Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Shelving and Storage

Choice? There is no choice. We must. A house with no storage cannot work. We must gather, organize, store, and hide it. It has to be reliable. We must have access. We must be organized. Chaos is not an option.

But what do we do when our house was not designed for storing stuff?   It is a modern concept after all. We didn’t really have closets until the mid 19th century, when stuff was mass-produced and stuff can be transported quickly and cheaply. Prior to that, things were hand made and most people gathered essentials, so storing stuff was not necessary. The frequently used items were stored on open shelves, hung on nails or hooks, or stored in furniture. By the early 20th century small closet spaces were set aside for stuff, eventually growing into the full rooms of today.

We are so serious we now have stores and brands dedicated to storage, with various ways to place and hang your stuff. There’s solid wood, wire, wood-like, and glass. Each has advantages and disadvantages of cost, convenience, and capacity. The following comparisons assume 25 pounds per cubic feet of weight; about the equivalent of books.

Solid wood can be beautiful and hold a lot of weight. You can increase widths by adding horizontal supports. For better stability, use clear wood with no knots and as straight grained as possible. Heights can be adjustable or the selves can be fixed. A back does help stability as well. A ¾” thick piece of hardwood can span about 48”.

Modified wood, or plywoods, can be made in several ways, each with a different result. Plywood can be beautiful and sturdy, while others can bend and bow, or even absorb moisture and mold. Plywood is made from soft and hardwoods, and from centers made of solid strips or many layers. A ¾” hardwood 13 ply shelf would be a stronger and more stable shelf than an equally thick, softwood with less plys. MDF, or medium density fiberboard, is dense and smooth, although moisture can affect stability. Particleboard or laminated chipboard is the cheapest and weakest material. An applied edge can stiffen plywood to help span larger distances or compensate for skinnier material.

Wire shelving comes in many varieties and capacities. Big box stores sell some decent wall hung systems that assemble easily and can hold weight. They are many attachment systems that hang clothes or have drawer units. These units claim about 60 pounds of weight for a 60” length, distributed evenly, with maybe three hangers. You can add additional supports for more capacity. But, the system is only as strong as the wall attachment. When installing wall mounts try to hit a stud, or use wall mollies that grab behind the drywall. Some strong tugs on the wall mount after installation can give a certain level of success. Self-supporting upright frames are designed for heavier duty storage, relying on the floor and cross bracing for stability rather than the wall. Some heavy-duty frames can support 3,800 pounds, while other restaurant type units can support 800 pounds.

Glass can be attractive shelving for light loading. Metal frames with glass shelves can be assembled easily. Special brackets are available for glass shelving with clips and or raised edges to hold the glass in place.