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Should You Remove Built-In Shelves to Make a Room Larger?


May 07, 2020 by Erik Martin

You're prepping a residence for rental or a quick flip. But you've encountered a conundrum in a key room: built-in shelves. Should you leave them intact and promote them as a handy storage feature for future occupants? Or is it better to rip them out, repair the wall, and aim for a clean and uniform wall look?

While some might think, You've got bigger fish to fry, so let the shelves stay, the shelves could be seen as an antiquated, space-hogging, or unnecessary design flaw in the home or unit, potentially turning off prospective buyers or renters.

Pluses and minuses

"Generally, I think there are more pros than cons to keeping built-in shelves," says Sara Peterson, editor-in-chief of HGTV Magazine in New York City. "The pros are increased storage space and architectural interest. Also, built-in shelves can actually make a room feel taller because they draw the eye up. And placing a TV within or atop a built-in can be easier than hanging it on a wall."

Among the major disadvantages? Occupants will be required to dust the shelves regularly and may feel pressure to keep updated, stylish, and interesting accessories on the open shelves. Plus, filled shelves may cause the room to look busy or cluttered.

"Also, if the built-in shelves and trim are dark wood, it can make the room feel dreary and too formal, like a stodgy library or office," Peterson adds.

Appealing to some, repelling to others

Beverly Solomon, owner of Austin, Texas-based Beverly Solomon Design, is a fan of built-in shelving, whether it's recessed within or projecting from the wall.

"Well-designed shelves can add visual interest and depth to any sized room. But especially if you need the extra floor space taken up by projecting shelving, you might want to remove them," says Solomon.

Colin Haentjens, a designer with The Knobs Company, an interior design firm in Omaha, Nebraska, says built-in shelving typically appeals more to older residents who come with more possessions and are thoughtful about how they will store them. But if you're marketing your residence to younger millennials or Gen Z (30 and under), you might want to take out the shelving.

"Younger residents have fewer possessions and are less likely to care about the aesthetics of storage solutions they adopt after they move in," notes Haentjens. "They may say, 'That's a problem for future me.'"

The elbow grease required

In most cases, you can remove built-ins without causing structural problems, per Marty Basher, a designer with Lakewood, New Jersey-headquartered Modular Closets, a maker and installer of closet organization systems.

"However, the process of ripping them out, hauling them away, and patching and painting newly exposed walls, floors, and ceilings can be expensive and time-consuming," says Basher, who recommends hiring a pro for the job.

Alternatively, many experts advise keeping but updating the shelves.

"Painting can go a long way toward freshening up an older look," Basher says.

Realize, however, that the money and effort you put into removing or spiffing up your built-ins probably won't be recouped.

"If you are wanting to sell or flip a house, the only updates that pay off the most today are fixing up the kitchen and improving curb appeal," Solomon cautions.

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