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How Far Apart Should Shelves Be?

Collage photo of floating shelves in different places and design.

There are two types of shelving – floating and supported on brackets. Spacing between the shelves depends on what you’re putting on them. Most people place their shelves 12 inches apart unless they’re putting tall books or other tall things on the shelves. In that case, people go to 15 or 18 inches apart.

Several factors influence how far apart you space your shelves. The material from which the shelves are made has something to do with it, too. Grab a coffee and get comfortable as we learn how to space shelves.

I’m Putting Shelves In The Kids’ Rooms For Their Stuffed Animals And Pictures. How Far Apart Should They Be Spaced?

Details of a child's room are displayed on shelves.

Let’s say you buy three two-by-six boards 12 inches long. Let’s say the photos are in eight by ten frames. Obviously, you’ll want your shelves 12 inches apart to accommodate the picture frames. Place a stuffed bear of equal or smaller size between the pictures, and you have a great way to showcase your kids’ childhoods along with their favorite animals.

This is where the material from which the shelves are made enters the picture. No parent would put glass shelves in a child’s room, nor would they put cheap particleboard that could fall apart on top of the child’s head. Choose a sturdy piece of wood, sturdy brackets, or float the shelves. Just make sure the shelves are kid-proof.

I Want To Put Up Shelves In The Living Room For Decor Items. How Far Apart Should They Be?

Cacti on wooden shelves with copy space on a white wall in an empty room.

In this case, you have complete freedom to put them where you want them. If they’re going to be the focus of the room (rather than paintings or an accent wall, then you’ll choose the right material for the weight of the items on the shelves and you’ll probably float them. 

Homeowners using these kinds of shelves don’t always place them with geometric precision. They certainly don’t place them within reach of the cat. They can be placed by size from smaller to longer. They can be placed in the shape of a wave across the wall. They can be placed in the shape of a teddy bear or a canoe.

How you place your shelves will be dictated by what you put on them. Tall column candles, tall vases, and perhaps a tall ceramic clock would, of course, be placed up to 18 or more inches apart. Smaller items like porcelain figurines, a model car or airplane, and a small plant wouldn’t need that much space between shelves, so six to eight inches would do.

I’ve Seen Pictures Online And In Magazines Of Shelving In Kitchens.  How Far Apart Are They?

Open shelves in the kitchen with a variety of white ceramic and glass jars.

I’ve watched home renovation shows in which they put floating shelves in kitchens. The hosts place recipe books flat on the shelf instead of on their ends, small pots of herbs, and little easels with plates on them. These don’t take up a lot of space and look quaint.

Related: Kitchens With Floating Shelves

How It Looks In Our Houses

You and I, on the other hand, have tall glass or plastic containers with spaghetti, pasta, rice, or something else that won’t fit in the cabinets. So we put shelves on the wall. We space them far apart enough to fit the spaghetti container and maybe a tall, decorative bottle of vegetables in resin.

We gather the tall things in one pile on the kitchen counter, the medium things in another pile, and save the small things in another pile for accents. We place the shelves against a set of cabinets we can easily reach, placing on them the things we’ll use most, like the spaghetti container or the wooden spoons.

The medium-sized things such as coffee cups, saucers, and measuring cups we put on shelves as close to us as we can, because we use those the most, too.

A Tip For When There’s Nowhere To Put The Shelves

I once lived on a resort island just north of Savannah, GA. The cabana my husband, my infant son, and I lived in was pretty small. I had two cabinets in which to put our food, dishes, and pans. Two.

I took care of that by placing hangers on the ceiling and hanging the pots and pans on them. On other hangers, I suspended small chains attached to shelves. The shelves hung just above our heads (my husband and I aren’t tall) and held what wouldn’t fit into the cabinets. 

How About Putting Shelves In Bathrooms? They Look Nice In The Pictures. How Far Apart Are They?

Bathroom shelves hold items and cosmetics for personal care.

Bathrooms are a little different due to the fact that most of them are somewhat compact. The linens, soaps, and body care products generally go on the sides of the tub, in a single nook in the shower, or on the back of the toilet. So people resort to shelves.

Now, here you have a choice of an etagere over the toilet or a set of floating shelves on the wall behind the tub or beside the vanity. Etageres usually come with shelves spaced about 12 to 14 inches apart to accommodate tall shampoo bottles or tall bottles of bubble bath. 

Floating shelves are usually spaced around the same 12 to 14 inches for folded fluffy towels, bottles of soap and shampoo, as well as mirrors and body loofahs. How far apart they are is up to you: how many bottles of shampoo and body soap will be on the shelf? Are the folded fluffy towels on the shelf or in the laundry room?

Now, here you might want to make sure that the material from which the shelf is made will hold up to the moisture and humidity without succumbing to mold and mildew. The wood used in moist rooms like kitchens and bathrooms has been treated so mold and mildew don’t get their hooks into them. Make sure your wood has been treated before you buy it.

How Far Apart Should The Brackets Be Holding The Shelves?

An attached wall-mounted steel bracket.

Well, first, if you have to support something, then whatever you put on that something shouldn’t be too heavy. Second, the support needs to be anchored to a stud. And third, the material from which the shelves are made should be strong enough to handle anything you put on it.

So let’s say you bought a set of shelves from the big box store. The package comes with two supports, two brackets for each shelf, and four shelves. The supports will be anchored to the stud about four inches into the length of the shelf. 

Most supports have slots into which the brackets fit. You put the shelf onto the brackets. Now, those slots are spaced about an inch or two apart. The spacing of your shelves depends on what you’re putting on the shelves. 

Tall things like the spaghetti container and recipe books will go on the top shelf. Stacks of cups and saucers or small pans will go on the other shelves. If your shelves are in the bathroom, then the bottles of personal care products will go on the top shelf, and the folded towels and other bathroom things on the other shelves. As you can see, the spacing depends on what you’re putting on the shelves.

How Far Apart Should Shelves Be FAQs

What Is The Ideal Spacing For Shelves?

The accepted ideal is 12 inches. Depending on what is on the shelves, 15 to 18 inches is more common.

What Should Spacing Be For Floating Shelves?

Wall-mounted wooden floating shelf in a 3D rendering.

Twelve inches between shelves is the norm, but most are between eight and 15 inches.

What Is A Good Shelf Height Guideline?

Shelves above a desk should be about 22 to 24 inches. An etagere or floating shelves above a toilet should be 24 inches from the tank. Kitchen shelves above a counter should be 18 to 24 inches with around 15 inches between the shelves.

How Deep Are Shelves?

Most shelves are 10 to 16 inches deep. You’ll want shallow shelves at the top so you can reach items there. Remember that things get pushed to the back of the shelves when you try to reach them, so place your shelves accordingly.

How Wide Are Shelves?

That depends on if you’re using a standard set of shelves that come in a box or if you’re using different lengths for floating shelves. The standard set of shelves from a box are 31 to 32 inches in width, but some go up to 48 inches in width. Floating shelves are generally about 24 inches wide and 10 to 12 inches deep.

How High Should Floating Shelves Be In A Living Room?

The general rule is to hang floating shelves at eye level. However, living rooms contain furnishings, so you have to factor that in. Hang your floating shelves at least 10 to 15 inches above the back of the sofa or chairs. If you’re hanging them on a wall against which no furnishings rest, then hang them at eye level, about five feet from the floor.