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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Custom Built-Ins Make The Most Of Every Inch

Written by Connie Adair Posted On Monday, 11 June 2018 20:21

Whether you live in a house or condo, chances are you don't have enough storage space. Custom built-ins are a great way to make the most of every inch, to solve design problems and add a sense of order.

Built-ins around the fireplace (open shelving on top and closed on the bottom) and systems to accommodate media components are among the most common. However, the sky's the limit for a creative designer who can come up with stylish and personalized storage solutions. Designer Sabrina Bitton built a lit, glass-front shelf to display a beautiful shoe collection. Builder Amedeo Barbini designed speciality storage for a client who loves expensive wreaths and "needed a special place to store and organize them."

The design of built-in units depends on what you want to store -- the actual pieces, their style, depth and height, says designer Vanja Stepanek of Barbini Design Build.

Homeowners' lifestyles are also an important consideration. Bitton says their needs and wants are changing. A new trend is to use millwork to hide entire rooms. (Think a bookshelf that slides open to reveal a hidden room.) For some people who work at home, closing the office door at the end of the day isn't enough. Home and condo owners are looking for sophisticated solutions, she says.

Built-ins can also conceal bars and media centres, or house Murphy beds so rooms can do double duty as relaxing spaces and bedrooms. Window seats with storage beneath add character and do double duty in any room. Bench seating with cubbies is a must in any mudroom.

Putting otherwise wasted space to use is key. A bookshelf can be added to the end of a hallway, along its length or beside and around a door to add usable space. Nooks between studs provide a place to store towels in bathrooms, display treasures or even house spices in the kitchen.

Built-ins with doors are the perfect way to store unsightly items, adding a sense of calm to a space.

With or without doors, built-ins also make great room dividers. In one master bedroom project, Bitton placed the bed in the middle of the room and used a closet as a headboard.

Half walls that separate space are popular, especially in large lofts. Low built-ins are a modern approach, Stepanek says.

Placement is key to ensure that views, light and flow are not blocked, Bitton says. Shelving that's open front and back keep the space open. Built-ins divide and ground a space and are particularly useful in breaking up a long, narrow space.

They're are also a great way to solve design problems such as large columns in condominiums. Stepanek says the column in her friend's condo had only a foot of space between it and the window. She built open shelving in rings around the column so her friend could display keepsakes. It solved a problem but created unique shelving.

If there is a mechanical stack, built-ins can be used to square the room.

A gym bag was the catalyst for another of Barbini's storage solutions. "The individual gets up early, takes his gym bag and goes to the gym, comes back and wants a place to store it," he says.

The solution? Barbini built three drawers under the stairs. One accommodates the gym bag, another the central vacuum hose and the other is for keys.

Wasted space around a see-through fireplace on a 10-inch-thick wall that separates the master bedroom and ensuite bathroom offers shelving and drawers. "It was space that would otherwise have gone to waste," Barbini says.

Stepanek says the smallest built-in they have designed was just eight-inches-deep. It has to be at least that size because "you still want to be able to store stuff in it," she says.

Bitton, also a fashion designer/fashionista, needs lots of storage for clothes. In her 1,800-square-foot condo, she built floor-to-ceiling cabinets in the kitchen and dining room. The uppermost cabinets open to reveal pull-down racks so clothing is stored away yet is easily accessible.

Accessibility -- storage versus everyday use -- is another consideration when considering what will be stored where.

Custom cabinetry is also a great solution for rooms with dormers or sloped ceilings because the cabinetry can be designed to follow the shape of the ceiling. Extending cabinetry to ceiling height also maximizes storage space.

In her living room, Bitton sliced a corner wall and used open shelving in its place. The open shelves create a softer "corner" and don't block views and light, giving the space an airy, brighter feel.

Built-ins are part of the architecture or are an architectural component in North American homes, unlike in Europe where freestanding cabinets are built and taken with them when people move.

They're a feature that homeowners love.

It's important to hire a professional, Bitton says. A professional designer can provide personalized creative solutions, suggest the proper placement and recommend materials that will take your room from ordinary to extraordinary.

Cutlines:

Designer Sabrina Bitton created a lit, glass-front shelf to display a beautiful shoe collection.

Builder Amedeo Barbini created built-in shelving on either side of a dining room doorway so the owners could display colourful glass treasures.

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