Stylish Built-In Storage Ideas
Nothing puts your square footage to better use than a built-in.
Whether that means a desk framed within a seldom-used closet or a bookcase tucked into a niche beside the fireplace, built-ins maximize every available inch in your floor plan.
READ: 37 Easy Ways to Add Storage to Every Room
They handily transform the dead zones under stairs and below windows into functional space and help you get organized by adding new storage options without adding on to your house.
You can design them to tie in with other architectural elements in the room, such as crown molding and wainscoting. Fitted with doors, they help maintain the integrity of period interiors by concealing modern amenities like computer workstations or a mini fridge in a wet bar. You don't have to spend a fortune to get those good looks and the improved functionality, either. We'll show you a portfolio of carpenter-crafted and DIY designs, all to help you bring a sense of order and distinction to your rooms.
Here, bookshelf units of descending height cleverly make use of the otherwise dead space along a basement-level staircase. Constructed of solid 1½-inch lumber, the shelves are sturdy enough to support heavy loads of art and reference books along with display items.
Recessed built-ins require more planning and construction than ones that attach directly to the wall, but they are the best choice for conserving precious floor space. This homework station in a boy's bedroom was designed by architect Jay Haverson to fit inside an alcove between a clothes closet and a bathroom. In new construction like this, framing out the area is simple. To retrofit an existing bedroom for a built-in desk, you could colonize a closet or steal space from an adjoining room for a bump-out. For a child's room, build with an eye toward the future: The desk is sized just right for a youngster, about 27 inches off the ground, as opposed to 30 inches for adults. In a few years, though, the top of the desk can be raised and mounted on fillers. "It's a nice, basic amenity to have in a bedroom," Haverson says of the built-in homework station, but the same setup also works well in a home office or den.
IDEA: Save desk space by building in lights, such as recessed cans or the pucks used here. Use high-intensity, long-lasting xenon bulbs, and position the light switch within arm’s reach. Don’t forget to include power outlets and phone and data lines nearby.
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Integral Bar Cabinet
Built-ins concealed behind doors offer the perfect hideaway for food and beverage prep or work areas that might otherwise mar the appearance of stylish living spaces. Case in point is this wet bar designed by architect Stuart Disston for a clubby sitting room. When not in use, the bar's mini fridge, sink, glasses, and half-empty booze bottles are completely hidden behind doors that mimic the surrounding cherry wall paneling. Come cocktail time, the doors open out into the room, slide back into recesses flanking either side of the bar, and then disappear behind hinged trim boards that close snugly over the openings.
IDEA: Use the back walls of built-ins to boost aesthetics and function. The mirrored panel above adds depth to both the bar and the room. A cork back in a built-in desk (see photo at right) is ideal for tacking up notes and pictures.
READ: Best Built-Ins Before and Afters 2013
The ability to tailor built-ins to suit your particular needs and floor plan gives them a functional advantage over store-bought furniture. Instead of a space-hogging sit-down desk for this kitchen office, designer Scott W. Smith tucked a stand-up command center into a narrow sliver of wall between the hallway into the room and doors leading to a screened-in porch. Eliminating the need for a chair kept the high-traffic area clear of obstacles and also freed up room for three rows of drawers under a 36-inch-high, stained-wood countertop. The top drawers hold office supplies, the middle ones are for hanging files, and the bottom ones stow newspapers and catalogs until they're ready to be dumped into the recycling bin. Cubbies above the desktop are for organizing mail and cookbooks, and the latched doors up top hide phone books. Floor-to-ceiling shelves on the hallway side of the built-in create even more usable space, while a recessed toekick on the kitchen-facing side helps give the entire piece an elegant, furniturelike look.
IDEA: The beauty of built-ins is that you can customize them to work best for the people who will use them most. Thirty-six inches is standard counter height for a stand-up desk, but you can vary the height so it’s comfortable for you.
The area below a window — often given over to houseplants and little else — presents an excellent opportunity for creative built-ins. Anthony Vermandois, the architect for this 1920s Craftsman-style bungalow renovation, singles out the window-cabinet pairing as "a mutual coming together" that turns dead space into usable square footage. The chest-high cabinets provide plenty of space for storing family china. Positioned directly under the sill, they add visual heft to what the designer considered to be an overly small window that was the sole focal point at the end of a long hallway. A similar under-window cupboard could hold linens off a bedroom or extra towels and toiletries outside a bathroom. Without doors, a cabinet could be used to display books and pottery below the window on a large stair landing.
IDEA: For a snug fit between the unit and the wall, remove existing baseboards and crown molding before you install a built-in. For the truly integrated look seen here, extend new matching molding around the built-in wherever it intersects with the original trim.
Columned Room Divider
In cavernous family rooms, built-ins can graciously carve out more intimate spaces and designate zones for specific activities, from dining and lounging to working and entertaining. The owners of this Colonial Revival–style home wanted a portion of their large great room to serve as a kind of private living room and study where they could relax with a good book or catch up on office work. Rather than split the large space in two with a solid wall, architect Mark Hughes designed a less imposing columned divider with built-in bookshelves and cabinets. A wide, open area at the top preserves the great-room feeling without sacrificing the coziness of the separate living and working spaces. On the office side, study carrels and shelves hold a selection of the homeowners' weighty legal books (both are lawyers). On the living room side, the open cubbies are lined with natural cherry wood; the closed cabinets below hold more books and memorabilia.
IDEA: Use built-ins to mask structural members. The hollow wooden column seen at left perfectly conceals a 3-by-4-inch steel post that supports the ceiling's load and the master bathroom upstairs.