Floating Kitchen Shelves – Ideas, Advice & Expert Tips
Floating kitchen shelves have become a popular choice in many homes, offering a modern, sleek design that can be both functional and visually appealing. However, they’re certainly not for everyone!
In this article, we will explore what floating shelves are, their advantages and disadvantages, and some essential design rules to help you create the perfect kitchen space.
Let’s get into it!
What is a Floating Shelf?
A floating shelf is a type of shelving system that appears to “float” on the wall, without any visible brackets or supports. These shelves are attached to the wall using hidden brackets or cleats, creating a clean and minimalist look that’s perfect for a contemporary kitchen.
Not to be confused with ‘open shelving’ which can mean either a floating shelf or a regular shelf with a visible bracket.
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Are Floating Shelves in the Kitchen a Good Idea?
Maybe, maybe not. This all depends on you, your lifestyle as well as your personal kitchen design preferences. Let’s delve into the benefits and drawbacks in more detail, along with some examples to help you decide if floating shelves are the right choice for your space.
Advantages of Floating Shelves in the Kitchen
- Aesthetics: The sleek and modern appearance of floating shelves can significantly enhance the overall design of your kitchen. They create an open, airy feel, making your kitchen appear more spacious and inviting. For example, you can use floating shelves to showcase your beautiful dishware or a collection of vintage kitchen tools, adding visual interest and personality to your space.
- Space-saving: Floating shelves make excellent use of your kitchen’s vertical space, allowing you to store and display items without taking up valuable counter or cabinet space. As well as taking up less space than a typical wall cabinet. For instance, you can use floating shelves to store your cookbooks, spices, or decorative items, freeing up your countertops for meal preparation.
- Flexibility: Floating shelves offer great flexibility when it comes to customization. You can adjust the height, spacing, and arrangement to suit your needs and preferences. For instance, you can create a staggered arrangement for an artistic touch or place them at different heights to accommodate items of varying sizes.
- Cost: Floating shelves are typically less expensive than traditional wall cabinets due to their simplified design and lower material requirements. This makes them an attractive option for homeowners looking to update their kitchen without spending a fortune on custom cabinetry. Additionally, floating shelves can be found in a wide range of price points, allowing you to choose a solution that suits your budget.
Disadvantages of Floating Shelves in the Kitchen
- Limited weight capacity: Floating shelves typically have a lower weight capacity compared to traditional shelving. This limitation means they may not be suitable for heavy items such as large appliances or bulkier cookware. For example, while floating shelves can easily hold plates, bowls, and cups, they might not be the best choice for storing your cast iron pots and pans.
- Installation: Installing floating shelves can be more challenging than traditional shelves, as they require precise measurements, levelling, and the proper selection of wall anchors to ensure stability. This process may be time-consuming and may require the assistance of a professional if you’re not comfortable with DIY projects.
- Maintenance: Another disadvantage of floating shelves in the kitchen is that they can accumulate dust and grease, particularly in areas near the stove or other cooking appliances. This means that you’ll need to clean them more frequently to keep your kitchen looking fresh and tidy.
- Reduced storage: Floating shelves, while offering a sleek and modern aesthetic, may present a disadvantage in terms of storage space. For instance, swapping a run of wall cabinets for a single long shelf may create a minimalist and contemporary look, but it significantly decreases the available storage area. Depending on your kitchen size and design, this reduction in storage space might be a crucial factor to consider when choosing between floating shelves and traditional cabinets.
Kitchen Floating Shelves Dimensions
When planning your floating shelves, it’s essential to consider the dimensions carefully to ensure they are functional, visually appealing, and well-suited to your kitchen space. I’ve gone through each dimension in more detail, along with examples to help you choose the perfect floating shelves for your kitchen.
The thickness of your floating shelves plays a crucial role in their overall appearance and stability. A standard thickness for floating shelves is usually 30-50mm (1.2 to 2 inches). Thinner shelves 20-30mm (0.8 to 1.2 inches) offer a sleek, modern look, while thicker shelves 50-60mm (2 to 2.4 inches) provide a more substantial, robust appearance.
Consider the weight of the items you plan to store and the desired style when selecting the thickness of your floating shelves.
The depth of your kitchen shelves determines the amount of storage space available for your items. A typical depth for a floating shelf is between 120-250mm (5 and 10 inches). A 120-200mm (5-8 inches) depth is suitable for storing smaller items like spices, cups, and small bowls, while a 200-250mm (8-10 inches) depth allows for larger items such as plates, serving dishes, and cookbooks.
You may find floating shelves have a shallower depth than shelves with visible brackets. This is due to the concealed brackets, fixing method and weight capabilities.
Consider the specific items you plan to store on your floating shelves when choosing the depth.
