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Recessed shelves: What you need to know

Recessed shelves are a stylish and space-saving way to store your stuff. Here's everything you need to know about recessed shelving, whether you're a competent DIY-er or need to hire a carpenter

If your home is seriously lacking in storage space, recessed shelves are a neat and modern way to stash books, clothes, bottles and accessories – without decreasing space inside your room.

Recessed shelves are especially popular in smaller rooms like the bathroom, as they don’t protrude into the room and eat into precious floor space. They are a hardworking and really cool way to bump up your storage opportunities.

Our guide will cover why you should consider recessed shelves, where to use them and how to put them up. If you want to know more about putting up standard shelving – read our guide here.

Read on for everything to know about recessed shelves.

What are recessed shelves?

recessed shelving ideas

Recessed shelves are essentially built-in shelves which work hard to utilise every inch of space in a room. Unlike a freestanding shelving unit, recessed shelves are neat and barely there.

Before you start, look at your walls and make sure they are strong and structurally sound.

Recessed shelving will require some alterations or renovations to your wall so you might need to hire the expertise of a professional to help out.

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Quick recessed shelving ideas to boost storage

Here are some great reasons to include recessed shelves in your home.

Hard working: Recessed shelves can be fitted unobtrusively into an alcove or a recess in a room and make the most of an awkward or unused space.

recessed shelving for awkward space

Space-saving: The real beauty of a recessed shelf is that it doesn’t jut out into the room. This gives you more floor space to get creative with your furnishings and fixtures.

small recessed shelf

Extra storage: You can carve out recessed shelves from an existing, blank wall – more like a shallow cubby hole or niche. This is popular in a shower or bathroom but will require some structural work. You might need the help of a carpenter for this sort of job.

recessed shelving idea in the kitchen

Add character: Recessed shelving can add character to a space and take on different designs – from a row of chunky bookshelves to a built-in cabinet for spare clothing.

recessed shelving

Display your stuff: Remember you don’t need to pack your recessed shelves with stuff – they can be used to display a row of beautiful vessels, framed pictures or plants.

display idea for recessed shelving

Stylish storage can definitely be yours!

Recessed bathroom shelves

recessed bathroom shelf

If your bathroom is overflowing with lotions, potions, body washes and bottles, recessed bathroom shelves might be the answer.

Recessed shelving saves space by carving out extra storage into your walls. They are one of the best ways to create a minimalist mood, especially in a small bathroom or shower – and one with low ceilings.

It might be easier – less mess and less hassle – to install recessed bathroom shelves as part of a larger bathroom renovation job.

If you’re already having work done in the bathroom, discuss the option of fitting recessed shelving or a shower niche with your bathroom fitter.

A recessed bathroom shelf might seem like a small detail, but it can add so much design opportunity to your space.

Be inspired by more storage ideas to cut back on clutter in the bathroom. Get ready for a clutter-free sanctuary!

Check out 6 design reasons to include recessed shelves in the bathroom.

  1. Cut back on clutter on window sills and around the edges of the bath by storing all your bottles in a recessed shelf instead.
  2. Do away with bath caddies and metal storage racks that get dusty and grubby looking.
  3. Add lights to your shelving recess to create a mesmerising glow (ensure any lights are IP rated for the bathroom).
  4. Create a larger recessed indent in place of a bathroom cabinet and add a door to the front – it’s a sleeker alternative that will save space.
  5. Bump up storage possibilities by placing baskets or boxes inside a recessed shelf – this will help tame mountains of small items like hair clips, travel bottles and razor attachments.
  6. Use recessed bathroom shelves to stack clean towels or line up a row of plants.

Recessed shower shelves

Recessed shower shelf

Recessed shower shelves are an excellent place to keep bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash to hand, just in the right place, at arm’s reach.

They are also the perfect way to get a mountain of bottles off the shower tray floor – which not only takes up previous space but poses a tripping hazard!

Recessed shower shelves work amazingly well if you want to harness a modernist silhouette in a shower or walk-in wet room.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your recessed shower shelves.

  • Get rid of flimsy, annoying shower caddies and racks and create a more sophisticated and finished bathroom look.
  • Clad your shower niche in the same tiles or waterproof panelling as the rest of your shower zone for the ultimate streamlined space.
  • Or else play around with colour and design and choose a contrasting hue or a different shaped tile such as an iridescent mosaic.
  • Always make sure there is waterproofing behind the tiles.
  • Try not to position recessed shower shelves in the splash zone – if possible, put them opposite the shower head. This will help stop water collecting inside the niche and prevent moisture penetration into your shower stud wall.
  • Experiment with tile trims and pencil tiles around your recessed shower shelf – it will add depth and visual interest to your niche.

tiled recessed shower shelf


How do you put recessed shelves in a stud wall?

If you fancy giving a DIY recessed shelf a go, here is a handy step by step installation guide. Follow the instructions.

If you are unsure, we would recommend hiring the services of a professional carpenter or bathroom fitter.

Tools you’ll need

  • Stud finder
  • Measuring tape
  • Drywall saw
  • Small mirror
  • Flashlight
  • Power drill
  • Hammer
  • Putty Knife
  • Paintbrush

Materials you’ll need

  • Board
  • Craft board
  • Screws
  • Wood glue
  • Finishing nails
  • Wood putty
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain or paint

Step 1: Locate studs with a stud finder and make an inspection hole. This is to ensure the position of your recessed shelf doesn’t interfere with electrical or plumbing works.

Step 2: Choose a small section of wall between studs where you want the shelf to go and cut out a square using a drywall saw. Put a small mirror into the hole and use a torch to look for anything that might cause an obstruction.

Step 3: Measure the dimensions of your shelf and use the drywall saw to cut out a section between studs. Make sure the lines are straight by using a spirit level. Remove drywall pieces, making sure they don’t fall behind into the wall.

Step 4: Make a box shelf from craft board to the dimensions of the interior niche. Include a back, sides and a lip to hang over the wall and keep the shelf in place.

Step 5: Apply wood putty to all the joins in the shelf and let it dry. This will hide any seams and holes made by nails. Sand away excess and stain or paint the whole structure as required.

Step 6: Place the shelf into drywall hole and attach to wall studs. Do this by drilling pilot holes and screws into the sides of the shelf.

How to build recessed shelves in bathroom?

Use the same guidelines as above but remember there will be more pipework in a bathroom. Therefor finding enough space to install recessed shelves might prove more difficult because of all the extra plumbing work that’s going on behind the wall. If you haven’t opened up a wall before, call a professional. There is too much at stake if things go wrong in the bathroom.

How much do recessed shelves cost?

Naturally, the cost of custom shelves will vary depending on size, complexity of design and the materials used.

Prices range from affordable options like MDF to more expensive alternatives such as real wood and glass. Look at your budget and what works for the design of your space.

You’ll also need to factor in labour costs too if you’re looking to hire a professional to build your recessed shelves.

As well as a carpenter, you might need to add in the costs of a painter or decorator to get the space looking part of the overall design of the rest of the room. Depending on your budget, it may be worth repainting the entire room.

Read our blog, which outlines the cost of custom built in shelves.

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