Smart bathroom shelf ideas provide the storage you need to create a stress-free space in a room where functionality meets relaxation.
‘It’s easy to suddenly notice how messy and disorganized your bathroom has become, especially when working from home. That's where bathroom shelves come in,' says George Holland, Bathroom Specialist at Victorian Plumbing.
‘They make for great additions to bathrooms, working to free up space and create an open and welcoming environment.’
While other bathroom storage ideas, such as cabinets, are key for keeping the messier bits of life behind closed doors, bathroom shelves provide the grab-and-go facility you need first thing in the morning.
‘In the bathroom, it’s important to keep toiletries easily accessible’, adds James Lentaigne, Creative Director at Drummonds. ‘Each area of the bathroom – sink, bath and shower – should feature some form of storage in order to keep toiletries close to hand when needed.’
‘If you thought open shelving wasn't for you, it's time to think again’, adds Holland.
As well as being practical, bathroom shelves can be pretty. Open shelving is a great way to add personality to bathroom ideas and designs by displaying decorative objects. While carefully chosen, aesthetically pleasing shelving units can act as a design feature in themselves.
15 of the best bathroom shelf ideas
From luxurious heated towel rails to bath racks, shower caddies, and unveiling the hidden shelving you already have (but just didn’t know about), these bathroom shelf ideas will help keep your washroom neat, tidy and stylish.
1. Built-in shelves will help maximize space
If you’re looking for small bathroom storage ideas and need to cram storage into every sensible corner of your bathroom, then built-in is best.
‘Built-in storage makes the most of every inch of space and reduces bathroom clutter, allowing decorative elements to take center stage,’ says Lentaigne.
Naturally, adding built-in shelves to a bathroom is most easily done at the design stage of a renovation.
If you’re past that point, look for opportunities to incorporate space-maximizing shelving into the architecture.
In this bathroom, a tall alcove around the sink has been fitted with full-width, full-depth shelving to make a vacant space useful.
2. Open up your vanity unit
Using the space under your sink for storage ensures useful items are close at hand while also making the most of otherwise-dead floorspace.
Open bathroom vanity ideas not only make items even more accessible, but helps a small bathroom feel bigger.
‘Many of Drummonds’ classic vanity units feature a shelf below the basins which are perfect for storing towels or holding baskets to store toiletries, etc’, says Lentaigne. ‘Open shelving helps to create the perception of space, as opposed to built-in units.’
3. Think small
More so than in perhaps any other room, bathroom shelves come in all shapes and sizes – but even the smaller ones can make a big impact.
‘Simply adding a clever accessory, such as a shower caddy, can eliminate the look of additional ‘mess’ around your shower’, says Holland.
‘This, in turn, can even help your bathroom look bigger. The great thing about shower caddies is that, depending on the size you buy, everyone in your household can have their own individual shelf.’
4. Add a shelf above the sink
A shelf above the sink may seem superfluous if you have a vanity unit, or at least a bit of space around your basin. Not so, says Lentaigne.
‘Storage in the form of shelves or cupboards above the washbasin works well, and prevents the surface of the vanity from becoming cluttered.’
Items like soap, hand lotion and toothbrushes really do need to be out in the open, so popping them on a purposeful shelf gives them a dedicated space, such as in this modern bathroom.
The shelf needn’t take the place of a mirror either, and can be positioned just below.
5. Warm up your cottons with heated towel shelves
An open vanity unit is an excellent space for storing fluffy clean towels – having them out in full view makes them all the more inviting. To further excite the prospect, invest in a heated towel rack like the models offered by Rutland London.
‘For those looking for the ultimate under-sink storage, it combines the benefits of a heated towel rail with the functionality of a basin stand to create a heated vanity suite with an integrated heated laundry rack’, explains Gorden Riddoch, Rutland London’s Managing Director.
‘It’s perfect for warming robes and towels over the colder winter months!’
6. Keep it ‘barely-there’ with glass shelving
In a small bathroom, wall-mounted shelving needs to be fairly unobtrusive. This means keeping shallow depths so that units don’t jut out unnecessarily far, and a design that is an extension of its background.
If you're looking for storage options to complement your small bathroom ideas, glass makes for a great shelving choice. It’s easy to clean, harmonizes well with most wall schemes and adds a barely-there look to your unit.
Crucially, it’s a material that can withstand whatever a bathroom throws at it. ‘You must ensure that every product you choose to place in your bathroom is moisture resistant and capable of withstanding the damp environment’, warns Holland.
7. Turn your toilet into a shelving unit
‘Toilet shelves allow you to maximise your storage space in any bathroom’, says Holland. ‘If your bathroom does not have enough natural storage space or cabinets to hold all your toiletries then you need to try toilet storage.’
While perhaps not the most glamorous location for a shelving unit, the awkward shape of your WC can be utilised to facilitate storage, making it one of the best bathroom storage tips.
Opt to wrap the cistern in an individual unit that creates a small shelf on top of it. Or conceal the cistern in a larger unit built into the wall, as demonstrated in the cloakroom idea above, creating an elongated mantel shelf with potential for additional cabinetry.
Alternatively, the space above the toilet can be used for small wall-fixed shelving units.
8. Make the most of existing features
Feel like you’ve run out of bathroom shelving space? There may well be a readymade shelf in your bathroom that you just haven’t realised was there.
In this room, a built-in fireplace doubles as a decorative shelving unit and even has space for some more practical items if necessary.
