Sculpture by Claire and Sean, 2006, customized pulp fiction, Ikea Lack shelving
I would love this blog to be a place you could come to check on a product, and see if it really works. For the first real product review/comparison I decided on something I have seen and heard a lot about lately. In fact, I have three of these in my living room. If you have picked up a design magazine of any kind, then you have seen some version of a cantilevered shelf. These shelves show up almost everywhere – and with good reason. They are practical and functional, attractive, easy to install (in most cases), and generally inexpensive. Overall a great design solution with an ever widening array of uses. End to end, stacked, staggered, painted, wallpapered, repainted, as furniture… just Google the ways to use one and see all that comes up. Recently though, I have run across way to many knock-offs that are pretty poor quality, and I thought it might be worth a post to show the difference.
Going with the more common and economical version, there are two main types that show up in stores. The things to pay attention to when looking for this style of shelf is how it anchors to the wall, with what hardware, and what the interior of the shelf is actually made of. Specifically you need to look at the back of the shelf where the anchors will be attached. Most are made from some type of manufactured wood product, with a veneer.
Ikea’s Lack Shelf (above), the clear standard for this style, is made from Particleboard, Fiberboard, and ABS plastic veneer. In Ikea’s newer system, you begin by affixing a long steel bracket to your wall through three anchor points. Ikea recommends that at least two of the three anchor points are through studs in your wall- obviously you would prefer to anchor all three points through studs, but depending on the length of the shelf you might not reach to the third and need a drywall anchor instead. Ikea will not supply you with the screws/potential drywall anchor for this part of the job, but you can find what you need at the local hardware store. Once the steel is properly attached, you then secure the shelf to the steel bracket with three large bolts (provided) passing up through the bottom of the shelf and through the steel. Because of the way the anchor bolts pass up through the bottom, the steel bracket, and the higher density particle board, this is a pretty sturdy system. Look at Ikea’s website to see weight limits for a properly installed Lack Shelf.
The second common shelf and anchoring system is far less sturdy. It is not unusual to see a small mounting clips or keyholes on the back of shelves made from lower density paperboard, and screwed in by tiny screws. The idea here is after putting two screws into your wall, you can simply hang the shelf on the screws. This system is only for shelves that will not need to support much weight. Ever. Maybe a box of Kleenex. I have heard many complaints about this type of shelf ranging from poor quality drywall anchors that break during installation or damage walls, cheap screws that break while being screwed into a stud and subsequently cannot be removed, non-level anchor clips that cause problems during installation or fail later coming loose from the shelf and causing the shelf to fall off the wall…and on and on. Overall, unless you have a smaller sized shelf that is not intended to hold a lot of weight, I would avoid this type of shelf. If you do have this type, remember to measure where to place your anchors carefully because there will be very little room for error, check to verify the anchor clips are level on the shelf, and use the correct hanging hardware for the job (may not be what is provided with the shelf).