the shelf is from a bracket is 12 inches and should minimize any sagging over time.
To mark the locations for each bracket, we started by marking the center point between the two top screw holes in the lowest bracket. This single point will be the base point of reference for the rest of the grid. (Creating the layout from a single point with a level ensures your shelves will be level and accurately spaced independent of any subtle slopes in the floor or walls.)
Once the base point is marked, use the 4ft level to mark out the vertical spacing for the first column of brackets.
Pro Tip: Put some blue masking tape on the edge of the level and mark the vertical spacing for each bracket with a sharpie. This way you can easily mark off each point without moving the level. Use pencil when making marks on the wall so you can erase any visible marks when you’re done.
Once you have the top-center locations marked for the first column of brackets, use the 4ft level horizontally to mark the locations for the second column of brackets.
Pro Tip: Mark out the column spacing on the masking tape on your level to make this step faster and more accurate.
Once you have all the top-center points marked, use your 12″ level to draw 2″ horizontal lines through each point.
Finally, grab the bracket template from Step 1 and line it up with the horizontal lines you just drew and mark the 3 hole locations for each bracket.
Step 3: Pre-drill pilot holes
Drill pilot holes at each of the hole locations you marked in Step 2.
Pro Tip: Depending on your wall material and how you intend to use the shelves, you may need to use wall anchors if you need to handle heavier items. In our case, we didn’t need them.
Step 4: Install brackets
For each bracket, screw in the bottom screw first, then the top two being sure everything lines up with the pilot holes you drilled in Step 3.
Step 5: Install shelves
Once you have the brackets mounted to the wall, start by installing the top shelf first.
Pro Tip: Starting with the top shelf keeps the space below open so you have more room when setting the mounting screws.
To install each shelf:
- Set the shelf on top of the brackets
- Using a pencil, mark the locations of each bracket hole
- Take the shelf down
- Drill pilot holes at each of the locations you marked
- Set the shelf back on the brackets
- Screw in using the mounting screws
Pro Tip: Dry-fitting the shelves before marking the hole locations ensure everything will fit correctly even if the wall is slightly out of level or perfectly smooth.
Styling the Shelves
This part is certainly the most rewarding. I love a neutral palette and wanted it to be a space to showcase art and vessels collected from travels, alongside some of our favorite books.
I’d recommend gathering everything you want to place on the shelves and putting it together on the ground first, side by side. You can see which pieces go together and jump out at you. I had a few gaps I wanted to fill, so I sourced a few pieces on Etsy as well. Here are some decorative objects that jumped out at me:
*For more vases and vessels, read more on how to source in this post.
For some of my favorite coffee table books, here’s a quick list:
- Live Beautiful
- My Tiny Atlas
- Wabi-Sabi Welcome
- At Home in Joshua Tree: A Field Guide to Desert Living
- Travel Home: Design with a Global Spirit
- Cabin Porn
- Hide and Seek: The Architecture of Cabins and Hideouts
- Tom Kundig: Works
I hope if you do partake in creating shelves like this, that you enjoy the process of design. For me, it’s a challenge that I love to take on. I enjoy getting to do projects like this with Travis as well, it has become a rewarding experience to think critically about our home. If you do create hanging shelves, tag me on Instagram, I’d love to see!