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?


{ 165 comments… add one }

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  • K L

    Hey Roger,

    Do you silicone the shower the same day as grout? I’m again thinking of saving myself another trip back just for caulking!

    Many thanks,


    • Roger

      Hi K L,

      Yes I do.

  • D.B.

    Ok, hopefully you can help because I can’t find an answer anywhere….contractor installed corner tile shelves with built in lip, but they hold water which then causes mold. Can I drill drainage holes into tile shelves with special drill bit?

    • Roger

      Hi DB,

      Yes you can. Just make sure to drill them large enough that you can clean the inside surfaces of the hole as needed. If you make them too small stuff will build up inside them and clog them up.


    Can I use this shelf idea at a lower level for my wife to use as a foot rest for shaving. Will it hold?

    • Roger

      Hi Michael,

      Yes you can and yes it will (I’ve done it a lot).

  • Debbie

    I just had a corner shelf installed and all the caulk peeled off, it’s mapei keracaulk u. It’s only been a week and I haven’t even use the shower yet. Do you have a suggestion on the type of caulk that should be used? I think the tile guy call the same day he grouted, that’s not how you doing is it?

    • Roger

      Hi Debbie,

      You can do it the same day you grout, I always do. Not sure if it’s a caulk issue or an installation issue, I always use 100% silicone. Perhaps he simply didn’t tool it well enough to get it bonded to the tile and shelf correctly. Also if the tile or shelf is wet it won’t stick, it needs to be completely dry.

  • Bern

    I installed ceramic corner shelf with foam tape and silicone around edges. One month later the shelves are starting to slip down the wall. Any suggestions for what went wrong and how to re-do (with more permanent results)?

    • Roger

      Hi Bern,

      Yes, you installed it with foam tape. That’s what went wrong. :D You need to anchor the shelf into the wall tile, I normally grind out little slots in the back of the shelf, as well as in a couple of grout lines corresponding to the same spot, and epoxy some stainless steel washers half in the shelf and half in the wall. Once that cures silicone around the shelf and it isn’t going anywhere.

  • Steven Koense

    Ok. We have a tile shower already installed but want to ADD a tile corner shelf or two. Is there a recommendation how to do that for the DIY person? I’ve thought of drilling holes to afix something similar, but. . .

    • Roger

      Hey Steven,

      You can create your shelves and place stainless steel washers between the layers of tile along the back of them so that they stick halfway out. Then you can scrape out your grout lines in the corner and epoxy the shelves up. I normally use 1/2″ washers (total width) and have 1/4″ sticking into the shelf and 1/4″ into the grout lines. Once the epoxy is cured just silicone around the shelves.

  • Erika

    Or you can buy a corner shower shelf that you don’t have to cut into the already tiled shower walls. I got mine from it was really easy. It took my boyfriend about 10 minutes to cut our tile to match and glue it on their shelf and another 5 minutes to install the shelf.

  • Brian

    How about cutting the lower tile a little smaller than 1/4 of a 12″ tile so when you put the bullnose on top it sticks out ~1″ past the lower tile then take another bullnose and rip a strip to place under the upper bullnose so both upper and lower portions of the shelf match and have bullnose outer edges. It’d cost an extra bullnose tile but at least you wouldn’t have the ugly mismatched edge on the lower tile.

  • Abraham

    Hi Roger,
    Very interesting site… I have a question for you.Can I make a corner self with cement using a form made out of wood, wire mesh to reinforce it then after its install cover it with tiles.I really think that tiles are too thin and might break in time.

    • Roger

      Hi Abraham,

      You can, but unless you’re using the shelves as a step ladder there really is no reason to.

  • Travis

    Hi Roger,

    First, thanks for your great website. It is the best resource I have found when researching tile stuff.

    I built a corner shelf out of porcelain tile, using the method described in this post. However, I put it at 18″ height from the floor, to be used for my wife to rest her foot on while shaving her legs. I am curious if you know how much weight this could support without breaking the tiles? The hypotenuse is 13″ for this shelf. Disclosure: this question has nothing to do with my wife’s weight…thanks for any help!

    • Roger

      Hi Travis,

      I don’t know the number it will support, but it will be more than sufficient provided it isn’t used as a ladder. :D

      • Chuck

        When adding a shelf to an existing shower you say to epoxy the shelf in. Do you mean use epoxy grout or some other epoxy? Looks like epoxy grout is pretty expensive if you only need the amount to use on two or three shelves. I’m fond of JB Weld as it is almost as handy as baling wire and duct tape. My tile is kind of a stone gray so that the JB Weld gray would not be too bad a match if I could avoid globs. Any reason not to use that?

        • Roger

          Hi Chuck,

          Any epoxy will work fine. JB Weld works well.

  • Tod

    I have a tub deck about 20 inches tall by about 4 inches wide that borders one side of my shower. The shower glass surround will only border about half the total length of the tub deck. I want to slope that 4 inch tub deck edge toward the shower so water doesn’t collect on the edge against the glass. Currently, that deck edge is level and made of plywood. How is the best way to shim this edge? I assuming I only need about 1/12 of an inch to get the 1/4 inch per foot slope? You mention a “shim of some sort”. What do you use for shims and what would you use in this case?

    • Roger

      Hi Tod,

      I would place thinset down below my substrate with enough at one end to get the slope, let it cure, then screw it down. I would slope the substrate with thinset beneath it.

  • 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?

    • 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?

  • 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


      Here’s a visual of the type of footrest I’m wanting to incorporate into the shower. ( 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?


      • Roger

        Hi Andrew,

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

    • 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.

  • Jennifer

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

    Thank you,


    • Roger

      Hi Jennifer,

      Dal tile makes them. So does Florida Tile.

  • 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

    • 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.