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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Maya

Hi how high should you place a corner triangle soap dish in a shower? Thanks

Reply

Roger

Hi Maya,

That depends – how high do you want it? :D There is no standard, it is a personal choice. Mine are usually about 4 feet up, wherever the 4th grout line lands (with 12×12 tiles), but you can put it anywhere.

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ruhepp

Hey Roger Hi , I was looking at your suggestion’s on corner shelves and how to thinset them in place but what does one do if one of the wall is a change of plane, do you still thinset both edges. Best

Reply

Roger

Hi Ruhepp,

Yes, thinset both sides.

Reply

Jim

Roger, I haven’t done much tile installation, great article!
Before I start the bathroom renovation,
can you explain in a little more detail on the shelf materials and construction?
I can not seem to grasp the use of the bullnose tile! Maybe the morning coffee has not kicked in yet! I thought when I have seen this done, that just two tles were used back to back! Joined with thin set and grouted when finished.

Reply

Roger

Hi Jim,

A lot of guys do them with just two tiles. I prefer to have a bullnosed finish edge on top. I cut one triangular piece the size I want my shelf, install it upside down, then cut a piece of bullnose to fit to the edge on top, then fill in behind it with another smaller triangle.

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Jim

Roger, Thanks for the quick reply! I believe I understand what you said in the article! I will keep you posted on the outcome!!!!

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Bert

Hi Roger,

Great piece on installing corner shelves with field tile!

Couple of questions, pls. Can the bullnose layer be omitted or is it for support? I’m using through-body porcelain (rectified, I think) if that makes any difference.

Also, since there’s no grout gap between the shelf and wall tile, do you install grout anyway?

Thanks,
Bert

Reply

Roger

Hi Bert,

Yes, the bullnose layer can be eliminated. Yes, I install grout in that space anyway.

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Chris

Where would I go? :wink:
Thanks Elfmon!

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Roger

Up, I would think. :D

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Chris

Hi Roger,
I’m hoping to put in a small corner foot rest for leg shaving, using the epoxy penny/ washer method and a rather small tile sandwich. Good idea or recipe for disaster? Many thanks…..

Reply

Roger

Hi Chris,

Provided you don’t use it as a step ladder there’s no reason at all it won’t work just fine. :D

Reply

matthew

Tile guy, just found this thread and it’s right up my ally. We just had a house built and our master shower has nothing in it but it is completed. I have lots of extra tile. What is the best way to cut tile already installed on the wall or is that even a option?

Reply

Roger

Hi Matthew,

Use a grinder with a diamond tile blade on it. A rotozip with a tile bit works as well.

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Matt

Hi Roger,

I am installing a granite corner shelf. On page 110 of your design handbook, there is a picture of a stone shelf and it looks like the front sides have small notches cut so front edge fits over the tile. If these notches are not used, Is it too difficult to cut the tile around the front edge of the shelf ?

I have a wet saw but since this is a custom piece I’m concerned that I will mess up cutting these notches. Any tricks?

Thanks in advance!!! Matt.

Reply

Roger

It depends on the finished edge shape of the shelf. If it’s just square it’s easy to cut around. If it’s something else it may not be. They are not required, they just make it easier.

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Matt

Hi Roger,

I’m ready to install granite shelves in a shower (corner shelf and niche shelves) and just wanted to check in and make sure I’m thinking about this correctly:

1. Corner shelf – Notches in the front, 1 1/4″ thick. Shelf will rest on a grout joint and grout joints are 1/8″ wide.
a. Should the joint between the underside of the shelf and the tile under the shelf be 1/8″ thick or should shelf rest directly on tile underneath it? Same question re: top side of shelf and tile above shelf.
b. Should there be a grout joint between notched spots on the front of the shelf and the face of the tile, or should the notch be tight against the face of the tile?
c. 7″ shelf. 1/8″ slope for shelf OK?
d. Caulk or grout any grout lines/gaps between shelf and tile?

