What Size Shelf Should I Order?

What Size Shelf Should I Order?

If you are planning to renovate your home, or maybe just update a room by adding some farmhouse open shelving, a custom-sized shelf may best fit your space. But if you don't have an eye for design, how do you know what size that is?

Josh and I have been helping folks determine sizing for their rustic industrial shelving here at J THOMAS HOME since 2016. People send us photos of their spaces, then we work together to determine the functions of the room and the shelves. Using the two guidelines below, I've come up with a few pointers that have helped our customers make confident decisions about what size will work best in their space. Click photos to shop these styles!



You can determine the size of shelf you need to order by asking yourself a couple of questions. Go grab your tape measure, and then let's begin.

First, let's make sure we're all on the same page with measuring terms. Our standard measurement is inches. Inches is designated by a single, open quotation, or ". You'll need to know three dimensions in order to purchase a shelf: depth, length, and height.



Now that you know the three dimensions you'll need to select your shelf size, start by asking yourself these questions.



If you already have an idea of what will be on the shelf, those items are a perfect place to start to make sure you have the space you need to store or display your decor pieces.

Set the items up on a table, counter, or even the floor. Arrange them how you envision them on your shelf. Now, write down two measurements:
Depth (back to front): How many inches are needed?
Length (left to right): How many inches are needed?

With your measurements in hand, now consider adding at least 1-2 extra inches to both your depth and length. This will give your pieces a little more breathing room and prevent the shelves from looking too small or cluttered. 

Keep in mind, if you are storing a collection or photographs, you may eventually want to add more! Don't feel like you have to fill the entire surface of the shelf. Having a few gaps or some empty space not only creates visual movement, but also allows you to grow and change in the future.

Here are some more specific examples:

Kitchen: Planning to store dishes? Measure your widest plates or dishware. Now add at least 0.5" - 1" of depth (or how far the shelf will come out from the wall) to make sure the plates don't rub against the wall and possibly get scratched or damaged.

Bathroom: Are you planning to store folded towels? Go get one, and fold it how you normally would, then measure how big it is. Many full bath towels will need at least our 9.25" deep shelf size (if not the 11.25" deep).

 Click photos to shop these styles!



Now that you've measured the pieces you plan to place on your shelving and have an idea of the size of shelf you need, double-check that it makes sense in the space you plan to install the shelves.

For example, if you plan to purchase shelves for above your toilet, I recommend 5.25" deep or 7.25" deep, at the most. At this size, the shelving will not be in the way when the facilities are ... in use. If that's where you planned to store a folded bath towel that needs an 11.25"D shelf, maybe consider a towel bar shelf, instead. This way you can still store your towels (hanging) and have room above for decor or items you use to get ready each day.

Another example would be if you are planning a gallery photo wall and are deciding what depth to pick for your ledge shelves. If the shelves happen to be above a couch, you may opt for a more narrow profile -- our 4" deep shelf vs. our 6" deep ledge shelf -- to ensure no one bumps into it getting up and down from the couch.

Finally, take into consideration how much open space you have to work with for how thick you want your shelves. It will mostly be a personal preference, but keep in mind, you'll need to account for any hardware required underneath the shelf, the thickness of the shelf in addition to the decor or items to be stored, plus spacing between shelves of at least 3" - 5". You'll want to keep the items stored on the shelf within reach!

If you have a large, empty wall, chunky shelves can add character, texture, and help fill the void. Thinner shelves may be a better choice for displaying smaller, more delicate home decor.

Click photos to shop these styles!



It's helpful to have accurate measurements of your shelf sizes; however, if you are a visual person and need to SEE the shelves in the space, first, I've helped customers do just that -- before drilling a holes in the wall.

Run by your local home center and snag some painter's tape. Measure out a piece of tape the same length of shelf you have considered purchasing and press it firmly against your wall in the location you plan to install your shelves. Take a step back and see if it fits well with your vision.

You can rip some length off or add a little more to compare which you like more. Leave it up for a couple of days. Live with it in the space. Does it feel too big? Too small? Or just right?

You can also play around with layout. Shelves can be one right above the other, of course, or they can be slightly off-centered, or staggered in depth or length. A 5.25"D shelf can be placed above a 7.25"D to create a visual balance (heavier items on the bottom shelf, lighter pieces on the top).

Try two shorter shelves (tape lines) side-by-side above one long shelf (tape line) below. Get creative -- it's just tape -- so try out several different varieties. You may surprise yourself with an eye for design after all! (If not, invite your best friend over to move the tape where it needs to go for you, ha!).


-Emily is an owner of J Thomas Home, a handcrafted, custom furniture and decor shop located in Olathe, KS. She and her husband started the business out of their garage selling on Etsy. They now have two shop locations in Kansas City, with a J Thomas Home piece in every state in the US (plus Canada, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong!). Visit for home and commercial furniture and decor. Click photos to shop these styles!




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