Home staging advice
November 8, 2007 5:07 AM   Subscribe

How to make rows of shabby books look more cozy? Home Staging Filter: I am trying to sell a house. In the interest of "staging," I've gotten rid of all clutter. An aquaintence who is a real-estate broker has recommended that I empty the built-in bookshelves of books, as they look "cluttered." He is not able to suggest what should go there instead.

He says people in that area (fwiw, an affluent community, but not one that's on the cutting edge of taste and style) only have books of the faux-leather type to create a uniform visual. Fine. But I'm not going to buy rows of faux leather books, and I think that empty shelves look lonely and awful. So here's the question: Is there a way to make the books that are there (admittedly shabby) look more uniform? I'm thinking something like those craft-paper book covers we would make in grade school. (I'm not actually thinking about doing this with craft paper and magic marker, but you get the idea.) Any suggestions? Bonus points: the current furniture in the house is really shabby and ugly. Any thoughts on how to spruce it up? It seems silly to buy anything just for staging, but showing it empty, I think, is not a good idea either.
posted by pipti to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Someone else will come in with lots of home staging advice (that's what it's called -- staging. For your further searches!) but in the meantime, I'd organize my books by color!
posted by barnone at 5:10 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Would this work? Crate all your paperbacks. Leave the hardback books up, but remove their dust jackets. I was in a fancy-pants home recently that had a wall of bookshelves full of 'old and classy' looking books. On closer inspection, they were at least 50% new titles ("The Earth Is Flat" sticks in my mind), but hardback with their dust jackets removed, they looked much more neutral.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:17 AM on November 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Group books by color, then line each group up by size from there.
posted by schroedinger at 5:31 AM on November 8, 2007

TPAA has a good idea - jacketing mass market paperbacks with craftpaper is not really a good idea. It's time consuming, and they always look like MMPs. Your QPB's (quality paperbacks or trades) can be craftpaper jacketed, but it will look like what it is.

I would crate up all the ones that are MMP's, QPB's, or trade, and unjacket all the hardbacks. Shelve them conservatively - look in a magazine about home decorating and see if you can get an idea for how much looks "good" to someone who is not you. Then remember that not everyone reads, and you're not living there anymore, you're trying not to live there, and seriously let go of your opinion of the shelves. If your realtor comes back in and says you have too much stuff, then downsize again.

(FWIW I'm facing the same thing in 12 months or so and I'm just mentally preparing for the dozen or twenty boxes of books that will have to come out of my house at that time. It's hard. I love the things too, but I want to move more than I want to be stubborn.)
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:33 AM on November 8, 2007

You could try arranging some still life on the shelves. A small collection of seashells, maybe a vase with some dried flowers, or some other small artifact would take up space and not look cluttered.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 5:41 AM on November 8, 2007

Thanks for the advice--I'll give these ideas a go. (FWIW it was never my house or books; I just think books look better than no books.)
posted by pipti at 5:42 AM on November 8, 2007

A quick Google search brought up this page with some photos of “staged” bookshelves. You can see that they still have books, but they are far from filled.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 5:43 AM on November 8, 2007

Yeah, get rid of most of the books and replace with vases, busts, pretty boxes, shot glass collections - whatever bric a brac you have, nicely arranged. I'm always jealous of how nice bookshelves look in catalogues like Pottery Barns - because they don't actually have any books in them. Mine are packed with double rows of books crammed in any old way and will never look that elegant and airy.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:45 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

In magazines, bookshelves have 1-3 items per shelf - a china cup, a bowl of marbles or river rocks, a coffee table book laid flat, a vase, a little statuette. If there are books, they are grouped by size and broken up by other items like the vases, etc. The shelves are never completely filled.

You're better off with as little as possible on them. Empty shelves invite the buyer to fill them, sparse shelves create a feeling of space, full shelves make the buyer feel like the house is already filled up and they haven't even moved in.

We looked at about 100 houses this spring and early summer, and from that unofficial survey I'd say sparse shelves made a bigger psychological impression than anything else. The exception would be in an extremely library-like room, but even in those cases the books were still broken up occasionally with bookends, small tasteful knick-knacks, or non-personal photographs (scenery, no people).