2. Niche shelf – 3/4″ thick, shelf extends out past the edge of the niche and there are wings/tabs on sides of granite shelf that sit over face of the field tile.
a. Should there be a grout joint between notched spots/tabs at the sides of the shelf and the face of the field tile, or should the notch/tab be tight against the face of the field tile? How do I accommodate for how slope will change the angle at which the tab hits the field tile?
b. Shelf is 4″ deep. 1/8″ to 1/16″ slope OK.

Reply

Roger

Hi Matt,

1a. It should rest directly on the tile and the top should be cut to rest directly on the shelf.
b. Not necessarily a grout joint, but there should be enough for a silicone joint – 1/16″ or so.
c. Yes
d. Caulk

2. a. silicone like the shelf. Silicone the uneven gap.
b. Yes, 1/16″.

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Matt

Thanks Roger. Any helpful hints for sloping the niche shelf and maintaining that slope until thinset cures (e.g., spacers and trowel size)?

Reply

Roger

It doesn’t really matter what size trowel you use, just put a bit more thinset beneath the back where it needs to be a bit higher. I use 1/16″ spacers for most shower tile.

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Janet Glogouski

We are making a corner shelf for shower with 2 pieces of tile cut diagonally. What do you suggest to put on the exposed end? Thank you.

Reply

Roger

Hi Janet,

You can use bullnose, an additional strip of tile mitered to the two outside edges or a pencil or trim piece of some sort. Or nothing at all, and just grout the seam. That works as well depending on how different the edges of your tile look than the face.

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Lawrence

Roger… corner shelf in my shower doesn’t drain. has a lip with a small slot for water to run off, but I’m thinking the shelf wasn’t installed with enough slope. any suggestions? seems the lip can be ground down or some type of epoxy application can be added to create enough slope for the water to run off. Thanks. L

Reply

Roger

Hi Lawrence,

I’m assuming you have the ceramic dish with the indentation on the front edge? If so the only real thing to do is remove it and install it properly. If not sloped when installed, well, you see what happens. You can build up the back with epoxy to create a sloped surface, but I honestly don’t know how long that would last. Maybe forever, maybe a week. If it is not the ceramic dish and is natural stone instead you can drill a hole in the back corner of it for it to drain. You can’t do that with the ceramic because it’s hollow.

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Slade

Hey Roger,

The bathroom is moving along. I was going to throw up a couple of shelves and was wondering about the exposed ends. I like the idea of the bullnose on top, but not so much with the regular edge on the bottom. Do you ever just cut a smaller triangle as your base and then use a bullnose on the bottom as well? So you’d have two tiles flipped upside down but the exposed edge would be two bullnose tiles meeting?

Thanks,

Happy Turkey Day!

Slade

Reply

Roger

Hi Slade,

That works as well. Just keep in mind that you’ll have essentially two separate shelves in one. One with two bullnose, a grout line, then the second behind it with two small triangles. The two are not attached to one another because of the grout line all the way through. It normally doesn’t create any problems, just keep in mind that the grout in that line may end up cracking – that’s why.

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Mike

Hi Roger,

I would like to build a free floating bench – shelf on the short wall of our shower.
Not sure how to go about this but this is what I’m thinking.
Use a 2×6, router pockets for a galvanized “L” brackets.
Anchor to the framing behind DensShield.
Use Kerdi membrane to waterproof the 2×6.
Thinset marble on top, bottom, face and sides of the 2×6.
The big question:
Can this be done, will it work or fail?

Thanks, Mike

Reply

Roger

Hi Mike,

It will work just fine provided you first install backerboard or densshield over the 2×6 before waterproofing it with kerdi.

