Shelf Brackets Rehab

Add historical detail and whimsical interest by choosing shelf brackets in industrial, Victorian, or Art Deco style, made of cast iron or brass.

This photo was taken in a 19th-century industrial warehouse that was rehabbed for a single-family home.

Photo: Dan Mayers

Vintage shelf brackets can be found in designs simple to florid. They add ornament and history while being functional, holding up shelves that may be finely finished, painted, or left natural. Using wood for shelves is common, but consider glass or marble, too, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

The photo above was taken in a 19th-century industrial warehouse that was rehabbed for a single-family home. The owner wanted to preserve as much of the original structure as he could, and chose to retain the patched, bare brick walls of the interior. He found a pair of sturdy old brackets, made of cast iron, and used them to hold up a rustic board shelf for extra display space in his kitchen area.


1. Preparation 

To remove grime without stripping all the patina, the cast-iron brackets were lightly polished with a wire wheel attachment on a power drill. Then the brackets got a thin coat of hard carnauba wax, buffed with a soft cloth. Alternatively, several thin coats of a satin-finish spray lacquer would work.

2. Installation

Using plastic inch brick anchors and #8 screws, the metal brackets were mounted securely into the brick wall, and checked for level. In this case, the owner found a weathered board and cut it to size for the shelf. The shelf was screwed into the brackets.

Mounting brackets into masonry is secure. If the wall is plaster or drywall, make sure the shelf is adequately supported. The best bet is to screw into wall studs. If they’re not right where you want the brackets, though, you’ll need a backboard, or ledger board or cleat.

3. A Backboard

Make a backboard, if necessary, before you install the brackets. Shadow-cut the bracket profile into the board with a coping saw, bandsaw, or jigsaw. For a more finished look, router the outer edge of the backboard with a cove, ogee, or detail from the bracket. Paint or stain the backboard before installation, then attach it through wall studs. Finally screw each bracket into the cutout profile; for authenticity use slotted screws (not Phillips or square drives), matching the metal of the brackets.

4. The Shelves

Shelves may be wood, glass, or marble. Wood can be screwed directly into the bracket. Glass or marble shelves can be attached with self-adhesive plastic grommets, even double-sided tape, or rubber caulk for more permanence.

Shop for Brackets

Shelf brackets come in a wide range of sizes and styles, and you can buy them old or new.

e-Bay and Etsy always have a good selection; a recent check showed 100+ for sale, vintage and repro.

Architectural salvage yards and stores even have online catalogs these days. Check out Olde Good Things (, with brackets cast iron to nickel.

A29 Hardware ( has brackets in styles from Chinese Chippendale to an elephant’s head.

House of Antique Hardware ( has Victorian, Craftsman, and Art Deco reproductions in iron and brass.

Signature Hardware ( has a nice selection of brackets plain and ornate—check out the dragonfly bracket. 

Tags: decorative accessories OHJ April 2017 shelves shelving walls

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