You may not have a fireplace, but you likely have a window, so turn its sill into a functioning storage space.
9. Mix closed and open shelving
‘If it is a family bathroom, storage for medicines and grown-up products needs to be at eye height away from the kids or better still, in a built-in or lockable cabinet’, explains Lentaigne.
‘The children’s products need to be out in the open on shelving and easily accessible, but it is also good to have a cupboard space to squirrel these items away.’
Both closed units and open shelving have their place in the bathroom, so it’s a good idea to incorporate both into any built-in storage.
In the bathroom shown above, a vanity unit that runs the length of the room features open shelving with easy reach for standing users, along with storage drawers that reach all the way to the floor.
10. Indulge in purely decorative shelving
Making the most of potential storage space is important but so is having a little fun with your bathroom decor.
If you’ve got your storage needs sorted, dedicate a whole shelving unit to expressing your personal style. A solely decorative shelving unit can help turn a functional bathroom into a relaxing oasis.
Fill it with candles, bathroom art ideas, books and ornaments to help create a personal haven.
11. Get creative with freestanding shelves
While built-in shelving is great for maximising space, if you like to change your bathroom layout from time to time, freestanding units are flexible and tend to offer a little more room to move in terms of slimmed-down design.
This dainty, wall-leaning shelving unit is a pared-back approach to storage that doubles as a statement piece in the room.
‘They are ideal to add personality to your bathroom and have your own unique interior spin, whilst not damaging any walls as not all shelves need a drill to fit, making them simple and cheap to recreate at home,’ says Holland.
12. Make bathtime better with a bath rack
When you’re up to your neck in a bubble bath, there is nothing worse than realising your shampoo is tucked neatly inside a cupboard on the other side of the room.
To keep everything within easy reach, bathers should get themselves either a bath rack, an accessory stand or, as demonstrated in this room, both.
A small shelving unit, like this accessory stand, doubles as a decorative table and can be easily moved around the room depending on your needs.
13. Double vanity means double storage
‘For those restricted by smaller bathrooms, compact vanity suites will help to create extra storage space’, says Riddoch.
‘In bathrooms where space is in abundance, people can make a regal feature of their vanity and enjoy the extra under-sink storage space they have to offer.’
Doubling your vanity unit doesn’t just mean the luxury of two sinks. It also doubles the amount of storage-ready space you can include in one piece of bathroom furniture.
14. Add a built-in shower alcove
Shelving that juts out of the wall isn’t always ideal in a small shower space, so consider going inside the wall instead, as shown in the walk-in shower idea above.
‘If the depth of the wall allows, it is good to have a built-in alcove to house shampoo, body wash, etc’, says Lentaigne.
‘Failing that, our bottle racks – available in a large and a small size – are perfect and can be positioned in exactly the right place for showering.’
15. Use shelves to add greenery
The color green has seen a huge usage increase in bathrooms recently, likely due to quarantined longings for the natural world.
Rather than repainting your walls, think about how shelving can introduce a little bit of the real thing into your bathroom. In the creative bathroom wall idea above, a shelving unit has been turned into a miniature indoor plant nursery.
Choosing scented plants will also help create a multi-sensory environment for your bathroom.
16. Build a niche to hide pipework – and provide storage
Creating a false wall is often a must in a bathroom when you are attempting to introduce new pipework.
This false wall can provide an opportunity, though, to create an interesting architectural feature with a niche shelf inserted at a height that's just perfect for storing bath must-haves.
Received wisdom? Ensure the shelf slopes very gently downwards at the front to stop water pooling on it.
What do you put on a bathroom shelf?
Bathroom shelves need to cater to both aesthetic and practical needs.
‘As they don’t hide products or cosmetics, they can be used to display colored linens and towels for a touch of style’, says Holland. ‘Feel free to get creative. There are no set rules for what must be on your shelf, it all depends on what your personal needs and wants are.’
Shelves are also, however, the best way to quickly access items while stuck in a compromising position, such as being soaking wet in the shower, or quickly needing to brush your teeth before rushing to work.
‘Shower shelves are ideal for your day-to-day shower and bath items, such as shampoos, conditioners and body washes (and even snazzy loofahs),' adds Holland.
'Towel shelves, on the other hand, can create elegant storage spaces for essential shower items.’
How do I add storage to a small bathroom?
‘When it comes to utilising bathroom storage, every inch counts’, says Holland. If you’re in the process of designing a bathroom, consider units that will make the most of the space you do have.
‘A well-designed vanity unit can provide you with ample amounts of storage’, says Holland. Their deep cupboards, drawers and shelves will provide you with a place for everything. They also boast handy internal shelves, which can help organise toiletries and keep your bathroom clutter free.’
‘Tall cabinets won’t take up much room, but they offer tonnes of additional storage for all of your bathroom essentials. They’re perfect for storing towels and keeping cleaning products out of reach of little ones.’
I started out at British GQ, where a month of work experience turned into 18 months of working on all sorts of projects, writing about everything from motorsport to interiors, and helping to put together the GQ Food & Drink Awards. I then spent three years at the Evening Standard on the GO London team, covering restaurants and bars, and getting to eat and drink a veritable smorgasbord of wonderful things around the city. I left the paper in 2020 and went freelance, writing about food, drink and homes for publications including Conde Nast Traveller, Luxury London and Departures. A little less than a year later, I started at Homes & Gardens as a Digital Writer, allowing me to fully indulge my love of good interior design.
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