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Mike

Hi Roger,

I guess the substrate between the wood and Kerdi membrane is a must?
Is this to make the membrane work properly?
If so it kind of puts a brake on my project as I was hopping to build a shelf that will look as thin as possible, sleek look I would call it.
The 2×6, 2x Denslield, 2x 1/2″ marble + thinset will equal to about 3 5/8″.
A bit too bulky of a look.
Maybe I could use 1/2″ plywood as a core. Denshield and the marble top and bottom. That will cut the thickness by 1″ down to 2 5/8″.
If you know a better way please let me know.

Thanks, Mike

Reply

Roger

1/2″ ply will work fine. Anything that can be supported by the brackets will be fine. Substrate is a must. Wood simply moves way too much to have a thin membrane between it and the tile.

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Porky

Have you ever or can you even put a nice bullnose on porcelain tile? The kind that Lowes sells. (not sure if its considered glazed) I would like to make some for the curb instead of butting the 3″ bullnose together. Thanks in advance!

Reply

Roger

As long as it’s a through-body porcelain then yes, you can bullnose it and use epoxy coating on the edge to make bullnose.

Reply

Ron

Tile man
I am having a shower built out of 12×12. I told my guy I wanted a shelf. He has already ran the back wall up, no shelf. I can still lay the shelf on the showerhead wall but cant anchor it on the back wall. Should I just run a small piece of bullnose under the back wall to support that side of the shelf
or do the penny thing?
Thank you
Ron Q.

Reply

Roger

Hi Ron,

I would anchor the back wall with the pennies and lock it into the side wall tile if it is still open.

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Robin

First! You rock! Even after having finished my bathroom project I still peruse your site like I’m in Tile University. So thanks! :)

Now, I have a question – I installed a niche in my new shower, but it’s too small to hold all my stuff. I want to install a corner shelf or soap dish. Although I do have a bit of left over tile, I obviously can’t install a corner like you describe here. So, is there a way to make a corner and affix it to the tiled wall? If not, and if I were to buy a pre-fab tile soap dish, what is the best way to affix? Something like this: http://www.tileshop.com/product/productdetail.aspx?familyID=701&recordID=5022461

Reply

Roger

Hi Robin,

You can build the corner shelves exactly like the above but stick four pennies between the upper and lower pieces protruding halfway out the back (the edges that rest against the walls) then get some epoxy and grind out your grout lines where the pennies stick out and epoxy it in there. *POOF* corner shelf. :D

Reply

Holly

I am now looking to build a shaving ledge… similar to the corner self except it would be twice as long and be about 3 inches thick. Can you walk me through this process?

Reply

Roger

Hi Holly,

I would try but I have absolutely no ides how your shower is built or what type of tile or stone you’re using. :D It’s built exactly like the corner shelf, just likely more layers of tile. You can probably stack several layers of whatever tile you’re using and actually place a 3″ strip of tile across the front, it would be a cleaner look. It’s installed exactly the same way.

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Melinda

Hi Roger,

I’m back again. Apparently DIY saves you bucks but takes forever! We are going to install a corner shelf in our shower as per your instructions as we tile our shower. My question is, what are your suggestions for supporting the shelf while letting the thinset set since the row of tile above will not yet be in place? I would hate to have a 5.5 lb corner shelf crash down and ruin the shower base at this point in the project!

Thanks!

Melinda

Reply

Roger

Hi Melinda,

You don’t need to do anything to it. Once you set it in the corner it is fully supported along two sides by the row of tile beneath it. It will stay right where you put it.

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Adam

Roger,

My wife is keen on putting a glass shelf on back of the tub surround (opposite the shower head). I would rather put the corner shelf up as I like the look. Naturally, we are putting up the glass shelf. Would you recommend cantilevering in like the corner shelf with some angle brackets or is that not necessary? Also, how would this affect the waterproofing of the tub surround if at all?