There are tons of staging articles online. Pillows and throws can help mask shabby furniture, as long as the pillows and throws don't look shabby themselves (linen outlets are good for this, also places like Garden Ridge and Hobby Lobby). In this market, unless your market is still hopping, you may have to make a small investment to get the place to move.

Most guidelines I've read suggest removing at least 1/3 of your furniture from the house (makes it feel bigger), particularly any really large pieces (king beds, massive wardrobes, recliners). I least liked looking at occupied homes; I felt like I was snooping or breaking in, so the more you can make the place look like a showroom rather than a lived-in place, the better. Sometimes, showing it empty is better, if you just can't make the place look kind of sterile.

The one exception to not-lived-in is a set dining room table, if you're showing it furnished. That's such a common magazine-photo touch, and normal people don't usually have the table set all day, and yet it looks really generically welcoming (and makes it harder to imagine one's own dining room table piled with junk mail and bookbags). If you've got good/interesting place settings, go for it.

If you do re-arrange for better staging, I recommend re-doing your photos for your listing. Every little bit helps.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:52 AM on November 8, 2007

3rding hardbacks without covers and crating the rest.

Simple blankets draped over the back or sides of chairs with throw pillows can keep them from looking too shabby. Cheaper than slip covers, usually.
posted by GPF at 6:45 AM on November 8, 2007

How very Gatsby of you! Somebody out there will appreciate that the books are real...if they are organized.

I would organize the books buy height so that the tallest ones are on the fringe, cascading upwards. Then pull all the books forward as necessary, so that none of them are "deeper" than the others, and they all line up at the same point on the shelf, about 1" from the outer edge.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:48 AM on November 8, 2007

As a book lover I say remove the shabbiest books and don't worry about the rest.

This reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon in which the Real Estate agent leads the prospective buyer into a room full of empty bookshelves, prompting the caption "What sort of crazy people lived here!?"
posted by pgoes at 6:53 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Paperbacks look shabby no matter what. (I hide mine. Seriously.)

The books will look at lot more uniform if you sort them by size. I recently moved into a new apartment and for the sake of brevity I unpacked my books and just slapped them on the shelves by size. I'll go back and order them by subject eventually, but for now they look nice.
posted by wfrgms at 7:11 AM on November 8, 2007

As a book lover, I'd probably look at crowded book shelves and think "wow, I can cram so many of MY books in here!" but I'm probably in the minority. Books are beautiful, period.
posted by jzb at 7:19 AM on November 8, 2007

I agree with the general advice here, but if your house happens to be a million dollar mansion, or something, maybe you want to check out the book rental program of New York's Strand Bookstore, Books by the Foot.
posted by beagle at 7:21 AM on November 8, 2007

I just think books look better than no books.

So do I. But you're not the one who is buying a house, and a lot of people think that emptier shelves look better than fuller ones. Remove at least half, probably more like 3/4 of the books. Buy a few glass vases and bookends to put in. Leave a lot of empty space. Try to make the shelves look like bookcases in the Pottery Barn catalog, not like shelves in a real house.

Invest a few bucks in staging items like throw pillows, new rugs, etc. It'll really pay off.
posted by decathecting at 9:06 AM on November 8, 2007

Just reiterating/regrouping previously stated suggestions, but here is, I think, a good approach:

1. Put away paperbacks and beat-up hardcovers.
2. Remove dust jackets.
3. Arrange by size as much as possible, attempting to keep a uniform height on each shelf.
4. Put away a few more books, to enhance height-uniformity (ie, put away biggest and smallest on each shelf).
5. "Front" shelves by pulling books out to 1" of shelf edge, putting away any books that overhang the edge.
6. Spread remaining books out over all shelves so that there is some empty space on each shelf.
7. Profit!
posted by Rock Steady at 9:39 AM on November 8, 2007

Whatever you do, do NOT sort them by color. It looks really juvenile and too bold for a house you are trying to sell.

I'd follow the advice above to remove most of the books except the better looking ones, and stash the rest.
posted by tastybrains at 9:48 AM on November 8, 2007

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