The width of your floating shelves can vary based on your wall space and design preferences. Shorter shelves 300-600mm (12 to 24 inches) can fit into smaller spaces, while longer shelves 900mm-1.2m (36 to 48 inches) can create a minimalist look and provide a bolder visual impact.
If you have a large, open wall, you might also consider using multiple shelves to create a unique and dynamic arrangement.
Height Above Counter
The height of your floating shelves above the counter plays a significant role in accessibility and visual balance. A height of 400-500mm (16 to 20 inches) above the counter is ideal for most kitchens. This range allows for easy access to items while cooking or prepping, and it also creates a balanced look between the countertop and upper shelves.
Can You Put Heavy Things on Floating Shelves?
This is where you need to be careful! The weight capacity of floating shelves largely depends on the materials used for the shelves themselves and the installation method employed. While floating shelves offer a sleek and modern look, they generally have a lower weight capacity compared to traditional shelves.
I’ve broken down the factors that influence the weight capacity of floating shelves and provided some examples to help you determine which items are suitable for display on your shelves.
Factors Influencing Weight Capacity
- Wall anchors and brackets: The type of wall anchors and brackets used during installation will have the biggest impact on the weight capacity of your floating shelves. Heavy-duty wall anchors, such as toggle bolts or expansion anchors, can provide better support for heavier loads.
- Wall material: The material of the wall itself is another crucial factor. For instance, floating shelves installed on masonry or concrete walls can generally support more weight than those mounted on drywall or plaster walls. You may need to install some additional support behind (inside) your walls to get a strong enough fixing.
- Shelf materials: The material of your floating shelf can play a role in its weight capacity. For example, shelves made from solid wood or metal can typically hold more weight than those made from MDF (medium-density fiberboard) or particleboard.
Weight Capacity Examples
I’ve put together a quick general guide to help you determine the weight capacity of floating shelves and the types of items that can be safely displayed:
- Lightweight items: Floating shelves are well-suited for lightweight items such as decorative objects, picture frames, small plants, and dishes. For example, a shelf made from solid wood with proper installation might hold 20 to 30 pounds per linear foot.
- Medium-weight items: Some floating shelves can support medium-weight items like small kitchen appliances, cookbooks, and serving dishes if installed correctly with heavy-duty anchors and brackets. In these cases, the weight capacity might range from 30 to 50 pounds per linear foot.
- Heavy items: It’s generally best to avoid placing heavy items on floating shelves, as they may exceed the weight capacity and cause the shelf to sag or even collapse. Items such as larger countertop appliances, heavy cookware, or large collections of books are typically better suited for traditional shelves or cabinets with reinforced support.
How Far Apart Should Floating Shelves Be?
There’s no set rule here. Ultimately it’s what you like the look of most and what is most practical for you. The proper distance between shelves will depend on the size of the items you plan to display, your personal preferences, and the overall design of your kitchen. Again, I’ve put a quick guide together with some examples to help you decide on the perfect spacing for your floating shelves.
A good rule of thumb is to leave at least 300-450mm (12 to 18 inches) between shelves. This range allows for adequate space to display items of various sizes while maintaining an open and airy feel. However, the ideal spacing for your specific needs may vary depending on several factors:
- Item size: Consider the height of the items you plan to display on your floating shelves. If you have taller items, such as large vases or decorative pitchers, you may need to increase the spacing between shelves to accommodate them comfortably.
- Visual balance: Strive for a visually balanced display by considering the overall arrangement of your shelves. For example, if you have multiple shelves on one wall, maintaining consistent spacing between them can create a cohesive and harmonious look.
- Accessibility: Ensure that the spacing between shelves allows for easy access to items, especially if you plan to store frequently used kitchenware or ingredients on your floating shelves.
- Standard spacing: For a typical arrangement with items of varying heights, such as plates, bowls, and small decorative objects, a 300-450mm (12 to 18-inch) spacing between shelves should work well.
- Increased spacing: If you plan to display taller items, such as large vases, pitchers, or oversized cookbooks, consider increasing the spacing between shelves to 500-600mm 20 to 24 inches to accommodate these items comfortably.
- Staggered arrangement: For a more dynamic and visually interesting display, you can create a staggered arrangement with shelves at different heights. In this case, you may vary the spacing between shelves, but ensure that there is still adequate room for your items and easy access when needed.
Floating Shelf Design Rules & Styling Tips
There’s never a definitive rule when it comes to kitchen design. It’s your kitchen, you can do what you like! However, when designing an appealing and functional display on your floating shelves you might want to take a few things into consideration.
Keep it Balanced
I’m always banging on about symmetry and balance in kitchen design. However, in order to get that Instagram worth open shelf, paying attention to the visual balance is quite important. Overcrowding your shelves with too many items can make your kitchen look cluttered and chaotic.
