Built-ins—permanent installations of anything from shelving to bunk beds—can be space savers or space makers, adding convenience, value, and personality to a home. “Today’s buyers want homes that are open and uncluttered,” declares Kelly Ceppa, a REALTOR® associate with Charlottesville’s Nest Realty Group. “Built-ins can make a home look ‘finished’ or custom built.”
There’s no such thing as too much storage space, yet it’s easy to overlook clever places to add it. For instance, shelving as little as six inches deep can be installed going up a staircase wall or along one side of a long hallway to store books, artwork, and other items. A shelf running around a room about a foot below the ceiling can display collectibles or other seldom-used objects. Framing a doorway with shelves provides an interesting architectural feature and framing a window with shelves12-18 inches deep gives space for a window seat with storage space beneath.
Fireplaces offer another opportunity, since the hearth usually extends a foot or more into a room. Adding shelving or media installations to the same distance from the wall can be very effective.
The most common built-ins are shelving and cabinets. “Custom cabinetry is always a positive asset for a home because it allows more storage with less clutter,” Ceppa observes. “For example, walk-in closets with built-in cabinetry can eliminate the need for dressers in the bedroom.” In any room, but especially in kitchens or laundries, deep corner cabinets can be made more efficient with lazy susans.
Today’s well-balanced pull-down beds can also save space. They are easy to use and when closed can present plain wall panels or well-mounted artwork. Bunk beds are another bedroom space saver. Layouts could include generous drawers under the lower bunk or have the parts of the bunks overlap to provide floor-level space for desks or toy storage.
A home entertainment center is another great place for built-ins. Big screens and related equipment can be concealed behind doors or panels which, when closed, hold artwork such as paintings, posters, or prints. Some panels can even be motorized.
A dining room classic is a corner cupboard. Unfinished corner cupboards—ready to paint or stain—are available in a wide range of open shelves, glass-doored shelving and cupboards. In the kitchen or dining area, built-in banquettes eliminate the need for chairs. The area beneath the seating is perfect for large, infrequently used items that can be reached under a hinged seat or from the end of the banquette through a small door.
Entryway built-ins are wonderful. Ideally, each family member can have a floor-to-ceiling “cubbie” with space below for boots and shoes, hooks for jackets and packs, shelves for hats and other items, and perhaps a small compartment for mustn’t-forget items like car keys, school permission slips, or books due at the library. Open storage is best here, to give contents good air circulation.
Instead of using a crate, pet owners may create a built-in sleeping area for a dog in a laundry or family room, perhaps under a table, window seat or cupboard. On the other hand, many cats prefer the security of a high perch. Carpeted climbing shelves can give access a nice resting place atop bookshelves or in a specially installed cat chalet.
Check your home for overlooked spots. The space under a stairway is a great place for shelves or drawers. Wherever there is an unused 4- to 6-inch space, install narrow rollout shelving with inch-high edges to keep things from slipping off. Depending on the room, it can be used for toiletries, canned goods, or hobby items.
Space between wall studs can also be used to create recessed storage. This is best done on interior walls, so you don’t interfere with insulation. If this is a DIY project (and there are ample online primers) be careful of wiring, heating, or plumbing installations behind the wall surface.
While cabinetry and shelving is often built to order, a surprising variety of ready-to-install items is available at home supply stores—in fine woods or unfinished. A less expensive tactic is to purchase second-hand shelves or chests and secure them with attractive moldings for a built-in appearance.
The Habitat for Humanity store in Charlottesville has an ever-changing inventory of shelves and furniture which can be viewed on their website. Regional Thrift Shops and Antique Malls also have treasures to be found. With some TLC, they can become a distinctive addition to any home and often can be installed with a built-in appearance.
One thing to be aware of is that unusual built-ins may lessen the marketability of your home. Whatever your plan, built-ins can lessen clutter and add value to a home.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. They added tile to top the built-in window seats on the south side of the house to give their houseplants a sunny winter home.