Pros and Cons of Using a Shelf Room Divider

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Sometimes you have to be creative in how you divide space in a room, which could mean using a shelf as a room divider. Using a shelf to break up space has its pros and cons. Here are the positives and negatives of using this method.

Pro: Using a Shelf Keeps the Space Open

One of the advantages of using a shelf to divide a room is that doing so doesn’t completely close off a space. Unlike a wall, a shelf won’t reach the ceiling. The result is an open feeling even as the two spaces are divided off.

Con: It Can Look Awkward

Any kind of non-wall room divider (shelves, curtains, screens) has the potential to look very awkward and out of place if not laid out correctly in the room. Even if you come up with a thoughtful and cohesive layout, there is still something unnatural about a piece of furniture blocking off one side of the room from the other. Take time to figure out the best way to place your shelf in relation to your other furniture so that the flow of the space doesn’t looked jarred.

Pro: It’s Multi-Functional

A wall is a wall. A shelf as a wall is so much more. Using a shelf to divide your space means you’ll have extra storage and function. For this particular purpose, it’s best not to throw or stuff things on the shelf haphazardly. You want the shelf’s appearance to be clean and orderly so as not to clutter up the look of either of the spaces. You can purchase bins or cubes to put things in if you really need extra storage space, as doing so will keep things uncluttered.

Con: Using a Shelf Doesn’t Provide Much Privacy

What you get in an open and airy feel you lose in privacy. This may not be a problem if you’re simply dividing the living area from the dining area, but is a completely different situation if you’re dividing two sleeping areas in a loft or studio. Depending on whether or not there is a back to the shelf, not only will voices and sounds carry, you won’t have much privacy when changing clothes or sleeping.

Pro: It’s Sturdy

Unlike a screen, which could easily be knocked over, or some hanging cloth, which could easily be pushed around, using a shelf as a room divider is sturdy. You don’t have to worry about running into it accidentally one day and knocking it over.

Con: It May Not Look Very Nice

If you purchase an inexpensive shelf, you may have to deal with the unfinished plywood backing. These kind of shelves aren’t preferable for use as room dividers unless you place two identical ones back to back. Looking at synthetic wood backing isn’t aesthetically pleasing—especially for decorating purposes. Use two of these kinds of shelves back to back or choose a different shelf completely, like the Ikea Expedit.

Using a shelf as a room divider can be a great space solution if you put some thought into the idea.


Rachael Weiner: I’m a communications professional for a non-profit, which financially necessitates my status as an apartment dweller. Constantly “on-the-go,” I’ve resided in five different apartments across the United States over the past five years. Roommate issues, budgeting, organizing and handling problem neighbors are my specialty.

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