Is there such a thing as enough shelving? Our storage needs vary during different life stages. We may need shelf space to display travel mementoes one year, and then replace it with a shelf for children’s books the next.

A live wood edge adds a rustic touch to any room. However, it’s best for minimalist displays. PHOTO: THE TABLE GUY

With such changing needs – not to mention our evolving taste in decor over the years – it’s little wonder that putting up shelves is one of the top DIY projects. However, while the choices may seem fairly straightforward, there are a few considerations to note if you want your shelves to last a long time. 

The Placement

Before you buy a shelf, consider where you’re placing it. Is it outdoors or indoors? If it’s an outdoor shelf for the balcony or somewhere else that’s exposed to plenty of heat and humidity, your best bet is galvanised steel, according to Sujal Suresh, a product and computational designer at local design firm Custo.

If you insist on wood, opt for a solid example like teak as its natural oils offer some protection from wear and tear. Of course, a protective coating is still required to keep it in its best condition.

A great outdoor option, the Hyllis shelving units come with covers to protect their contents from the elements. PHOTO: IKEA

When it comes to indoor shelves, you may have a wider range of options but Darryl Loh, CEO and founder of custom wood furniture maker Table Guy, cautions that you need to check the type of wall you’re planning to mount them on first. Heavier shelves made of solid wood or plywood need to be mounted on a concrete wall that can take their weight.

If the wall isn’t concrete, go for a free-standing shelf. ID: ALLY WONG INTERIOR

For bathrooms, wood is a no-no. “We strongly advise against using solid wood in spaces that contain high humidity and have weak ventilation,” says Darryl.

Instead, go for plastic shelves that are lightweight and don’t warp as easily. Says April Kwan from IKEA:

“Recycled plastic has many benefits. It’s strong, durable, lightweight, versatile and easy to maintain. However, I know many will frown at the word “plastic”. You can always look for other sustainable alternatives.”

April Kwan, IKEA

The Look

These days, shelf colours run from neon hues to light oak. Since they’re usually placed at mid-level or high on a wall, shelves occupy essential visual space and alter a room’s entire look. A safe bet is to match their shade to your walls. Alternatively, high contrast black shelves against white are a stylish graphic look.

Black and white shelves lend a graphic accent. ID: SPACE SENSE STUDIO

You also need to consider what you’ll be putting on them: a curated display of minimalist sculptures or a colourful jumble of books, for example? Also, what other shades are there in the room that may match or clash with them?

The Bookworm shelf by Kartell is a great focal point for a home library with its spiral shape.

Their shape matters as well. Apart from the classic horizontal shelves, there are slanted and even statement ones like Kartell’s Bookworm. Its visually-arresting spiral shape makes it the centre of attention in a room.

The Function

What’s the shelf going to hold? This will determine the type of mounting you’ll use. For shelves intended to support lightweight items, consider the floating shelf. Its supporting rods are drilled into the shelf, so you won’t see them. This method requires preparation, so do inform your shelf maker in advance if you’re planning to go for this.

A double shelf set-up by The Table Guy.  PHOTO: THE TABLE GUY

The other uses external brackets; the most common are known as L-brackets. These go above or below the shelf, and while they may not look as neat as a floating shelf, they can support much more weight. “Shelving that is deeper, say with a depth of 40cm to 50cm, and intended for heavier loads like books, generally require external support structures,” says Darryl.

For load-bearing shelves, external wall brackets give much-needed support. PHOTO: IKEA

For added security, Sujal recommends that mounting shelves from both the top and bottom. Adding legs is another option if your shelf doesn’t have to be on the wall. Says Sujal,

To avoid mistakes, it is important to measure your space properly before you confirm the dimensions.

Sujal Suresh, Custo
Varying cubicle sizes adds versatility and makes for a visually unique piece. PHOTO: CUSTO

Lead Time

If you’re looking at custom shelving, a lead time of 10 to 12 weeks is expected, says Darryl. For simpler options that you can set up within a day, look no further than Ikea. Its modular shelving systems are flexible and easily installed with the right tools.

Don’t have much room? The Skadis Pegboard helps you utilise vertical spaces.  PHOTO: IKEA

You can also consult Ikea’s Planning Studio for expert advice. As a bonus, 70 per cent of the materials it currently uses to make furniture are from recycled or renewable materials. Ikea plans to go with 100 per cent recycled or renewable materials by 2030.