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Should I Store My Messy Collections of Books?

Books add characters to a property, but too many books look messy. Some beautiful glossy coffee table books can add good visual interest to the property and might help the potential buyer to recall the details of the property later.

November 30, 2011

Market Ready

Q. I have an overflowing wall of books in my living room. Should I store them or reorganize them to make it look less cluttered?


A. Although real estate agents, home stagers and interior designers often talk about the importance of clearing out clutter to make a home look more appealing, books don’t necessarily need to go. In many cases, they can be an essential part of a room’s decoration, and may actually be advantageous when selling.

“You should hang on to them,” said Confidence Stimpson, a senior vice president at the real estate broker Stribling & Associates. “A lot of books can make a seller look smart, as long as they’re the right books.”

The right books? “Keep the James Joyce, store the James Patterson,” Ms. Stimpson said. “A prospective buyer walks in, sees good books and thinks, ‘Well, this person is smart and they live here, so I could probably live here.’ ”

That kind of impression could be especially valuable in emerging neighborhoods, she said, where strategically placed brainy tomes “could really elevate a property.”

Some interior designers and home stagers buy or rent collections of books purely for their decorative appeal. Companies like Books by the Foot and Juniper Booksand separate services offered by stores like Housing Works Bookstore Café and the Strand cater to such customers and help with design.

But if your problem is that you have too many books and don’t want to get rid of any of them, “you can double layer the books,” said Jenny McKibben, accounts manager for the Strand’s Books by the Foot service, who has helped create collections for private homes as well as sets for television shows and movies like “The Departed,” “Julie & Julia” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“I line books up on the very edge of the shelf, so it looks neat and uniform,” she said. “That usually leaves a pretty big gap behind,” where you can hide a second row of titles.

To really make a statement, she suggests organizing books by height or color. On long bookshelves, she said, you could sort books based on size, “like stairs, from high to low. Visually, that looks nice and neat.”

She also frequently mixes rows of books set on end with horizontal stacks. And when she has a particularly impressive book with a handsome cover, she will sometimes turn it face out, she said, “like a bookend.”

In bookcases with square shelves, she suggests grouping covers with similar hues to create solid blocks of color. For instance, “you can do pops of blue next to little white sets,” she said. “I try to put golds and yellows together, and put contrasting colors next to each other to bring a visual pop.”

Whichever approach you take, Ms. McKibben echoed Ms. Stimpson’s comments about quality, and suggested giving center stage to handsome art, history and classic-fiction books.

“I generally recommend getting rid of the cheesy summer paperbacks,” she said. “Or at least putting them out of sight.” 

Questions about repairs or redecorating done in preparation for putting a home on the market may be sent to Unpublished questions cannot be answered individually.