Adding Built-ins to Your Home: What You Need to Know
By: Serena Miller
Whether you live in a cottage or a castle, most homes never seem to have enough storage space. Sure, there might be an attic, basement, or even a backyard shed, but most homeowners—and prospective homebuyers—want storage space that’s integrated into the home. The most efficient and affordable way to add extra storage space to your home is with customized built-ins.
What are Built-Ins?
A built-in is cabinetry or shelving that’s permanently installed in a room to provide extra storage space. It typically extends from floor to ceiling and often stretches across the width of the room from wall to wall. Depending on its purpose, a built-in might have the following features:
- Open shelves
- Cabinets with doors
- Glass-fronted display cabinets
One of the benefits of built-in furniture is that it can blend in with and complement a room’s décor and architecture. A freestanding item shoved up against a wall may take up space and make the room feel smaller. Built-ins, when properly designed, become part of the room. To further integrate their look with the home’s style, you’ll often see built-ins trimmed with crown molding and baseboard.
You can add built-ins to any room in your home, but you’ll commonly find them in:
- Family rooms
- Home offices
- Mud rooms
- TV rooms
The Perfect Location
Once you start looking, you might be surprised at all the places in your home that could benefit from a built-in. Here are a few of our tips for choosing a spot and installing your built-in.
Caption: A well-designed built-in provides the best way to keep mud rooms neatly organized.
- Choose Your Space. Find a blank wall and enough floor space to avoid disrupting traffic flow or blocking an adjacent window or door.
- Examine the Floor. Place your built-in on hard flooring like wood, tile, laminate, or vinyl. The built-in must sit directly on the floor. If the room has carpeting, you’ll have to cut back the carpet to install the built-in cabinets both level and plumb. Stay clear of air-conditioning vents in the ceiling or heating registers along the floor.
- Go Floor-to-Ceiling. As we mentioned earlier, built-ins typically extend up to the ceiling and stretch from wall to wall across the room. However, some built-ins can be slightly shorter than ceiling height or have one or both ends exposed. But your piece will look much more “built in” if the cabinetry fills the entire wall.
- Suit Your Space. For smaller rooms, keep built-in shelves about 12 inches deep. That will provide plenty of storage without sacrificing too much floor space. Larger rooms can accommodate bigger built-ins with deep cabinets from floor to ceiling. Here’s a space-saving trick: install deep base cabinets topped with shallower bookcases.
Caption: This cleverly-designed built-in cabinet converts dead space beneath a staircase into valuable storage.
- Get Creative. Consider adding a small built-in to the often-wasted space beneath your staircase. Your space may be small, but it’s surprising just how much storage you can gain with a few drawers or cabinets.
The Professional Approach
Once you’ve chosen your built-in style and location, it’s time to decide whether to build it yourself or hire a professional contractor. The DIY approach may seem cost-effective, but unless you’re an expert cabinetmaker, it’s best to hire a pro.
Consider hiring an experienced trim carpenter or custom cabinetmaker to construct your built-ins; both spend most of their time fabricating and installing custom cabinetry. When you find a contractor you like, check references and ask to see photos of comparable work.
It’s hard to estimate how much your built-in will cost without taking specific measurements. Your project’s cost depends on features like:
- Size of the unit
- Complexity of installation and design
- Type of wood you’re choosing
- Where you live
- What type of hardware or accessories you’d like
However, a relatively simple built-in covering an 8×10-foot wall would likely start at around $5,000 for materials and labor.
The DIY Approach
If you do decide to flex your DIY muscles, but you don’t want to start from scratch, consider constructing a built-in using kitchen cabinets. Most lumberyards and home centers sell cabinets in a wide array of sizes, colors, and price ranges. Stack the cabinets and fasten them together to create your custom built-in. This approach is faster and easier than building the cabinets from scratch, and probably more affordable than hiring a professional.
Your circumstances may vary, but expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 in materials for an 8×10-foot built-in assembled with stained hardwood cabinets. To save more money, buy plastic-laminate or painted cabinets; they often cost 30 to 40 percent less than stained hardwood.
Explore the different options for built in furniture to find a style and size that meets your family’s needs. Whether you choose cabinets, shelves, or cubbies, your built-in will add function and style to your home.
Serena Miller is an Atlanta real estate agent for Owners.com, where the process of buying and selling your home is made simple. Serena enjoys educating homeowners on various home improvement projects like built-in cabinets. When she’s not working tirelessly for her clients, Serena tries new restaurants and travels with her two adult daughters. She also takes care of her home by tackling home improvement projects like tiling and painting.