DIY Floating Window Shelves

DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

Black thumb be damned, I love filling my home with plants. Prickly cactus, chubby-leaved succulents and sprawling ivy are my favorite types of greenery. Mainly because they are the easiest to care for, and I don’t have the best track record. In spite of my plant-murdering ways, I clearly see the benefits of houseplants. They are beautiful, they clean the air, and they can even improve your mood.

It seems like every other day I’m vacuuming soil and nursing a broken plant back into a tipped pot. Thanks, cats! I created these built-in clear shelves to get my plants off my windowsill and, bonus, I was able to add a lot more color and greenery into my life. These minimal shelves provide lots of direct light, so they’re great for cacti, succulents and herbs. And while they don’t block too much light, they provide a bit of privacy, too.

DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

These shelves work great for smaller windows. This one is about 24 inches wide. I chose to use acrylic for my shelves because it’s lightweight, safer than glass (since these are not screwed in), and easy to remove to clean. You could easily substitute wood for the brackets — painted to match your window — and glass for the shelves. The acrylic does bow a bit with the weight of the plants. If you’d like to display heavier objects or if you have wider windows I’d suggest using tempered glass, which you can easily get cut to size with finished edges at a professional glass shop. —Jessica Marquez

DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design SpongeDIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

 Materials

– Measuring tape
– Painter’s tape
– Acrylic shelf (you can get acrylic sheets cut and brackets cut to size here)
– Acrylic square rod “brackets” (These are not traditional brackets, but are easy to install and support the shelf like a traditional bracket would.)
– 9/64 drill bit
– Ruler
– Pencil
– Level
– Sheet Metal Screws, size 6 x 1 1/4

InstructionsDIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design SpongeStep 1

Using a measuring tape, measure the width and depth of your window. My window was 24 5/8 x 4.5″. I wanted the shelves to fit flush into the window, so I made sure the measurement was just a hair shy of the full width. To save a bit on the cost of materials, I got 4″ deep shelves, instead of 4.5″. In total, I got four 1/4″ thick acrylic shelves cut at Canal Plastic Center along with nine 5/8″ x 4″ square acrylic rods.

Step 2

Using painter’s tape, plan the layout of your shelves. Allow for some room for your plants to grow.

DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

Step 3

Drill two holes in support brackets. To speed up the drill process, I taped the bracket pieces side by side onto a piece of scrap wood and marked on the tape the center point where the holes would be drilled.DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

NOTE: If you are using acrylic brackets drill very slowly! As you’re drilling, pull the drill bit out every few seconds. The drill bit heats up as you drill and can melt the acrylic if you drill too fast without breaks. I had a craft fail with my first drill bit, which got permanently stuck in the acrylic. Glad I ordered one extra bracket piece. DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design SpongeDIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design SpongeStep 4

Mark where your brackets will be installed on one side of the windowsill. With a ruler and level, mark a level line along the depth of the window sill. Measure from the bottom up using your taped window guide as a reference point. Once you have your level measurement for the first bottom shelf, you can measure up from there. Each of my shelves were 13″ apart.

DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

 

Step 5

Mark the opposite side of the windowsill where the brackets will be installed. Start with the bottom shelf. Use a leveled shelf lined up with your previous marks on the opposite side of the windowsill to create a level line along the depth of the windowsill. Once you have the level mark for the bottom shelf, you can measure up from there using the same distance between shelves as you did on the opposite side. Remember to level each shelf.

DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

Step 6

Drill in screws. It helps to screw in one side halfway, level the bracket, and screw in the other side. Then you can completely drill in both screws. Repeat this step for all of your brackets. Now you’re ready to drop in your shelves, which rest right on the brackets and decorate.
DIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design SpongeDIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design SpongeDIY Floating Window Shelves by Jessica Marquez for Design Sponge

  1. Emma says:

    These are sooooooo cute!!! Love! x

    dreamingoffithavenue.wordpress.com

  2. Cara says:

    If your acrylic is flexing too much, use thicker acrylic rather than glass. It’s not that easy to find a place that will sell you glass with finished, smoothed edges. Generally when you order it, the edges are still fairly sharp which will be dangerous for this project.

  3. Andrea Kenney says:

    Is there a product like Gorilla glue that would be strong enough to support the shelves, or are drilling and using screws unavoidable?

