A Technical Guide to Open Shelving


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.


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


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.




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.)


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!