Bathroom shelving ideas – 13 ways to style shelving in a practical space

Our top tips and bathroom shelving ideas to bring color, texture and (perhaps most importantly) storage to your space

bathroom lighting design
(Image credit: Drummonds Bathrooms)

Bathroom shelving ideas are not only key to cramming more storage into these often tricky to organize spaces, they are also the easiest way to add decor into a space that needs to prioritize practicality above all else. Bathrooms, much like kitchens, tend to be very sleek spaces, filled with hard surfaces, and by nature can be quite clinical. However, shelving allows for space to add in some texture, color, interest, and character to a bathroom, as well as providing a spot to keep your evergrowing skincare collection and a couple of guest towels.

Styling shelving in any room is a bit of an art, but this is especially true in bathrooms where you'll probably find you have to mix both decorative pieces with the essentials – your toothbrush holder may have to be upgraded to something more display-worthy,  ou may have to attempt to make your cotton balls look more aesthetically pleasing, and you'll need to find new ways to fold your towels so they can sit nicely among the prints and houseplants.

Like we said it takes practice. So we've pulled all our favorite shelving ideas together, as well as asked the experts for their top tips, so you can get it right. 

1. Consider the practicalities of bathroom shelving 

Pink and marble bathroom with shelving ideas

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Unless you have plenty of other bathroom storage solutions in your space, shelving will have to play a practical role as well as a decorative one, so it's important to think about how you will use the shelving before you decide on style, size, and positioning. 

'When it comes to bathroom shelving, it’s important to think about the overall look of the space but also how your bathroom will function. Is it an adult-only space where luxury products can be displayed on chic mirrored, glass, or lacquered shelving? Or is it a family space where toys and endless bottles of bubbles need a space to live.' advises Rob Lessmann, interior designer and founder of Design'd Living.

'A mix of built-in cabinets and stylish shelving can deliver the best of both worlds. It’s important to look at the choice of materials here, bathrooms are damp and wet spaces so wood must be lacquered or finished to protect it from the moisture. Glass and mirror can work well and help to bounce light around what is often a darker room of the house.'

Once you have considered the practicalities, then you can start to think a bit more creatively and get into how the shelves will be styled, what decor you want to bring in and the overall vibe you want them to add to your bathroom. 

2. Add a vintage feel with arched built in shelving

A small colourful bathroom with frilled bath curtain, blue wall tiles and glossy green shelving

(Image credit: The Bear in by Octavia Dickinson)

We can imagine a time not so long ago when if we'd have inherited this bathroom the first thing to be done was rip out the built-in shelving/bath combo. But now, with vintage bathrooms being such a huge bathroom trend, these gorgeous shelves would be treated with the respect they deserve – and maybe a lick of high gloss green paint to give them a 21st-century update. 

Now if you aren't lucky enough to be the owner of a retro bathroom, there's still plenty of inspiration to be taken from the space. Our favorite aspect is the arched shape of the alcove. It's a look that could work with any style, from this traditional space to a really modern bathroom, but it adds curves to a room that's so often filled with sleek straight lines. So if you are adding alcove shelving to a bathroom, consider adding an arch to add a touch of character.

3. Build in a shelf and hide plumbing 

East London modern house with pink plaster walls throughout

(Image credit: James Merrell)

If you have plumbing that you want to hide, say if you have a floating sink with wall-mounted taps as seen here, chances are you'll have to build forward a stud wall to hide the plumbing. This then creates a very handy shallow shelf that makes for the perfect spot for adding mirrors, prints house plants, etc. 

This is a great shelving idea for small bathrooms, where you want to keep a minimalist feel. Wall shelving, for example, can make a small space feel cluttered and claustrophobic, adding too much visual bulk to a space. However, a design like this, that's simple, sleek, and doesn't break up the room works perfectly. Keep the look really seamless by tiling floor to ceiling, not just the stud wall to keep that continuing.

4. Back your bathroom shelving with mirrors

Grey bathroom with open shelving

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Using bathroom mirrors to 'expand' a room is the oldest trick in the interior design book for a reason, they work. And they can also work well in alcoves not only to make the room feel larger but to add depth to the shelving too.

