Stylish Shelving Units for Large Walls: 10 Functional Design Ideas

Large, blank walls can feel imposing and make a room feel empty or unfinished. Installing shelving units, bookcases, or floating shelves is an excellent way to utilize the space while adding visual interest and functionality.

Shelves are highly customizable, available in various materials like wood, metal, or glass, and styles ranging from rustic to modern. When planning your shelving project, consider the wall size, your storage needs, your décor theme, and your budget. Thoughtfully designed and well-executed shelving brings purpose and polish to any large wall.

Choose Shelving Style Based on Aesthetics and Function

A functional living room with stylish bookshelves.
A stylish living room with functional shelving units and lots of plants.
A stylish living room with a large window and functional bookshelves.

The first decision is the general style shelving you want. Floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases make a dramatic statement and maximize storage but require advanced carpentry skills. Floating shelves have a light, airy aesthetic and are easier to install but offer less storage.

  • Built-in bookcases are dramatic and functional but require advanced skills
  • Floating shelves have an airy look but less storage capacity
  • Select style based on room décor, storage needs, and skill level

Measure Carefully for Precise Fitting

A white living room with stylish wooden shelves.
A white living room with wooden shelving units and a window.
A stylish living room with functional wooden shelving units and a comfortable couch.

Carefully measure the wall area where you’ll install shelves. Note width, height, corners, moldings, and outlets. For floating shelves, note stud locations. Use a laser measure tool for precision within 2 mm. Transfer measurements to your phone or plans.

  • Measure width, height, and moldings to calculate fitting
  • Find studs for floating shelves
  • Use a laser measurement tool for precision

Account for Uneven Walls with Scribing

A stylish piece of wood is sitting on top of a functional wall.
A stone shelf with a large stone wall behind it.
A stylish piece of wood is sitting on top of a wall.
A stylish close up of a piece of wood on a black background.

Walls in old homes often have uneven surfaces. Use scribing to custom-fit shelving, molding it to match the wall’s contours. Hold a straight piece of wood against the wall and outline the wall’s shape on the wood. Trim along the line for an exact match.


  • Scribing molds shelves to uneven walls
  • Trace wall outline on shelving, then trim wood
  • Ensures tight fit on irregular surfaces

Construct Shelves in Sections for Maneuverability

A stylish wooden box hanging from a ceiling in a workshop.
Two functional wooden shelving units hanging stylishly from a ceiling in a workshop.
A stack of stylish wooden boxes in a workshop.
A wooden box suspended from the ceiling in a workshop with large walls.

Building large shelving units in smaller sections makes them easier to transport and install in rooms. Number each section, keep them in order, and design interlocking joints between sections for seamless connections. This also accommodates uneven walls when installed.

  • Construct shelves in numbered, interlocking sections
  • Makes large units easier to transport and install
  • Allows for adjustments on uneven walls

Use Backer Boards to Minimize Visible Clutter

A stylish shelving unit with books and vases, combining both functionality and style.
A functional room with stylish shelving units and a window.
A stylish shelf with functional shelving units that hold books, a plant, and a picture.

Enclosing shelving backs with a full board or stylish metal panel keep stored items tidy and organized when viewed from room angles. Anchor backer boards into studs for floating shelves, allowing you to store heavier items securely.

  • Full backboards or metal panels minimize visible clutter
  • Anchor into studs for heavier floating shelves
  • Keeps shelves looking neat from different angles

Level Bottom Track for Straight Shelving

A functional and stylish shelving unit made of wood, situated in front of a window.
A functional and stylish wooden shelf in front of a window.
A stylish wooden shelf with functional shelving units in front of a window.
A stylish wooden shelf with a plant on it.

Start shelving units with a perfectly level bottom track piece. Use shims if the floor is very uneven. A level track prevents tilting, which gets progressively worse as you build upwards. Check each piece is plumb before securing it permanently.

  • Start the bottom track perfectly level using shims if needed
  • Ensures shelves build straight up rather than tilting
  • Check each piece is plumb before permanent fixing

Allow Light In with Opaque Shelves

A stylish glass shelf with functional lights.
A stylish and functional red wall with shelving units.
Functional and stylish glass shelving units on a wall.
A stylish glass shelf with a functional plant on it.

Closed shelving can make a wall appear heavy. Maintain airiness and light with translucent tempered glass or acrylic shelves. For a shimmering effect, space acrylic shelves away from the wall with standoffs. Use LED strip lighting.

  • Glass or acrylic shelves allow light penetration
  • Standoffs create an airy, floating effect
  • LED strip lighting adds shimmer

Upgrade Design with Crown Moldings

A stylish bookcase with functional shelving units in a room with hardwood floors.
A stylish bookcase full of functional shelving units in a room.
A living room with large walls adorned with bookshelves and a cozy couch.
A functional bookcase with stylish shelving units in a room filled with a lot of books.

For a built-in look, finish shelving with decorative trim pieces. Install crown moldings along the top edges and vertically between shelf sections. Add baseboard moldings along the bottom edge. Use attractive wood species like oak or maple.

  • Crown and base moldings finish edges
  • Make shelving appear professionally built-in
  • Use oak, maple, or other decorative woods

Apply Protective Clear Finishes

A stylish wooden table with a green finish.
A stylish wooden table with a green marble top.
A workbench with stylish metal legs and a functional green top.
A functional wooden table with a green top.

Seal shelves with water-resistant urethane or polyurethane clear coat finishes. This protects natural wood tones. Or apply colorful stains before sealing for vibrant hues. Use spray applicators for convenience and consistent coats.

  • Use water-resistant sealants like polyurethane
  • Enhances natural wood or stained colors
  • Spray bottles allow even application

Fill Shelves Meaningfully, Not Randomly

A stylish living room with a skylight and functional shelving units.
A stylish living room with a skylight and functional shelving units.
A stylish living room with a functional skylight.
A stylish living room with a functional skylight and shelving units.

Carefully curate shelves rather than randomly overfilling them. Style them based on usage zones, themes, color schemes, or materials. Keep proportions balanced and items spaced. Rotate pieces seasonally for fresh updates.

  • Creatively curate shelves in usage zones or themes
  • Balance proportions and space items evenly
  • Rotate seasonal accessories for fresh updates


Installing shelves, bookcases, or floating shelves provides beautiful and functional focal points on large walls. Carefully plan your shelving needs and style to select the best option, then precisely measure and construct for quality, long-lasting storage and display.

With creative vision and proper techniques, you can build the custom shelving of your dreams while adding value and visual interest to any room.

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