Corner Shelf Design Challenges

Corner shelf design has its challenges; but I love a good challenge.  So when I was recently asked to design a custom corner shelf I naturally jumped at the opportunity.

Now you may be thinking, how much of a challenge does creating a simple corner shelf present?

You’d be surprised!

For starters, this wasn’t going to be just any corner shelf.  My client asked me to design and make a corner shelf that would be sculptureused to display a museum quality Native American art piece owned by Carlos Romero, Owner of United Realty Group of Rancho Bernardo California.

It all began when his wife paid a visit to our Church fall festival booth and asked if I could make a custom corner shelf as a surprise for her husband’s birthday.

She wanted a simple wall mounted corner shelf that would display their beautiful hand carved work made from a single moose antler. Since they had no way to display it properly and protect it from possible damage, it simply sat in their closet for several years which was a real shame for such a beautiful piece.

Because I love woodworking and a good challenge, I happily took on the task.


Getting Started Considerations

Upon going to their home to discuss the project and take measurements I could clearly see that this would be more than a simple corner shelf.

The art piece the shelf is to hold is an extremely tall elaborate antler carving with an awkward base.  Additionally the natural curvature of the antler extends out over its base leaving the piece vulnerable to tipping over.

I could also see that the corner where the shelf is to be mounted was very narrow and had some electrical wiring considerations. The owners were also collectors of other wood carvings, Native American art, and antique furniture so the shelf needed to fit with their existing décor as well.

With all of these considerations it was clear to me this would be quite a challenge.buffet-edge-profile

Based on their home décor and the dimensional constraints I decided that the material best suited would be oak.  It’s a sturdier wood and it would go well with their existing pieces.   I also wanted to echo the edging of a large buffet that sits next to the shelf where the piece would be mounted. Doing this would draw in their existing decor nicely.

Finally, after some discussion we felt that the stain color should match an old antique breakfront that is made from quarter sawn oak that is on the opposite wall.

All of these elements pulled together would not only make the shelf fit their décor; it would highlight the art piece nicely.

Challenges such as these are fairly typical and expected for any wood worker when bidding on custom shelving. So, while this shelf is to be a “simple corner shelf”, it’s quickly become a challenging project.


Custom Corner Shelf Step-By-Step

Due to the dimensional size and shape of the art piece my first step was to create a cardboard template to make sure the sculpture would fit completely on the shelf and be adequately supported.

When I fit my first template to the piece I found that the awkward base had a leg that would overhang so I had to rework my original plan. Additionally, the owner asked for me to consider a way that the piece would be supported to prevent accidental tip over. We decided that a small dowel mast that would sit directly behind the piece could give the piece stability and it could be anchored to the mast by some mono-filament fishing line so it wouldn’t be seen.home decor

I used my Contour Gauge Duplicator to copy the edging of the buffet so that I could echo that profile on the shelf. Also, because most corner walls in any house are almost never exactly 90 degrees, I measured the corner with my angle gauge and found that this one was actually 92 degrees.

I took pictures of the buffet profile and the breakfront to help with mixing a stain that would match. Finally, I used a magnet to find the studs in the walls and measured out where the electrical line was so that I could avoid it when designing the mounting method for the shelf.

After modifying my template to accommodate these new revelations I was ready to proceed with construction.


The next step was to procure and glue up an oak panel so that it would be large enough to cut out the shelf. While that was drying, I cut the duplicated ogee edge profile on to the skirt pieces that would be added later around the front of the shelf. Giving the glue joint 24 hours to cure I cut out the shelf shape from the template I had made and then routed in the edge profile. I decided that the corner angle would be cut at 90 degrees and I would make the corner mounting braces adjustable to compensate. The extra 2 degrees would be subtle enough that any gap would be minimal. Then I attached the skirt pieces and sanded the entire piece to finish off the basic construction.wood stain

The third step and biggest challenge was mixing and matching the stain color. It took multiple test attempts to get the stain to match the color of the breakfront.

When trying to match colors of another piece, especially an antique piece such as this one that had yellowed over the years, you can’t underestimate the amount of effort and time this takes.

This is especially true when working from pictures sent to you by a customer who is not local. Working from pictures always presents its own special challenge and of course the quality of the pictures can greatly affect the outcome.

A good example of this was a custom shelf I attempted for an online customer visiting our home decor store. The request was for a quarter sawn oak wine glass shelf to pair with an antique quarter sawn oak piece of furniture the customer had made into a bar.  For starters the pictures I received were of poor quality so an exact match is nearly impossible.  Consequently the wine glass shelf was not an exact match.  Fortunately the customer loved the shelf so much that he was happy with it regardless of the fact that it wasn’t an exact match.  I was actually very lucky on this project but it goes to show you that you’re always at risk when working with photos, however experience and a good understanding of stain colors helps.

Once our custom corner shelf was completed all of my careful planning certainly paid off. The shelf fit perfectly. It echoed the profile very well, and completed corner shelfthe color was a very close match to the breakfront.

The customer was not only surprised with his birthday gift, but he was absolutely delighted that he could now display his beautiful piece of art.

In Summary…

Never underestimate the challenges of even a “simple corner shelf”. Always take everything into consideration if you want to impress the customer.

The very valuable lessons here are to ask lots of questions, look around to make sure your design will match up with the existing décor, and check for obstacles such as out of square corners, electrical wiring, plumbing, etc.

If you do an adequate job planning out the project the outcome should be excellent. In the end you want the customer to be happy and you want to be proud of your work. corner shelf

As it turns out I learned that the couple has willed their Native American art pieces and other artifacts to the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art museum in Phoenix Arizona. I was told that my “simple corner shelf” will go with the sculpture.

Wow! You never know where one of your pieces will end up. Just a corner shelf?  Think again.