How to Build Thin Floating Shelves for a Nook

Do you have an awkward nook? Here’s how to build easy and strong yet thin DIY floating shelves for a nook using plywood.

Anika next to floating shelves in nook

We all have those awkward nooks, niches, or alcoves that result from the architecture and are pretty much wasted vertical space.

These are often found in bathrooms above the toilet or living rooms and bedrooms next to the fireplace. We have one in the bedroom that we use as an office. The nook is a result of the fireplace in the living room downstairs. Other examples of places that can be considered a nook are – closets, above washers and dryers in a laundry room, or in a mudroom.

Essentially, any space that has walls on three sides is a nook.

The best way to put a nook or alcove to work is to create storage, which can be done by adding built-in cabinets or building simple shelves.

I recently built a filing cabinet that fits perfectly into that nook. Now, it is time to put the vertical space above it to work.

close up of one of the two floating shelves in a nook with books and decor

Building floating shelves in the nook is the easiest and quickest way to add extra storage where you can store and displace books, bins, decor, towels (in a bathroom), and more!

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Material Needed

Tools Needed

How to Build Floating Shelves in a Nook

The advantage of having a nook – which has walls on three sides, is that you already have three surfaces to support the shelves, which makes it easy to build.

Step 1: Decide the Location of the Shelves

Depending on the room and function of your nook, this may vary. I have these in my office, so I am adding them about 24″ above the printer and then about 16″ apart to accommodate large books and have enough space above them.

  • Use a masking tape or a pencil and ruler to mark the locations so you get a visual idea of the shelves.
tape to show location of the floating shelves in a nook

Step 2: Locate the Studs

  • Use a stud finder to locate and mark the studs in the walls.

Attaching the shelves to the studs is extremely crucial to making sure that they are strong. You want at least two studs on each of the three walls.

Woman using a stud finder to mark the studs

However, if you have a small nook, it may be extremely hard to find enough studs in the walls to support the shelf. In my case, there were no studs on either of the three walls where I needed to add the shelf. This is where toggle bolts come to the rescue.

  • Mark the location for the toggle bolts. This needs to be where you are certain there aren’t any studs.

Step 3: Build the Frame

The frame is built using 1×2 boards. I made my own 1×2 boards from scrap 1×12 boards.

  • Measure and cut the 1×2 boards for the shelf supports. Each shelf has one long board for the back and two short boards for the sides.

If you have enough studs in your walls, you can skip the below steps and go ahead and attach the boards to the walls using long 3″ screws into the studs.

  • Make holes for the toggle bolts through the sides of the boards carefully. Transfer the measurements to the wall and attach them using toggle bolts. Here is a full tutorial on how to install toggle bolts.
woman attaching board to nook wall to install DIY floating shelves

Remember to use a level to make sure that the boards are attached level to the wall.

At this point, you have three supports on the wall, and ideally, these are enough to support a shelf. However, you want to future-proof the shelves and make them as strong as possible.

You may not intend to use the shelves for heavy items right now, but in the future, you may want to. I will be storing books on these, so I definitely wanted them to be super strong.

  • Add a front support by attaching it to the side supports using pocket holes and pocket hole screws.
Woman attaching a board to the side brackets using pocket hole screws
  • Add a center support using pocket holes and pocket hole screws. This will help keep the top plywood from sagging. The number of center supports will depend on the length of the shelf. Mine is pretty small – 18″ and one support was enough.
Woman attaching the center support for the floating shelf

Step 4: Create a Template for the Shelf

The most common issue with homes is that the walls are never straight or flat. For example, my nook is 18″ in the back and almost 18.5″ in the front. This means that you cannot simply cut a rectangular piece of plywood for the shelf.

To transfer the shape and size of the shelf to the plywood, I used a large sheet of paper – this is paper from my kids’ art paper roll, but you can also use wrapping paper or rosin paper (the pink paper they use to cover floors during construction).

  • Cut the sheet of paper larger than the size of the shelf you need.
  • Lay it down as flat as possible on the shelf frame.
  • Trace the shape of the shelf using a sharp pencil.
  • Cut out the template.
Woman tracing the floating shelf template on paper

You want to make a separate template for each shelf to account for variations.

Now you have the exact template you need to transfer to the plywood to cut out so you have the best-fitting shelves.

Step 5: Cut and Attach the Plywood

  • Transfer the template to the 1/2″ plywood.
  • Cut the plywood using a jigsaw.
Woman cutting floating shelf plywood using jigsaw

I do not recommend using a circular saw for this because the cut lines aren’t going to be straight, and the circular saw blade can bind and kick back. Instead, use the jigsaw with a straight-edge guide to help you get a clean, smooth cut along the traced line.

Note: if your paper rolls up slightly, you may have to do some trimming based on the fitting, but it is better to have a larger board to cut down than a board that is too small for the space.

  • Repeat the process for 1/4″ plywood for the bottom of the shelf.

Remember to keep track of the top and bottom of each plywood and also the shelf location because each side of the shelf will have different measurements.

Woman attaching plywood for the floating shelf using a nail gun

The shelves are attached and done. Now, it’s time for the trim.

Step 6: Attach the Front Trim

  • Cut and attach the 1×2 board for the front trim.
Woman attaching trim for the floating shelf in the nook using a nail gun

This should be a good quality 1×2 board that is sanded well before attaching because it will be the face of the shelf and will be the most visible.

Step 7: Apply the Final Finishes

  • Fill all visible nail holes with wood filler.
  • Stain or paint in the color of your choice and seal with a top coat.
Woman staining the DIY floating shelf in a nook.

Allow everything to cure for 48 hours or as specified on the can before using the shelves.

Load it up and enjoy the new storage/decor space.

View of the entire nook with diy floating shelves.

See how to build the filing cabinet and printer stand.

Check out these 25 DIY wall shelf ideas!

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Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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