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A Technical Guide to Open Shelving

by Magnolia
Published on February 1, 2019

Open shelving is a functional design element that is easy to love. It brings dimension, gives your space a finishing detail and is also a space saving and organization solution. What’s a little more tricky about open shelving are the technical aspects such as construction, installation, or even space planning. The good news is that whether you’re ready to take on a shelving project all on your own, or you plan to leave it to the professionals, there is an open shelving unit that will work well for you.

Custom kitchen shelving from the Lunar Landing house, on season five of Fixer Upper

Before starting any type of design or construction project, it’s important to sit down and start with a little research. Here are a few questions to consider before beginning this open shelving feat:

  1. Why do you need shelves? What will you want to store on them? This will be important for determining which type of unit will be best for supporting the weight of your items.
  2. Where will your shelves be hung? How much space do you have to work with? This will help determine if a standard size will work for you or if you’ll need to hire a professional to do something more custom.
  3. Where are your anchor points? Anchor points are where your nail will be drilled into the wall to hang your shelving. Whether you are choosing to install custom or prefabricated shelving, it’s important to know what you’re screwing into. This is something you need to think about especially if you’re considering custom shelving. Whenever possible, be sure to hang open shelving where you’ll be able to drill into a stud (the vertical framing members in the wall.) This will give the shelf extra support and ensure that the nails do not rip out of the wall.

Apply these questions to your specific space and situation. Once you have an idea of what your space needs, you can move to deciding what kind of shelving will work best for you.

Custom Shelving

If you have flexibility in your budget, custom shelving may be the way to go. Typically with custom shelves, a professional will design a unit specifically for your space and needs. We recommend custom shelving for a unit that will be largely functional, such as kitchen shelving that will support heavy dishes or glasses.

For custom metal shelves - Contact a professional welder
For custom wood shelves - Contact a trim carpenter
For custom glass shelves - Contact a glass fabricator

Custom Kitchen Open Shelving

These custom shelves were built and powder coated by a local welder. This unit is installed far enough from the countertop to allow for plenty of workspace, but within reach to keep them functional for storing kitchen necessities. When styling these shelves, we suggest putting the more regularly used items on the lower shelves for easy access.

Construction Notes:

Wood blocking was installed in the wall framing prior to tile installation. After the tile installation, use a carbide-tipped masonry bit to pre-drill through tile at the specific mounting points. Then install shelving unit using 5/16” lag screws long enough to penetrate into blocking at least 1.5.” Shelf measurements for this unit are 12” deep by 36” wide by 48” high. (They can and should be made to fit your space.)

Custom L-Bracket Shelving

These custom L-brackets in Jo’s laundry room were built and powder coated by a local welder, and then attached to custom cut pieces of white oak wood. The brackets were mounted to wall studs prior to installation of the brick wall. If you’re up for building them yourself, you could easily purchase your own L-brackets from a hardware store and have wood shelving cut to your space requirements and liking!

Construction Notes:

Each L-bracket is ¼” x 1.5” x 10” x 10.” The shelves are 1' x 12' white oak that were stained with “natural” color and clear coated prior to install. Wood color and grain will vary so the outcome may not match this photo specifically. Use ¾” long #8 flat head screws to mount shelves to bracket from underneath the shelf.

Prefabricated (Prefab) Home Office Shelving

Prefab shelving is another great option, especially if you are looking to spend a little less or are shorter on time. Prefab shelving is any unit that has been constructed beforehand, rather than one built specifically for you.


These floating shelves can be purchased at a home-improvement store or built by a local craftsman. This type of shelving will hold the least amount of weight because of the way they are installed and attached to the wall, so always check weight limits before deciding how to style them. This shelving is best for displaying items like small plants, art prints, or books.

Construction Notes:

These shelves are made up of two parts: the shelf itself and a hidden bracket. The bracket will be mounted to the wall’s studs using lag screws and then will will have “arms” that extend out horizontally. The shelf will then be slid onto the “arms” and fastened to the brackets.

All in all, the main thing to remember as you’re walking through the process is that each shelving unit, whether custom or prefab, has its place and perfect scenario. It all depends on your needs, your budget and, of course, the look you’re hoping to achieve. When in doubt, ask a professional. Be sure to tag us in your open shelving projects—we’d love to see how yours turn out!

Here are a few more examples of designs by Joanna that incorporate open shelving:

S O U R C E B O O K // Here’s where you can find the specific products in this blog.

(Sourcebook—1) Custom Kitchen Open Shelving

Aria Terra Cotta Pot - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Copper Pots - antique
Mugs - Hearth & Hand with Magnolia from Target
Plates - Antique
Clear cups - cb2.com
Bowls - antique
Frame - antique
Utensil holder - westelm.com
Kettle - worldmarket.com
Linen Towel - Antique

(Sourcebook—2) Custom L-Bracket Shelving in Jo’s Laundry Room
Photos by Cody Ulrich

All of the products pictured in Jo’s Laundry Room are no longer available.
Here are suggestions for products with a similar look:
Grey Sylvie Scallop Pot - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Lab Bud Vase - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Camila Terra Cotta Pot - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Fluted Cake Stand - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Norman Vase - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab
Classical Glass Bottle - wp.magnolia.comOpens in new tab

(Sourcebook—3) Prefabricated (Prefab) Home Office Shelving

Desk – cb2.com
Chair – antique
Stool – antique
Pencil holder – antique
Floating shelves – cb2.com
Accordion Lamp – amazon.com
Corkboard – target.com
Clock – antique
Rug – Crew Collection designed by Joanna Gaines with LoloiOpens in new tab

(Photos of the Gaines' farmhouse kitchen were taken by Cody Ulrich)