Tips and Tools: Bookend Cup Shelf

Create an area of interest for showcasing small works, or expand the grid of this shelf system into a statement wall. However many pots you intend to display, it’s important to measure carefully and use a level. 

For several months I had been contemplating how to best make use of a section of wall in my studio showroom as a display for small cups. Smaller items are notoriously hard to light well and difficult to position in a way that gets them noticed by customers. I needed something to effectively illuminate and elevate small items visually in a way that got them noticed, without taking up floor space the way a cabinet would. Cost efficiency is always a factor as well.

In a discussion in the Clay Buddies Facebook group, Maddy Walton shared a photograph of the beautiful wall display at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia and it inspired me to find an affordable way to do something similar. After a fellow member of Clay Buddies mentioned they looked like bookends, I located a wholesaler of library supplies and ordered enough bookends to create my display.

Materials List

  • Solid metal bookends, black
  • Self-drilling metal-to-drywall screws, black
  • Laser level
  • Cordless drill and Phillips head bit
  • Yardstick or measuring tape
  • Step ladder

It took me approximately 3 hours to install a wall display of 35 shelves. (Links to all products are available at www.amazon.com/shop/spmorganstudio.)

1 Use a laser level to expedite the process of installing each row of bookends.

2 Self-drilling metal-to-drywall screws eliminate the need to pre-drill holes in the bookends.

Installation Instructions

Begin by measuring the center point of the wall and determining the desired spacing for the shelves. Not being particularly inclined to do exact math, I find the easiest way to do this is to make a rough layout on the floor against the wall. Place one bookend centered horizontally in the allotted space, then position a row of equally spaced bookends on either side of this central unit across the floor until reaching the margin from the end of the wall. Measure the distance between two bookends and note for use during installation. You could also lay a piece of paper on the floor prior to laying out the bookends, then mark the location of each bookend on the paper. Once you’re ready to install, use blue tape to affix the paper to the wall to use as a template.

Using a wall-mounted laser level, set the line for the first row of bookends at eye level (1). The line marks where the bottom of this row will sit. I chose not to mark with pencil to avoid having to clean the wall later. This will become the center row for the display, and places the center three rows at an optimal viewing height. Additional rows installed above and below (for a total of 5 rows of 7 shelves each) are still viewable and easily accessible. I chose for my highest row to stop at arm’s length.

Measure and mark the center of the display area on the laser line and position the first bookend by centering its bottom edge on that mark, just above the line. Make sure not to block the laser line.

Use self-drilling metal-to-drywall screws (2) to drill straight through the metal and into the wall. No need to drill pilot holes, they will go straight through the metal easily and anchor into the drywall. I chose to eyeball where the screws went, but you could easily make a cardboard template to make sure the screws are in the exact same location each time. Because the screws are at the top of the bookends, which are made of sturdy metal bent to 90°, they do not need additional anchors. They will support up to 2½ pounds of weight without flexing or detaching from the wall (3). Anchors may be used based on wall material and to provide additional security for added weight.

3 Once installed, the bookend shelves hold mugs, cups, and other small items without sagging.

4 The finished display is easy to light and allows each small piece to be showcased effectively.

At this point, measure the spacing distance you noted earlier, and secure the next bookend in place. Continue until you fill that row.

For the next row, I added the height of my bookend plus the same spacing measurement, and measured from the laser line to establish the bottom of the next row. Move the laser line and continue placing bookends, repeating the process until your space is filled.

The entire display (4) cost under $100 and has increased the sales of my small items significantly by making them a focal point in the showroom, instead of them disappearing among larger items.

the author Stacy Morgan is a potter and sculptor with a studio at Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment in Huntsville, Alabama. To see more, visit www.spmorganstudio.com.

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