Staging Bookshelves

staging bookshelves

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An essential component of home staging is depersonalization, and staging bookshelves often plays a role in this.

Staging is the process of editing the spaces in a house by removing personal items and arranging carefully chosen neutral items to their best advantage.

The purpose of staging any room is to allow prospective buyers to picture their own things in the space on display.

One of the best places in a house to start this process is bookcases and shelves.

Whether built-in bookshelves or free-standing bookshelves, these surfaces can be found in just about any room throughout the home. They provide the perfect opportunities to tell a story, leaving just enough free space for potential buyers to fill in the blanks with their imaginations.

Like any good story, the chapters and subplots of a staged-home story are meant to embellish the main narrative carefully. Because bookshelves can be large and imposing, they deserve special treatment in the story.

While cluttered bookshelves can do the opposite of elevating a room’s look, carefully staged bookshelves can add layers of nuance that subtly reinforce the emotions you want your potential buyers to feel. 

Since shelves are often places to hold clutter, composing them for home staging can be a challenge, and the last thing you want people to feel when they walk through the house is overwhelmed.

If you’re preparing to sell your home, read on for some pro tips on how to stage bookshelves successfully.

(If you’re looking for a guide on staging with books in general, then jump over to our other article you can find here once you’ve finished this one!)

Step 1: Clear the Shelves

First, remove everything from your bookshelves.

Think of the process as writing a story. Would you start writing a new chapter on a page filled with text? Didn’t think so.

Start fresh by removing all items, repairing any dings or scratches, and even painting them if they can use a fresh coat. Dust and polish them before you begin redecorating.

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While clearing the shelves, keep an eye out for a tidy book with an attractive cover, as these can often be used in other areas of the house when displayed as a solo item.

We will often use a book when staging a table, or a cookbook when staging a kitchen.

bookself staging
Home Staging Institute student Kim removed personal photos from this bookshelf and replaced them with stainless steel vases.

Step 2: Pack Away Personal Items

Although the staging process involves setting items out in a decorative manner, it isn’t the same as decorating your home.

Keep this rule of thumb in mind as you stage your bookshelves and pack away your heirlooms and personal items.

Leave space on the shelves for generic things like vases, plants, and books. And always remember, less is more when staging any area in your home.

You should only be filling about a third of the space on each shelf, allowing potential buyers to rest their eyes on the empty space and visualize their own personal items there.

Step 3: Create a Theme

Creating a theme is a good idea for any room or space in the home. Themes give instant logic and cohesion to a space, allowing you to set a mood or feeling for those who walk through.

Start by placing all the items you removed from your bookshelves on a table or floor. Look over them and see if you notice a theme. Then, pack up or dispose of everything that doesn’t fit the theme. If you found a theme that you want to build upon, go through other rooms and see if there are additional items that fit in. This could even help you separate items for different themes you can use in other rooms by moving objects around.

If you don’t see a clear theme, make one up.

The easiest way to do this is by color.

Choose a unifying color or color palette and gather items that fit into it. Maybe the room the shelf is in already has a color scheme. Make it cohesive by finding artwork, vases, boxes, and other generic décor items to add to the theme.

Step 4: Leave Empty Space

Leaving empty space is a crucial element in staging bookshelves.

This is especially important if you have built-in bookshelves of varied sizes and heights, but the rule should be followed no matter what type of bookshelf you’re working with.

Be strategic in spacing the empty shelves out, and remember that a space always feels bigger when there’s less stuff filling it.

If all the shelves are full, potential buyers may get a subconscious impression that there isn’t any room for their things.  

Step 5: Create Varying Heights, Textures, Finishes

Work with the empty space amongst the shelves by creating varying heights, textures, and finishes.

Use different items to achieve this if you can’t adjust or remove shelves. For example, a shiny metal piece of décor is an excellent counterpoint to a straw basket. A short flowerpot can work very well next to a tall vase.

Varying textures provide richness, depth, and nuance to the home.

These elements work to increase a potential buyer’s attachment to the house, which can ultimately lead to a sale.

Avoid the urge to fill the bookshelves with books. While this may seem counterintuitive as bookshelves were made for books, rows of books tend to suck up the light in a room and leave the space looking dark and heavy.

Use small groupings of books amongst other objects. Lay some on their sides and group some according to color – use them to create texture and dimension.  

Books and accessories can be separated by color, shape, theme, or material and propped up with bookends or other pieces of décor.

Focus on symmetrical design in more formal areas, such as dining rooms, living rooms, and stately dens. Focus on asymmetrical design in more casual areas, like family rooms and offices, where you can place items of similar colors or sizes in a Z-shaped pattern to achieve balance in a unique way.

book staging
Home Staging Institute student Taylor took a book from the bookshelf and placed it on the coffee table to create a small point of interest

Step 6: Curate Attractive Items

Especially if you’ve been using your bookshelves for books and personal items (like most people do), you’ll need to curate some attractive generic items to suit the new theme of the shelves.

The following list of accessories can help you prepare and make selections to fill vacant spaces:

  • Hardcover books
  • Artwork in small frames
  • Greenery in small pots (use ferns or faux succulents instead of trailing plants or ivy)
  • Matching sets of boxes, plates, or accessories that can be placed in different areas for symmetry
  • Any other home staging props

The following tips can also help you curate the most attractive items for staging a bookshelf:

  • If you’re working with a dark-colored bookshelf, use light, white, or shiny décor items to add a pop of dimension to the dark and vacant spaces.
  • If the books on your shelves are all different colors and don’t match the theme, turn them around to make the décor cohesive and the space lighter and brighter.
  • Filling empty spaces with small pieces of framed artwork or generic photos is a cost-effective way to break up the space between books. Some good ideas for various themes and color schemes include nature photos, city scenes, travel photography, and seaside photos.

Need More Help Staging Your Shelves?

A home staging company we like to keep an eye on is Foxy Home Staging. They have an amazing Youtube channel about home staging, and they have also written an article about how to style bookshelves.

If you need more tips & tricks on how to stage a bookshelf (or stage any other area of the house), take a look at the home staging courses we offer here at the Home Staging Institute.

All our courses are delivered online and you can complete the training anywhere with a Wifi connection.

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