    1. Hi Andrea,

      I don’t think there’s a glue I’d trust holding these brackets up, especially if you’re using acrylic. Just not sure how well plastic would bond to painted wood. I trust screws so much more for supporting the weight of the shelves, but do wish there was a magical, powerful glue like this out there.
      -jessica

  4. Cynthia says:

    Cute floating shelves! Cacti are a good plant to grow in difficult conditions. If you find that your indoor plants aren’t doing well in a window that doesn’t get direct light, try putting daylight bulbs in your lamps, and turn them on during the day for a little extra “sunshine”. Make sure to turn them off at night, though – plants need rest too!
    Likely By Sea

  5. Lindsey says:

    Very cute and practical! I would like to say though, that a framing shop is not the best source of glass for this purpose. I work at a picture framing shop, and I would definitely not trust framing glass to hold any weight. Typical framing equipment also can’t cut tempered glass, which is what you would want for a shelf. Any professional glass shop should be able to make strong glass shelves to your size, with finished edges. Big box hardware stores also often sell glass for shelves in pre cut standard sizes. Otherwise great tutorial!

    1. Thanks for the insight Lindsey! I’m updating the post now to add this detail about using a professional glass shop to cut glass to size.

  6. Julie says:

    I am so in love with this simple idea! I need more plants in my decor and these wouldn’t take up unnecessary space.

    Julie
    alohalovely.com

  7. Aidel.K says:

    Really pretty project. Wish I had deeper windows. Just have to say–oh Canal Street, how I miss thee……I used to live right around the corner from Canal Plastics. I think the grand bazaar of Canal Street back in the day has vanished with the gentrification of Soho, though.

  8. kimithy says:

    Those look great! I’ll definitely recommend using glass vs. acrylic for anyone wanting to try this, as acrylic can react poorly to direct sunlight/heat, and much more likely to bow/flex as the OP mentioned.

    Got me thinking about using acrylic for some shelves (on a wall not exposed to direct heat from sun), that floating/transparent look of the acrylic brackets is SO awesome!

  9. Judith says:

    Another addition to the glass: tempered glass can’t be cut. It shatters, and that’s actually the point. Tempered means it’s cooled down in a way that leaves stresses in the structure of the glass, and when it gets damaged, those stresses make it crack into tiny pieces without long sharp edges.

    Any tempered glass you want in a certain size needs to be cut first while not tempered yet (or annealed first, meaning reheated to un-stress it), then tempered. So ordering it needs a few days at least, and even a glass shop will probably have to order it for you at a bigger factory, where it’ll probably be produced as part of a larger load.

    I try to buy stuff locally from shops, but for this application, I’d probably look online also.

  10. Love this idea. super modern and simple to create. thanks for sharing.

  11. Oppspring says:

    Regarding the bowing issue of acrylic shelves for this project: if you add 1.5″ to the depth of the shelves, you can have your plastics vendor heat bend 3/4″ down along both long edges of the shelf. That will make a much sturdier shelf. It may have a slightly bulkier appearance, but I’d say that’s better than coming home to a broken shelf and pots, plants, and dirt all over the carpet. When ordering your acrylic, you can specify “fire polished edges” to make sure the edges are smooth and shiny.

  12. Laura says:

    When you one day remove the shelves to sell your home (I imagine it would be a strange thing to leave in the home…) is there an ideal way to fill the holes you’ve drilled? Can you just spackle them like you would with drywall or do they require more attention since the windowsill is wood and the holes are fairly deep?

    1. I think you could easily spackle the holes if you ever wanted to remove the shelves. The holes won’t be too large to spackle.

  13. Roberta says:

    These look great and would be easy. I am sharing this on Pinterest.

  14. Bibi says:

    So beautiful … had all those plants!

  15. Love this idea. The more plants on a shelf, the better!

  16. Erin says:

    Is it possible to do this if there is not much of a windowsill? two of the windows don’t have a ledge big enough to set my succulents on them so I really liked this idea. I had to screw curtain rods because the blinds are outside the window and I couldn’t put a rod in. Any ideas?! I have so many plants and am moving into this apartment for graduate school.

    Thanks!

  17. This is a really good option for small apartments and homes with lots of pets(like mine). I really love that you won’t loose from the sunlight coming in.

  18. Melanie in Boston says:

    The hardware store didn’t have a thick enough piece of acrylic for me, so they cut a piece of mirror glass instead. It was cheap (under $5) and seemed worth a try, since I was only making one shelf. I also figured maybe, with the mirror face-up, it could reflect light onto my little plants? However, my shelf is pretty long and narrow (32.5″ x 2.25″), and with my little plants on it, it’s bowing. Do you think I should try to replace the mirror with acrylic (from a different store) or perhaps wood? If my mirror glass is bowing, is it likely to break? I can’t tell if this is a risky situation or if a little bowing is okay… Thanks!

    1. Caitlin Kelch says:

      Hi Melanie

      I think if the bowing is more than 1/4″, I’d replace it or dismantle it immediately.

      Better safe than sorry :)

      Caitlin

  19. Layla Akrawi says:

    Can you let me know if this is scratchless pklexi glass

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