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Emily Henderson

Style Play Every day
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by Emily Henderson

When we styled our old house to sell, our goal was to create space – to enhance the already dominant feeling openness. Everyone loves a house that feels “open” because it manipulates them into thinking they’ll change as a person. Maybe in this house you’ll be clean, mature and organized, RIGHT? One of the main reasons that we had this built was to show off and house all my pretties so that they didn’t have to clutter the rest of the surfaces of the house.


Right before we put it up on the market it kinda looked like this (above). For the sake of the Curbed Video about ‘styling to sell’ we added lot more stuff to drive the styling tips home and give the viewer more of a before and after. I didn’t want it to look bad, obviously, just a little too much stuff.


Here’s how we did it (sorry – we didn’t take still photos of the process because we were scrambling to get it done so we stole frames from the video with the graphics).


1. Purge and edit. Don’t overcrowd shelves to show off decorating potential.


It’s hard to say how much you should have in your shelves, but I’d say if you typically have them 2/3rds full then go down to 1/3rd when you are staging to sell.

2. Clear Anything Too Personal: This is when family photos need to be pulled, because while you think that photos of your kids covered in spaghetti asleep in a high chair is adorable, maybe it’s not to everyone (impossible) . The goal is that the future buyers can easily imagine their lives there.


Now I personally think that if you have pretty frames and look like people that loved each other then a photo or two is a good thing – especially if you are marketing it to families. When we bought our new house I was excited to hear that the family before us had raised their kids for 12 years there. I would have bought the house regardless, but picturing a happy family is a good thing. However, the video was directed towards the less design oriented people so I think it’s probably safer to advise less family when staging. I kept 3-4 photos in the whole house.


3. Reduce the Color Palette: Emily-Henderson_Home_Styling-House-to-Sell_Bookcase_Screenshots_7

When considering what to purge/edit this is the starting point. Calm the colors down and only use pieces in those colors. Sometimes the space can feel really cluttered just because you have too many color going on. Choose three to four neutral and accent colors that work well together, but look good with the rest of your house.

4. Books are Your Friend.


They add warmth and color without being too personal, plus some of them have words written in them for “reading” if you are into that. Oh to “read” a “story” would be just wonderful and remind me of college, right? Such good things to style with, these books. They add soul and a feeling of ‘realness’ without adding to the visual clutter. Since they are all roughly the same shape and size, they add personality and yet still look really organized. I know this is going to be unpopular with you literary folks, but if you are styling your house you are allowed to buy books as props from thrift stores.

5. Keep Art and Object Simple:


Sure you can have a few pieces with quirk, but pull anything that might turn off future buyers. We got rid of hand sculptures, the cat collage and oil paintings of strangers as that can be creepy to some (fear-ful) people.

For the video I had to really reduce the amount of tips to make it short – but there are a few more that I’d love to highlight.

– The winning combination to every shelf is to have something rectangular (stack of books or leaning art) + objects (vases and sculpture).

– Pepper those around evenly having books horizontal and vertical and making sure that you are varying that pattern around (i.e. not putting a stack of books on top of a shelf with a similar stack of books). Make sure that the colors are evenly distributed as well.

– Nix almost all small scale tchokes. You don’t need HUGE pieces but most small pieces just look like junk to other people and start to make it feel cluttered.


Of course the ‘before’ looks pretty good and in a way I prefer it, but for the sale of the house I really think that having this staged look was the right thing to do – especially in context of the whole house.

Emily Henderson_Staged to Sell_Curbed_Simple_Uncluttered_Bookcase_2

As you get more and more pulled back you really see how important it is to feel so open and more minimal.

Emily Henderson_Staged to Sell_Curbed_Simple_Uncluttered_Bookcase_3

Man, thank god I LOVE our new house so much because these pics are making me miss that house/life so much.

Check out the video to see this shelving in action, and let us know if you have any questions below.

***Be sure to follow us on Insta-story today and the next few days to watch us shop 17 miles of flea market at Round Top, Texas and see what we come home too.

*After Photography by Tessa Neustadt

  1. I prefer the before also, but total understand the necessity to minimize prior to selling. There was no way for me to get to 30% full on mine though. I probably went from 110% full (books crammed everywhere) to 80% full (with books hidden behind other books). I sort of staged it like it was a book store with some titles facing out to break up the rows of straight book spines.

  2. Where is the video?

  3. Where is the eye from?

    1. It is by an artist named Michelle Quan. I saw it on Orlando’s instagram over a year ago and ordered one. Her website is under MQuan Studios.

      1. thank you!!


    -Kirsten // http://www.porkandcookies.com

  5. I like the before better. The major issues for the buyer is find a house that’s fresh and maintained, not dirty, not cluttered because that implies a lot about the upkeep of the home’s electric, plumbing, roof, and a lot more. Those with attention to detail will see right through the staged interior and will notice the details like old electrical paneling or inefficient a/c.
    If the walls are drity, wash them and paint them. If there’s a mess, clean the home. Beyond that, you’re tricking the masses but not necessarily the actual buyer. Cleaning the home and maintaining the home, and painting it neutral sells the home when the market is saturated. The architecture and value sells the home when market is not saturated.

