Wooden bookshelf wall filled with colorful books, featuring a mirrored door, in a cozy reading nook.

In our hometown of New York City, we’re seeing more and more families choose to create room partitions to give kids their own space without making permanent alterations. If you’re thinking about how to divide a room, there are many things to consider. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about room dividers.

Families have long-used bookshelves or curtains to divide siblings’ halves of a room from one another, but for a more finished-looking solution, we recommend custom-fitted shelving units that can create a wall that is moveable, yet totally sturdy. Here’s how you can effectively divide a room—without having to bring in an architect and general contractor:

Permanent (and even semi-permanent) room divisions are often not allowed

Depending on where you live, it may not be possible to divide a room with a conventional sheetrock wall. For example in New York City, you almost always need to get a permit from the Department of Buildings to erect a wall (even a temporary pressurized wall). This involves hiring an architect to create plans, which must be approved by both the city and building management. Many landlords and management companies prohibit temporary walls.

Do-it-yourself options are hard to get right

Websites abound with posts like “The Best Bookcase Room Dividers” and “25 Creative Room Divider Ideas” but what’ll you find offers little in the way of functionality. Folding screens and curtains leave you with an unusable space around the divider–and offer no acoustic privacy. Placing a readymade bookcase in the middle of a room or perpendicular to a wall also offers little separation nor can one be properly affixed to the wall, so this is also a safety concern.

Cozy corner of a child's room with a bed, built-in shelving and desk, under soft purple walls and windows.

Room dividing furniture can offer real privacy

When you opt for a high-quality piece of custom-built furniture (and/or a plywood partition) you’ll get something that feels solid and creates a real sense of divided space for your kids. Double-sided storage pieces also offer significant acoustic privacy—especially when filled with books and toys!

Custom shelves can include doors and windows

Going custom with room dividing furniture allows you to add features that are almost architectural, like doors and plexiglass “windows,” which allow some light to shine through, while still maintaining privacy. We also often include sections of floor-to-ceiling plywood or plexiglass where shelving and storage are not desired.

Vibrant child's room with a red bed, decorative wall filled with colorful prints, and sliding doors.

Installation of custom shelving is fast and easy

With most construction you can count on tons of dirt and dust in your home. When you order custom furniture all the messy part of the work is done offsite. Installation is no more disruptive than a furniture delivery and the custom shelves won’t damage your existing walls or floors. Our room dividing shelves are also easy to remove.

Custom room dividers can move with you

One of the biggest advantages of custom shelving as a room divider is that you can take it with you when you leave. You might pay a little more for custom shelving than for a temporary sheetrock wall, but the shelves can be used again, whereas the wall cannot. In the event that you don’t want to take your furniture with you it can be sold to another family, and our furniture is known for holding its value much better than catalog furniture (we even help our customers resell their pieces through our site).

Narrow hallway lined with wooden bookshelves filled with a variety of books, leading to a white door.

Want more room division advice?

Here’s more advice on how to divide a shared kids room. We’ve also got a gallery of room division projects, including rooms split for siblings and a bedroom partitioned off of a living room.

Contact us today to discuss your room division project.