Desktop Shelves: Access Folder Content Easily From The Desktop

Are there any folders which you access more often than others? And does it bug you that you have to navigate the folder structure again and again?

True, you can just create an alias on your desktop, but that really looks awful and cluttered after a while. So why not give Desktop Shelves a try? The Mac app lets you access your folder content beautifully and easily directly from your desktop.

Getting to know Desktop Shelves

So, let’s assume you have a folder that you need to access a couple of times during a workflow each day; maybe your Pictures or Movie folder, or maybe a folder within your Documents.

You can either run through the Finder every time or drag an Alias to the desktop. Both ways are not very elegant. Enter Desktop Shelves, which displays the contents of your folder, file by file, on a shelf. Right on your desktop, so you can pick the file in question with a single click.

Your folders content on your desktop

Your folders content on your desktop

You can mouse over the files and see a larger preview image, complete with the file name displayed beneath it. It works for text files, movies or images.

Hover for a larger thumbnail

Hover for a larger thumbnail

Hit the space bar, just like you would in the Finder and the currently selected (hovered on) file will open in Quick Look, allowing you to quickly take a look at videos, read text documents or get a better impression of an image.

Adjusting Desktop Shelves To Your Liking

By default, the shelves resemble bright wood and the file icons are very close together. If you don’t like the look, simply jump into the preferences and adjust the shelf size and item spacing.

Adjust the layout of the shelves

Adjust the layout of the shelves

By right clicking on a shelf, you can also change the design of the shelf or download even more looks from the app’s website.

Find a look to match your wallpaper (literally)

Find a look to match your wallpaper (literally)

Going beyond looks, the right click offers other important options, among them adjusting the sort order of the files displayed. Depending on the content of your folder, different sorting options will make sense.

Sort files like you need them

Sort files like you need them

Additionally, you can have the content shown in the Finder or you can make the entire shelf disappear from the desktop as well. Very easy, especially if you set it up for use in a single project and need to free up some desktop space quickly after completing it.

When playing around with these adjustments, one drawback of Desktop Shelves becomes apparent rather quickly: the limited number of files which can be shown.

While you can drag the width of the shelf with your mouse to reach across your entire screen and while you can set the files to be spaced very narrowly, there are only so many items which will fit on a shelf. And if there are more, there’s no way to access them.

Speeding Up Your Workflow With Desktop Shelves

Desktop Shelves is not only about being beautiful and accessible. The app can also enhance your workflow once you’ve figured out just what it can do.

First of all, you’ll need to understand basic shelf behaviors to avoid mistakes: Dragging a file from a shelf to another place, like the desktop, actually moves the file on your hard drive. The same applies the other way around: drag a file from anywhere to a shelf and it’s moved there.

Drag files onto a shelf

Drag files onto a shelf

A very handy feature is the ability to drag files into applications. For example, if you have an image on your shelf and want to open it in an image editor, simply drag the file from the shelf onto the app. The behavior is the same as if you would perform the action from the Finder: the file remains where it is, but will be opened in the editor of your choice.

Desktop Shelves also allows you to create new documents by dragging highlighted text and images to a shelf. That creates a RTF document.

To be honest, I found it quite difficult to grab and drag highlighted text and images from a webpage; depending on your skills it might go faster if you simply copy and paste it. Maybe in the future there will be a right click option to add selected content to a shelf.


Everyone’s work flow is different so it’s never easy to predict how an app can be incorporated into an individual set up. Given the limitations of the app, namely the ability to only display a limited number of files before the shelf ends, it will not be of help to everyone.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Desktop Shelves will appeal most to those who need to access the same folder continuously and have created aliases on their desktop. With Desktop Shelves, there is not only a more beautiful solution but also a more practical one (immediate hovering over files, immediate quick look etc.). I see the most practical use for project work: setting it up in Desktop Shelves will grant super fast access combined with immediate previews of the content.

Which method do you use to quickly access folder content? Share your ideas in the comments section.


Desktop Shelves displays your folders' content beautifully right on your desktop. Now you access all files immediately, including quick look, drag files onto apps and perform more actions.