Not only do we love the display of ceramics in this grey bathroom they just feel so wonderfully out of place, so unexpected and yet it works to add texture to a room that can be so hard to bring in any real character due to their very practical nature. And if filling your shelving with vintage ceramics seems too luxurious, you could always pick pieces that could double up as storage for toiletries. 

5. Include negative space in your bathroom shelf curation

Marble bathroom with wooden open shelves

(Image credit: James Merrell)

While a bathroom shelf needs to of course be practical, you should also approach its curation as you would with shelving in any other room. So follow also the classic rules that go with decorating surfaces  – the rule of three, mixing height, varying textures, and one we think of as the most important, including negative space.

'There's a fine line between characterful and cluttered,' explains Livingetc editor Pip Rich. 'You want your bathroom shelves to feel personal but this is a practical space above all else so don't want surfaces crowded with objects. To prevent shelves from feeling stuffed, include a balance of things and negative space.  Stand back, remove a couple of pieces and take note of the shape of the air around your display. That contour you create is where the magic happens. As a guide, I'd suggest a minimum of two inches between each item.'

6. Mix open and closed storage

Bath town house with Farrow & Ball painted room and traditional rustic style

(Image credit: Inigo)

If shelving is going to provide the majority of the storage in your bathroom, you want to ensure you incorporate some closed storage too. You don't want everything in your bathroom on show, so be inspired by this space and add drawers into the lower shelves, and then keep the upper shelves free for decoration. 

And if adding drawers isn't an option for your shelving, you can still create closed storage using things like baskets, bins, and boxes. These can hide away any of your less aesthetically pleasing toiletries but can still add style and texture to your bathroom. Basket made from natural materials like jute or seagrass always work well, adding a rustic texture to the room. 

7. Float a high shelf when space is tight

Small downstairs bathroom with pink sink

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

Having shelving at eye level in a powder room may not be a practical solution as there's often not space for shelving to protrude too far into the room. However, you can always add shelving above eye level as can be seen in this cute powder room. It keeps the room clutter-free but you still get a spot to store bathroom essentials and add some decor.

Take home tip: With shelving in smaller spaces, keep the shelves the same, or very similar color to the walls so it doesn't overly dominate the room or break up the space. The light wood of the shelf used here, blends seamlessly with the neutral walls, keeping the room feeling open.

8. Maximize space with built in shelving

Built in downstairs toilet

(Image credit: Rowland Roques O'Neil)

A built-in shelving unit is the best way to go if you really want to maximize space, you can create something bespoke to your room so every inch is utilized. It can also transform awkward or unused spaces, like behind the toilet as can be seen in this bathroom. Plus going built-in means you can pick and choose between open and closed shelving. We'd recommend going for a mix, so you can hide away items and then get creative styling the open shelving. 

Can we also appreciate how the simple, clean lines of the built-in shelving used here also creates the perfect balance with the very traditional fitting and fixtures. They give the room a more contemporary, fuss-free feel but without completely taking away the old-fashioned character and charm.

9. Add recess shelving for handy shower storage

Minimalist white bathroom with walkin shower

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

Recessed bathroom shelving is ideal for showers, especially walk-in showers or wet rooms where you'll need easy access to toiletries, but a full-sized shelf jutting out just won't work. 

Clara Ewart, Head of Design, Kitesgrove explains, 'Open bathroom shelving is a practical way to add storage and keep the room tidy even when space is very limited, while also keeping items easily accessible. Recessed shelving can often be incorporated into the bath or shower area, neatly tiled for a seamless look with a handy nook to store toiletries.'

Jen and Marr, founders of Interior Fox agree to 'Avoid a floor of toiletries or an overcrowded caddy by installing a recessed shower shelf. It’s a practical and streamlined way to add storage space, without taking away elbow room. Make a feature out of the area by using a colored trim that contrasts against the wall tiles.'

They work particularly well in modern, minimalist spaces as they don't add too much visually to the room, you can tile over the shelf in the same tiles as the walls and they will just blend seamlessly into the background. 