To achieve a balanced look on your floating shelves, consider implementing the following design strategies. First, arrange items in odd-numbered groups, such as three or five, which tend to be more visually appealing than even-numbered groupings.
Second, distribute weight evenly by placing heavier items towards the centre or ends of the shelves, ensuring stability and a harmonious appearance. Finally, don’t forget to leave some negative space between items, as this can create a more open and airy feel in your display, preventing it from appearing cluttered or overwhelming.
Vary Heights and Sizes
Incorporating items of different heights and sizes can add visual interest and depth to your floating shelf display. To create an engaging and dynamic display on your floating shelves, consider the following techniques.
First, layer items by positioning taller ones in the back and shorter ones in the front, establishing a sense of depth. Second, use risers or stands to elevate smaller items, adding height variation and making them more visible.
Lastly, combine functional and decorative items to create visual interest – mix everyday items like plates and bowls with decorative elements such as artwork, vases, or small plants, resulting in an eye-catching and captivating display.
Use a Cohesive Color Scheme
Choosing a cohesive colour scheme for the items displayed on your floating shelves can create a harmonious and visually appealing look. To help achieve this, first, select a primary colour that ties your display together, either complementing your kitchen’s overall design or serving as a bold accent colour.
Next, incorporate two or three complementary colours to your primary colour, ensuring they work harmoniously without clashing. Finally, if a more subtle look is desired, opt for neutral tones like white, grey, or beige, creating a calming and sophisticated display that highlights your items.
Where Should Floating Shelves Be Placed in the Kitchen? – Floating Shelf Ideas
Selecting the ideal location for floating shelves in your kitchen depends on factors such as your kitchen’s layout, available wall space, and personal preferences. I’ve listed a couple of popular locations for floating shelves in the kitchen and provided examples to help you choose the perfect spot to install them.
Above the Countertop (Replacing wall cabinets)
Installing floating shelves above the countertop can serve as an alternative to upper cabinets, creating a more open and spacious feel in your kitchen. This placement allows for easy access to everyday items such as plates, bowls, and glasses. For example, you could place floating shelves above a coffee station or food preparation area to keep essentials within arm’s reach.
Beside a Range Cooker or Cooktop
Positioning floating shelves near your range cooker or cooktop can provide convenient access to cooking essentials such as spices, oils, and utensils. This arrangement makes it easy to grab items you need while cooking without having to rummage through cabinets or drawers. For instance, you could install a couple of shelves to the side of your cooktop to store pots, pans, and frequently used spices.
However, this is usually the area that will suffer from grease and grime the most. So just be aware!
In a Corner
Installing floating shelves in a corner can help you make the most of otherwise wasted space. This placement is particularly useful for small kitchens or areas where additional storage is needed. For example, you could create a cosy corner display with floating shelves showcasing your favourite cookbooks, decorative items, or a small indoor herb garden.
Near a Window
Placing floating shelves along a window wall can create a bright and airy display, allowing natural light to shine through your kitchen items. It’s not only visually but physically lighter than placing traditional wall cabinets next to a window.
This arrangement can add a touch of elegance and visual interest to your kitchen design. For instance, you could position floating shelves on either side of a large window, displaying colourful glassware or decorative objects that catch the sunlight.
Above the Sink
If your sink isn’t positioned in front of a window, then having some open shelving above it can be a nice way to soften the look. Avoiding a bank of wall cabinets smack bang in your face when doing the washing up! Some open shelves will not only be visually lighter but will also be physically out of the way more as they’re typically shallower and set higher up than wall cabinets.
Above a Peninsula
One of my favourite places to put some floating shelves is the hard-to-reach area on the wall above a peninsular. This can be a great spot to introduce a more decorative element to your kitchen as it’s not the most accessible area anyway.
Adding some beautifully curated floating shelves can be a great way to add interest, colour or texture without feeling like you’re wasting important storage space.
What to Put on Floating Shelves in the Kitchen
You can put whatever you like on them! But if you’re not sure where to start here are some ideas for items to display on your floating shelves include:
- Plates, bowls, and mugs
- Cookbooks and recipe cards
- Decorative items, such as vases, candles or framed prints
- Small plants or herbs
- Frequently used spices and condiments
There you have it! Everything you need to know if you’re considering designing some floating shelves for your new kitchen.
Floating kitchen shelves can offer a stylish and practical solution for storage and display in your kitchen. By considering the pros and cons, design rules, and proper placement, you can create a functional and visually appealing kitchen space that suits your needs and preferences.
However, they’re definitely not for everyone! Just remember to keep the weight capacity and cleaning maintenance in mind.
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Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for around 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.