  6. You took the books out, but you kept that old flag on the wall. You know how I feel about that crappy flag. Your house is gorgeous, though.

    1. Good thing you reminded her! Don’t want her to forget how you feel about it!

    2. I luvv the worn look of that flag. (And the colors.)

    3. The flag looks like it was found in a dump

  7. What is an Insta-Story? is there a link so I can read along with you at Round Top?



    1. It is on Instagram, it is kinda like Snapchat (I assume anyway) but you click on Emily’s profile pic and it has videos that available only for that day. So, you have to check it out every day. If you like Emily on tv /video it is a must.

  8. Thank you for these tips, as I want to do some major built-in shelf styling in my house! One in our office, and one in our upstairs hallway.

  9. What terrific shelf tips! Have fun in Round Top!

  10. For me #2 was still too bare, however if it had been enlivened up with a couple of right sized plants that wold have changed the whole look. Can’t wait to see the neww house and yard!

  11. Oh, help. I thought we had seen the blessed end of that bookcase. Do not get me wrong, I think it is styled very well. Speaking of wells…we’ve been to this one so many times my calve muscles instintively tense up when I see the bookcase used in yet another post. Again, please do not misconstrue my comment, I think EH’s styling talents are clearly evident.

    1. I totally agree… Emily + bookshelves = boring, blog filler
      … sorry I didn’t even read this post I only came to comments to say enough is enough of this bookcase! Seriously!!!!

  12. Thank you for justifying my desire to buy flea market books as styling props (and not reading material)!

  13. Please, tell me: why do you style your houses to sell? Tks, big fan from Brazil, Alda

  14. I’m crazy about the painting in your dining room? Who’s the artist and where did you get it?

  15. Hi, Emily!
    I’m from Brazil and I loved your style tips! I’m following you now…
    Keep on inspiring the world!


  16. I can’t stop staring at the piece in the top left- it looks like fiber art on a wooden frame. Do you have more details about it? I’m in love!

  17. Tough crowd today.

    1. LOL. This is the only blog that I follow that has commenters and then commenters on the commenters that are less than generous in their COMMENTS! Wonder why that is?

  18. I love the style of the bookshelf! I’d add a nice backing to the inside of the triangle section bookshelf to make it stand out even more. A nice soft pattern of blues, whites, and brown (to go with the room decor) would really look nice as an accent to highlight the bookshelf. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Goodness, you have some ruuuuuuude commenters! I’m sorry – I’m sure you have to deal with that on a regular basis.

    I understand your nostalgia over the old house! I moved a year ago and just said LAST NIGHT how much I miss the house and would love to see what the new owner has done with it (creepy?). I just felt such ownership because we changed and updated almost every corner of the house, and it was our first house together after marriage. This house was your first with your children, so there’s a strong attachment. I’m sure you’re already making wonderful memories in that beautiful new house of yours. Cheers!

  20. I know this is maybe an unpopular opinion, but I really dislike the trend of using bookshelves to display tons of tchotchkes instead of, you know, books. I don’t see a huge difference between 1 and 2, both look very “busy” to me. The objects themselves are lovely, but the before and after are like two slightly different shades of a paint color I’m not crazy about.

    1. I fall more into this too. I am a reader. Bookshelves should be filled with books. Or at least books mostly. Of the two I like the before better.

  21. I am interested in the design of bookshelves, cabinets and bookcases blend is preferred interior design

  22. Emily, your how to posts have been so interesting. I’m wondering if you have any plans to blog about living room and dining room combo? I’ll be moving to a new house soon where there is a living area and kitchen but no separate dining area and I’ve been wondering about how to design the layout and the deco. Existing blog posts don’t seem to cover the topic adequately, so I’m just trying my luck in case you have any plans to cover this topic. Thanks and continue doing the great work that you do!

  23. I just want to say that I can never get enough of these shelf styling posts. I learn so much each time. For some reason, styling shelves is so challenging for me! But, after every post, I get inspired to move things around, and it gets better each time.

    I should also say that I go back and read old posts all the time. Recently I bought some new pillows. Who did I turn to remind me how to to style pillows? You, of course, and the many posts you’ve written on the topic!

    1. Lisa, agreed on both counts. I have been here for other info on bookshelves, but each post is welcome and inspiring.

      AND, I love being able to look at old posts. For example, a recent Google search for me was “Emily Henderson toilets.” 😉

  24. i really hate to add to the “tough crowd” of today but I have to give some feedback — I am SO over the “styling to sell” series…. feels like it’s just too repetitive. honestly if next week we see “styling to sell: the laundry room” i wouldn’t be half-surprised.

    I’m happy to skip today & come back tomorrow…

  25. Sometimes, if I want a shelf of books to look more neutral, I will turn around the books with the brighter color jackets/bindings!


  26. I love this post forever. you mange everything well

  27. Excellent ideas, and very good tips, on the other hand decoration is brilliant and far from the trendy minimalism you can find everywhere! These are really living places. Great blog!

  28. I love those shelves in your house! They’re so fun!


  29. Thanks a lot of for share the informative and useful blog. keep it up…

  30. Wow, the shelve is awesome, I also want to have a shelve like this in order to show my books and the decorate things.

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