Open Shelves Are the Storage Solution Your Bathroom Needs

How to add order and style to bathrooms—big or small.

July 13, 2020

Given that most bathrooms have a single vanity and maybe, if you're lucky, a medicine cabinet to offer for storage, cramming in all the items you need becomes a bit of a challenge. What do you do, for instance, with the extra toothpaste, back-up hand towels, and your (constantly growing) collection of hand lotions?

Enter: open shelves.

Open shelves are a clear (ha!) solution for corralling the odds and ends our bathrooms accumulate, while also offering the distinct opportunity to make things a little more stylish. Similar to open shelving in kitchens, the mantra here is: all the most attractive and organized items get displayed, while the less visually appealing things get tucked away in the vanity. Any clutter on the shelves is, of course, tucked away into pretty containers and baskets—and this, in turn, leaves room for decorative plants and objects.

Read on for how to turn a functional storage solution into a stylish focal point, all the while keeping essentials well within reach.

Types of Shelves

Before you start amassing items to style with, you’re probably going to want to pick out some shelves. Depending on what you plan to store, you might be able to get away with just a leaning ladder on one wall of the bathroom, which rather elegantly holds spare bath linens and any baskets you can hang from an S hook. This, of course, assumes you have a blank wall waiting to be decorated.

Short on bathroom space? Floating shelves can fit almost anywhere, but especially on the wall above the toilet. One way to make use of this space is a shelf that is designed specifically to straddle over the toilet. A slim storage cart would also be a welcome addition to a small bathroom, as it can slide into any unused crevice, stashing away essentials without taking up a ton of precious real estate.

Items to Include

Whether you’re cultivating a spa-like vibe for your guest half-bath, or reorganizing your family’s high-traffic location, your shelves will likely hold the following items:

  • Cotton swabs, cotton balls, and cotton pads are necessities in many homes, and can be transferred from their packaging into more visually appealing containers that actually serve as display items as well as functional storage.
  • In the same vein, supplies like toothpaste, razors, and dental floss belong in baskets or storage bins that both hide the clutter away and keep them within reach.
  • Spare hand soaps and lotions end up looking lovely when peeking out from a basket or displayed on a two-tiered lazy susan. Instead of keeping them tucked away under the vanity, let the ones with color-coordinating bottles and good-looking labels stay out.
  • Extra hand towels get rolled into compact swirls or stacked in neat piles. A towel organizer (yes, it’s a thing!) can further help to keep them compact on the shelves, making room for more items.
  • Tissue box holders need not be the unwieldy crocheted ones from your grandmother’s house (we love you, grandma)—they can be a smaller, more minimal design detail with big impact. A store-bought box of tissues goes from afterthought to design item with an intentional cover.
  • No bathroom shelf is complete without something scented, be it an essential oil diffuser that consistently puffs out soothing eucalyptus, or a candle you light when needed.
  • Last, but never least, are a couple of decorative items like frames or books, and some plant friends in beautiful pots to liven things up. If you’re concerned about lack of light, this guide will point you in the right direction.

How to Balance It All Out

Space out the essentials, like linens, tissues, and containers of cotton products first, which will allow you to assess how much space you have for the additional, more decorative items. Try to keep these within reach, as well, since they’ll be the most sought after.

  • Add decorative elements in the spaces left over, like plants, candles, and framed art. Don’t confine yourself to the first arrangement you set up—styling is an adjust and readjust (and readjust again!) situation.
  • Vary heights and stick to odd numbers when possible—this will make the shelves appear balanced as well as a little imperfect, a look sought after by the best stylists in the biz.
  • Add dimension by grouping items together, leaning a frame against a basket here, and peeking a plant out from behind a canister there.
  • Avoid always grouping like with like. For example, a mirrored frame and a brass canister might look overwhelming next to each other, but if each of them is paired with a softer texture (such as wood or ceramic), it creates a feeling of balance.

Open shelves in the bathroom—yay or nay? Tell us in the comments.

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Caroline Mullen

Written by: Caroline Mullen