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Home Staging - Bookshelves and built-ins

Too many bookshelves or overstuffed bookshelves shrink the room.
Photo: Dan Kalleres - don't overstuff or use too many!

As a nation, we collect a lot of stuff, so it’s no surprise that when it’s time to sell, we need a place to put all that stuff. Buyers are always interested in a home with more storage. You’ll likely never hear feedback that your home had “too much storage”. Open storage comes in two basic forms – built-ins and bookshelves.

Built-ins are just like they sound – storage that’s been permanently attached to the house (built in). Built-ins are like a furniture bonus for most buyers, so it’s important to show them off and let buyers see the added value in your home because of them. Built-ins can be found in many different rooms and can serve different purposes. As a result, let’s look at some locations for built-ins and how best to show them off:

Built-ins before staging - too many personal items and doesn't fit the room's purpose.
Photo: Dan Kalleres - before staging 
  • Kitchens: Built-ins here could be open storage under a breakfast bar or a built-in cabinet on the wall or in the corner. In a kitchen, you want to display a select few items related to kitchens (cookbooks, storage containers and kitchen-themed knick-knacks). Most shelves should only display one item per shelf. Cookbooks might get stacked vertically (side-by-side) or horizontally (on top of each other). For books, leave at least 50% of the shelf space open if you stack vertically. Stack no more than three books horizontally.
  • Dining Rooms: Corner built-ins or built-in cabinets are most common. Again, maximize the potential storage. Limit one larger object per shelf or stack plates or other dining room essentials without overstuffing (overstuffing implies a lack of storage).
  • Living Rooms/Family Rooms: Built-ins here are usually associated with fireplaces. Remember to leave at least 50% open space if putting up books. Arrange art objects in ones or threes.
  • Home Office: These rooms were designed for built-ins and usually are the focal point of the room. Pops of colorful accessories can help ramp up the look. Make sure not to overstuff shelves with books.
  • Bedrooms: Built-ins could be in the form of a built-in desk or storage cabinets. Study-related materials or art objects (like a globe), are good for these. Neatly stored clothing or bedding might work well in a closed cabinet. 
Built-ins after staging, matching the room's purpose and shows off the value added.
Photo: Dan Kalleres - after staging 

Bookshelves serve the same purpose as built-ins but aren’t permanently attached to the walls. Bookshelves can easily be enhanced to become built-ins by attaching crown molding across the top of bookshelves that are already at or near ceiling-height and attaching them to the walls. Otherwise, bookshelves should be more of a chance to display than to store. If everything is crammed onto bookshelves for storage, it sends buyers a signal that without extra expense, the house doesn’t have enough storage. Displaying select objects will have much greater buyer appeal. Remember to display items in ones or threes. There’s a psychological reason for their appeal over displaying in even numbers.

If you need to de-clutter rooms first, see this article on de-cluttering first. Pre-pack and store what you don’t need or anything that doesn’t help your home become more visually appealing. It’s been said that every box packed is worth up to $1000 in your pocket, so keep that in mind. If you have too many bookshelves, they can quickly shrink the apparent usable size of the room, so consider removing any excess storage. Obviously, you can’t remove the built-ins (without lots of effort and expense).

If your built-ins are in disrepair, you may need to paint or re-stain them and possibly add new hardware. Treat them with the same importance as your kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

If you have a home staging question or would like to share a staging tip, please let me know. Send me a photo of your home staging dilemma and I’ll be happy to help!

Home Staging Tip: When stacking books, try to avoid paperbacks and stick with hardcovers. Group them by size (shape) and color whenever possible. You can even put plain, colored book covers over books to create a uniform look with a pop of color. If you display your collection, make sure the subject matter is suitable for anyone that might be touring your home. If you don’t have any hardcover books, check with a used bookstore. Look for the cheapest books possible with the right dimensions for your needs and pick up some book covers from a craft store or school supplier. It’s far less expensive than going out and buying a bunch of new books just to stage your shelves!

For more info: Visit to learn how to attach molding to bookshelves or shelving to make them permanently attached for an upscale look in your home!