10. Blend storage and decor with a stylish wall unit

Wall mounted shelving in bathroom

(Image credit: Rei Moon)

If you are looking for ways to add more storage to your bathroom instantly, wall-mounted shelving is something you could get up yourself in just a few hours. Pick the right design, and no matter whether you are using them to store your toothbrushes or a collection of houseplants, they will add style to your space. 

Otherwise, for something that doesn't require any tools, a bathroom organizer can help shape this space and hide the toiletries that you don't want on display. Whether you're searching for something to mount to a wall or sit on your bathroom floor, keeping organized in your washroom has never been easier.

We are loving the slightly industrial vibe to this unit and the minimalist bathroom color palette of greens, greys, and blacks is continued throughout the shelving. Despite the limited colors, what gives these shelves interest is the mix of textures, and shapes. Abigail Ahern says this is the key to success when styling shelving,  'I always add beaded boxes and antique gold bowls to my bathroom shelves (fab for storing cotton wool balls and salts), along with a vase of botanicals to break up the practicals like shampoos and soaps. A candle is a must and just remember to vary the height, size, and texture of your arrangement so it all looks compelling.' 

11. Go floor to ceiling with cubbies

Bathroom alcove shelving

(Image credit: Anna Stathaki)

If space is tight, going full height with cubbies can be a great way to squeeze in some extra storage. They can provide all the space you need for spare towels, toiletries, accessories, etc. And note the baskets used here, great for when you need to hide away clutter but still look cute on open shelving. 

When you don't have much shelving space to play with, you need to prioritize. Designer Sabrina Albanese's top advice for bathroom shelving is to not go overboard, keep it simple and practical. She recommends to 'Keep it very pared back. Purposeful things like towels, bath salts, candles, maybe little ramekins to store makeup accessories. Don’t put a book on a shelf in a bathroom, for example, just because it looks good. Only put things on that shelf that will be used, have a specific bathroom function.'

12. Keep a freestanding tub uncluttered with recessed shelving

White bathroom with freestanding bath tub and built in shelving

(Image credit: Paul Dyer)

When you have a dreamy freestanding tub set up, the last thing you want is for the edge to be crowded with various toiletries, hardly aesthetically pleasing. So pinch this practical and pretty idea from this bathroom designed by Margaret Ash and add recessed shelving next to your bath so everything is slightly out of sight but still accessible. 

Margaret explains, 'The hardest thing about a freestanding tub is that most people like to bathe by a window with a view and there is often no storage for your bath salts and soaps close by. I wanted to make sure there was storage for the necessities, without having to sacrifice the design aesthetic of the bathing experience.'

13. Make use of an awkward corner

marble and dark wood bathroom with built in shelving

(Image credit: Roger Davies)

Alcoves are ideal for filling with shelving as this awkward spot lends itself to little else rather than storage. In this bathroom designed by Lindsay Chambers, dark woods meet marble to create a chic and sophisticated space that still feels warm.

'I designed custom rift sawn oak cabinets with glass fronts as well as open shelving for this owner's bathroom.' explains Lindsay. 'I wanted to keep the bath towels easily accessible rather than in a linen closet outside the bathroom, so I selected glass front cabinets and an open shelving combo to hold my bath linens.   I also kept everything green and environmentally friendly in this home, and no VOCs were used in the stain or paint.'

Where should bathroom shelving be placed?

The best place for bathroom shelving will of course depend on your space – the shape, the size, the layout. If going for wall-mounted shelving you want to pick a spot where they won't get in the way, they shouldn't protrude too much into the room or stop you from moving around the space easily.

Recessed shelves can work really well in showers, above baths, or in small bathrooms where you want everything to sit flush to the walls. 

What can you display on bathroom shelves?

As we have frequently mentioned bathroom shelving needs to balance form and function, so what you display should be a mix of bathroom essentials and decor that's going to give your room personality and interest. 

In terms of practical essentials, towels work well stored on shelves and if displayed right won't interrupt whatever vibe you are trying to create with your shelving. Keep your everyday toiletries to hand on shelving too, you could always store them in baskets or boxes if you think they might look too cluttered. 

And then decor, really this just comes down to taste, they are no set rules on what you can display on a bathroom shelf. Prints, candles, houseplants, trinkets, all create lovely displays, just be sure whatever you create feels personal to you and your style.

Hebe Hatton

Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.