Thanks,
Adam

Reply

Roger

Hey Adam,

Yup, I make those types of decisions all the time. It’s called compromise – I tell my wife what I want and she tells me what we’re gonna do instead. :D

With glass shelves in showers I would HIGHLY recommend NOT locking it into the tile installation. Instead, I would either install brackets (which can be locked in if you want) or use something like a pencil rail or similar locked into the installation permanently, then the glass shelf sitting on top of it and siliconed around it to keep it in place. Locking it in will work wonderfully – until it breaks. :D It will not affect the waterproofing at all unless you mechanically fasten (screws) brackets into the wall, which can be filled with silicone to waterproof them.

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peggy

I’m wondering why you say you don’t recommend installing glass shelves the same way you described installing tile shelves.

Reply

Roger

Hi Peggy,

Because I make up the rules as I go along. :D

Actually, because if a glass shelf breaks there will be no way to replace it or get the glass from between the tiles. While you can still break a regular tile shelf, it is much more difficult to do so and you can pry the pieces out of there without damage.

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peggy

OK, I get it now. It’s not the installation method you don’t recommend, its the glass shelves themselves. I have 1/2″ shelves, tempered glass; how likely are they to break?
If I decide to use your idea for tile shelves, I’m not sure what to do about the unfinished cut edge on the supporting tile. The body of the tile isn’t the same color as the face of the tile.

Reply

Roger

They’re not likely to break at all, but there’s always a chance. If you use silicone at the corner of the glass and tile (which you NEED to do) you will not see the through-body color of the tile – even with clear.

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Dave

Thanks Roger, getting ready to start. A little comprehensive but I guess you just have to do it. I have a tendency to over analyze prior to commencing, and although I have been in construction 26 years this shower tile stuff is serious and expensive. I have another question that I am having a hard time with. So, does the shower floor tile slip in underneath the wall tile or does it sit in front of it with the wall tile slightly lower to hide bottom edge? I promise this will probably be the last question today. I may be easier to just give me your phone number so I can call during application process just in case i may need anything tomorrow ( sunday) thats cool right? Thanks again

Reply

Roger

My wife has grounded me from the phone, something about women in Thailand calling at odd hours asking for ‘ElfGod’ – whatever. I have no idea what she’s talking about. :whistle:

The order of installation doesn’t matter as long as your shower is properly waterproofed. I prefer installing the floor tile first and having the wall tile sit on it, I just think it looks better. I have, however, done it the other way as well when I do something like river rock on the floor and there isn’t a flat plane at the bottom. Scenarios like that look better with the floor tile in front of the wall tile.

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Dave

Comprehensive? Apprehensive, sorry for the last one runni g on about 50 hours this week and no sleep, stupid shower!

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Melinda

Hi Roger,

My fiance and I are about to begin waterproofing, then laying the wall tile in our shower and are unsure of how to “anchor” the corner shelf we plan on installing. We are on board with lining up the bottom of the shelf with the grout line and notching out the row of tiles above the shelf. However, we are curious how we need to adhere the shelf to the cement board. Do we set the shelf using thinset, or use an epoxy to glue it to the cement board (over or under the water proofing)? I should note that shelf weighs 5.5 lbs, so we are a little apprehensive about properly attaching it to the wall so that it does not come crashing down. :eek:

Thanks for your help!

Melinda

Reply

Roger

Hi Melinda,

You can just put thinset between the wall and back of the shelf. All the stress on the shelf will be pushing down, not out. There is very little lateral stress on the shelf and any of that comes from something sitting on the very edge of it. Since the shelf, once installed, is cantilevered on the face corner of the tile below it all the stress is directly up against the tile on the row above it.

In other words (for people who weren’t physicists in a former life :D ) all the pressure is pushing either directly down on the edge of the tile in the row below it or directly up against the edge of the tile directly above it. There is no force on the shelf that acts as if you are attempting to pull the shelf away from the wall. Unless, of course, you’re trying to pull the shelf away from the wall…don’t do that. :D Just don’t use it as a step ladder.

Reply

Melinda

Roger,

Thanks so much! This is our first tile installation and we really don’t want to ruin it before we get to use it. :-D

Melinda

Reply

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