Decorating with Bathroom Shelves

By Tammie Jo , last updated February 18, 2011

Bathroom shelves serve an important organizational function, but they can also play a role in decorating a room. Many bathrooms, especially those in older homes, don’t provide the amount of storage modern families require, and shelving is a clever storage solution. Of course, you don’t want to clutter bathroom shelves with bottles and boxes of personal items. Apply the same kind of care to decorating the shelves as you would in any other room, and your bathroom will be both tidy and beautiful.

Choosing and Preparing Shelves

The type and size of shelves you choose, and where you install them, will affect the way you can decorate them. Narrow shelves won’t be able to hold towels and shelves that are installed too high to reach will be limited to non-essential items only. The type of one-piece shelving units that fit over the toilet are handy, but some of them have shelves made from horizontal metal bars that aren’t practical for holding small items or decorative items with an uneven bottom.

Before decorating your bathroom shelves, make sure they are clean, attractive, level, sturdy and not installed in an unsafe or inconvenient place, such as too close to a towel rack or light switch where the shelf and its contents might be constantly jostled and bumped. If you’re reusing old shelves, take the time to paint or repair them before decorating – a badly chipped or stained shelf is going to draw attention away from the items you’re trying to display.

Lastly, choose shelves that coordinate with your overall bathroom décor. Find a vintage shelving unit at the thrift store if the original pink and green tile in your 1958 bungalow is still shining, and splurge for some modern floating glass shelves if your new spa-style bathroom is the pride of your home.


Whatever you decide to decorate your shelves with, remember to create a balanced vignette. Consider the visual weight of things when arranging them and group like items together for the best decorative impact.

If your bathroom shelves are important to the organization of the room, consider these tips:

Organizational Decorating

Keep the faded, fraying towels in the linen closet and place stacks of fluffy, neatly folded towels on a low shelf where everyone in the family can reach them. To help the towels fit better on a narrow shelf, fold them in half (with the narrow ends aligning) and then in half again (bringing the top, folded edge down to the bottom, loose edges) and then into thirds. This method of folding also makes the towels look more plump and attractive.

Purchase a set of apothecary jars to store cotton balls, swabs, bandages, bath salts and other commonly used items. You can even roll wash cloths into a tight cylinder and store them in a large jar. Group the jars together in sets of three, varying the sizes, or place one large jar at the end of a shelf by itself.

Place private or less attractive items in a series of matching rectangular baskets. Using baskets that match will keep the shelf looking neat and organized. If the baskets don’t have lids, put them on a higher shelf out of eye line so guests won’t peer directly into them when they use the bathroom.

Remember to position the items you use most frequently on the lower shelves.

Purely Aesthetic Decorating

Display a collection of hand-blown glass bottles on your bathroom shelves. You can bring color into the room by choosing bottles in brilliant hues, or keep it simple with clear glass. This is an especially good idea if your shelves are near a window where the bottles can bounce sunlight into your bathroom all day.

If your bathroom has adequate light, decorate the shelves with live plants. Place some colorful stones, crystals or large sea shells on the shelves to provide some variety and natural appeal to the room.

Mirrors are both functional and decorative. A collection of vintage standing mirrors would bring both charm and reflected light into your bathroom.

Scented candles, antique perfume bottles and even family photos are a few of the other items you can use to decorate a bathroom shelf. And of course, even if you don’t need the storage, you can mix these less functional items with bathroom necessities like towels and jars full of bath beads.

For a touch of whimsy in a kid’s bathroom, line the shelves with row after row of rubber ducks. It will give guests a laugh and make kids feel like their bathroom is a special place just for them.

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