Building a corner shelf for your shower

by Roger

How to build a shower shelfOne of my readers has handcuffed me to the radiator in her basement and won’t let me go until I describe how to build a corner shelf in her shower. And she keeps giving me dirty looks. I guess I’ll do it, then.

See those little shelves right there? (You can click on it for a larger version)  They’re made from the same tile that is on the walls – it matches that way. If you have a two-walled shower with only exterior walls it’s nearly impossible (or at least not very probable) to build a niche – frozen shampoo sucks. It’s also difficult to build niches if you have two exterior walls and one wall with all your plumbing – not much room there, either. So a corner shelf, or shelves, may be the way to go.

And they’re easy to make. And I don’t have pictures of the process.

The only difference in the way you install the tile on your walls is that you need to only install up to the row beneath where you are placing the shelf. You need to install tile up to that point on both walls that meet the corner. The bottom portion of the shelf is going to sit on top of those two rows directly against the walls in the corner. The next row of tile is then cut around and on top of the base shelf piece to lock it into the wall.

First decide how many shelves you need. Cut a full tile diagonally, corner-to-corner, in both directions. This will leave you with four identically-sized triangles of tile – these will be your shelf base, the part that’s locked into the wall.

Next you need to install the tile on both the walls that meet the corner your shelf will be in, all the way up to the row beneath your shelf. With me so far? Once you have those tiled take one of those triangle pieces you cut and flip it upside down. Set it onto the tops of the tile in the corner of the shower, the edges of the wall tile – it should just set there. You flip it upside down so you’ll have a finished surface on the underside of your shelf.

Then measure and cut the tiles for the next row that sit above the shelf. You are only notching out the tile to fit around the corner piece for the shelf. Before you install those, and as you are combing out the thinset on the wall for them, pack thinset against the wall at the back edge of the shelf base. This will  hold that piece in there until everything sets up. Then install the next row of tile on the wall.

Continue to do this until you have all the base pieces in for how ever many shelves you want. When you’re done you should have only one piece of upside-down tile in your corners for each shelf. Once that’s done we can finish up the shelves. You will need one piece of bullnose tile (the long ones with the rounded edges) for each shelf. Cut one side of it at a 45 degree angle. Now measure the front of your shelf from wall to wall – it should be just under 12 inches if you are using 12″ tile. Mark that measurement on your bullnose – measure from the pointy corner of the 45 you just cut all the way across the rounded edge. (Did I just type ‘pointy’??? Jesus…) Cut that at a 45 degree angle in the opposite direction (so it will sit on top of your shelf base wall-to- wall).

Set it up there and make sure it fits – you may have to shave a bit off of it until you get the right fit. Once you’re happy with the size of it butter the back of it with thinset (the same stuff you used to stick it to the wall) and put it on there. You will still have an open triangle in the back of the shelf behind the bullnose – just cut a smaller triangle of tile to fit in there and install it to finish your shelf.

That’s it – let it cure and grout everything up. Grout between the tiles on the front edge of the shelf – you can use caulk there if you want to, but it isn’t necessary, it’s not going anywhere. You do not need to use bullnose on the front edge if you don’t want to – it just looks better that way. If you want to simply use the square edge of the tile that’s fine, it won’t hurt anything. Just cut the top shelf piece to the correct size (it will be smaller than the base piece) and install it.

How to build a shower shelfYou can also cut into the tile beneath the shelf for the base if you want to. Like the top shelf in the photo above or the shelf in the photo to the left. It makes it easier and it looks better if you have mosaics or a liner that runs above the shelf. The key to it is that the shelf base is locked into the wall so it doesn’t go anywhere. You can cut them in wherever you want – just get it locked in there.

Also make sure that you put a shim of some sort in the very back corner of the shelf before you cut the tile around it – you need to have it sloped ever so slightly toward the shower and away from the wall – you need water to drain off of it. Don’t slope it so much that your rubber ducky slides off, though.

If you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below. I answer them all, I’m just super-cool like that. 8)

Can I get out of this basement now?

Hello???

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Jami

What did you do on the bottom of the shelf? The piece that goes on the wall and is usually hidden. Can you see that part?

Reply

Roger

Hi Jami,

I don’t understand your question. The bottom of the shelf is a tile flipped upside down. What ‘piece that goes on the wall’ are you talking about?

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Andrew

Hi Roger, it’s Andrew again.

I have installed the 3/4″ plywood over the 1×8 diagonal subfloor planks. Plumbing alterations for new shower valve and drain are happening this weekend. In the meantime, I’m attempting to keep ahead of the project by thinking a few steps ahead. One of those decisions is about corner shelves and a corner “seat” (aka, wife’s shaving footrest).

My main wall shower tile will be 3×6 white subway. I’d like to use a 3/8″ thick white marble for the corner shelves and bench. Can a single layer of this be used as a shelf instead of layering them in twos as you describe in the article? I didn’t know if there was something about sticking them back-to-back, or if that was just a way to conceal the unfinished bottom of porcelain tile? Also, thin-set is enough to secure these shelves to the wall? What type of thinset is best for this application?

Likewise, my wife wants a corner footrest. I really like the look of the ones that appear as slightly larger/thicker shelves (without framing it in and cutting into the shower floor space). Can these be installed just like the shelves, or is there another, more secure, method? A leg weights a bit more than a bar of soap and a few shampoo bottles! We don’t want it falling down or breaking.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

Andrew

Reply

Andrew

Roger,

Here’s a visual of the type of footrest I’m wanting to incorporate into the shower. (http://www.houzz.com/photos/3240829/Bathrooms-contemporary-bathroom-kansas-city) My shower is roughly 3’x3′ and I’m thinking a floating footrest will provide the illusion of more space, as compared to being fully framed and boxed in. Will you method for shelves work for this application, or will further supports/brackets need to be in place? I checked out the better bench idea mentioned in your bench seat post, but I’m not a fan of it’s chunkiness. I’ve also seen some people secure angle aluminum in the corner just under the footrest and then waterproof over that before installing tile. Your thoughts?

Thanks,
Andrew

Reply

Roger

Hi Andrew,

The shelf method will work fine if you double up the marble.

Reply

Roger

Hi Andrew again,

A single layer is fine for a shelf. You would simply lock it into the wall tile by setting it on a row and cutting the tiles above it around the shelf. Yes, modified thinset will hold it just fine. You should double-up the foot rest for stability – installed just like the corner shelf.

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Jennifer

I can’t seem to find flat back ceramic tile shelves. Any suggestions?

Thank you,

Jennifer

Reply

Roger

Hi Jennifer,

Dal tile makes them. So does Florida Tile.

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elizabeth harrison

hello Roger,

my bathroom is already tiled and I would like to elimanate the shower caddy adn put in shelves how can I go about doing this? due to the shelves I saw at the hardware stores have a peice on the back like it would fit between the tile. please hlp me. ty

Reply

Roger

Hi Elizabeth,

Get corner shelves with FLAT backs, clean your tile very well and use denatured alcohol to prep them, get some double-sided foam tape and adhere the shelves to the tile in the corner. Silicone completely around them where they meet the wall tile.

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