In a world where everyone accumulates so much stuff, beautiful built-ins serve as a creative way to organize it all.
“With the average U.S. household having 300,000 things (according to the Los Angeles Times), homeowners are quite often looking for helpful ways to keep their spaces organized while also being functional,” says Margarita Cossuto, professional organizer and owner of Living Organized in Norwalk.
“Built-ins are great for keeping items organized and categorized. They’re also good for maximizing space. In many homes, horizontal wall space is oftentimes unused and built-in shelves can be a good use of the space, provide excellent storage, and serve as a focal point to display items,” says Cossuto, noting built-ins add style to a room’s décor.
“They look great in both small and large spaces, helping to streamline rooms so they’re visually appealing. Built-ins are great places to display family pictures, collection pieces, books, and other accessories to tie a room together.”
Cossuto suggests built-ins for hard-to-reach or unused areas. “A deep kitchen cabinet could benefit from built-in drawers with sliders or a closet with an unused corner might benefit from an installation of small shelves for accessories. Built-ins can provide the benefit of using the space you have for the items you need versus adding pieces of furniture for storage, which take up space and can add bulk to a room,” she says.
Due to their versatility, built-ins are a sought-after solution. “In a walk-in closet, they can be used for clothing, handbags, accessories, or shoes. Built-ins under a seating area in a kitchen are wonderful for storing table linens and paperware. Imagine a wall of open cubbies — in a bedroom they can be used as a closet extension, or baskets can be used to corral things,” Cossuto says.
When showing homes to potential buyers, Patty McManus, a real estate agent with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty’s Northern Fairfield County Brokerage, says built-ins are a huge draw. “Built-ins can be a selling point if the buyer can imagine how they can be used,” says McManus. “People, especially with young children, love organizational built-ins in mudrooms because kids have their own space for their belongings. Other built-ins cause excitement, such as ones located in living or family rooms that have so many uses.” McManus sees them ranging from utilitarian to very detailed and ornate. “They can be modest for books or storage or to showcase family treasures, but I’ve also seen elaborate built-ins with beautiful fish tanks built into them.”
Although Mark Finlay, owner of Mark Finlay Architects in Southport, has been designing built-ins for years, he’s noticed a recent resurgence. “Built-ins usually lead to less of a need for furnishings and offer the ability to organize your space in a less cluttered, more modern way.
“In some cases, built-ins can actually be less expensive than buying furniture,” Finlay says. “Kitchens are an obvious source of built-in needs, but we also use them a lot in bedrooms, mudrooms, offices and libraries, and family rooms to store books, linens, bulk storage, etc.”
Finlay custom-designs desks, closet shelving, cubbies and closed cabinetry. “The design of each built-in is tailored to the specific needs of the clients and their space. In addition to supplying a functional aspect to a room, built-ins are the start of the process in dictating the décor of a space. They are the first step in aesthetic choices for a room, i.e. painted versus natural wood, embellishing details, etc.,” he says, emphasizing that hardware can make or break a cabinet. “Simple cabinets can have spectacular hardware to totally transform it.
“Conversely, a lack of hardware can dramatically shift an aesthetic. Hidden hinges and grooves in the door can be a modern application to the cabinet. We have added all kinds of materials as panels to cabinetry for different looks, from glass to chicken wire.”
Joanne and Doug McGregor of Southbury love their pine walk-in pantry with built-ins for its functionality and beauty. “It makes life easier with many large shelves to store food, white marble countertop for working space, a beverage cooler, and a library ladder to reach higher shelves,” they say. “We made the built-in visually appealing by painting the shelves white, adding the marble countertop, and mason jars filled with spices. We also installed a light that looks like mason jars.”
Jennifer Coleman’s clients have been leaning toward customized options for years. “Often the built-ins are replacing TV cabinets and media consoles to offer a more customized look and address specific storage needs,” says Coleman, owner of JKC Designs in Ridgefield, a designer of multifunctional built-ins. “Function and convenience first and foremost, then I work with the space to maximize a client’s storage and display potential. The items will then have their proper place and be easy to find.”
To create a piece with visual appeal, Coleman adds architectural details, including crown molding on top and base styles that make it more like a piece of furniture or part of the wall. Also, Coleman incorporates decorative hardware. “I use hardware with unique details like facets or custom finishes, combinations of rings as pulls, and hardware with jewel-like qualities. They add up to creating a beautiful built-in and it can become a focal point of a room. There are some really beautiful semi-precious stone knobs I’ve used as a wow factor on a wine island. I like to use lighting under the shelving to illuminate the items on the display and I incorporate sconces to add an inviting ambiance,” she says. Recently, Coleman’s clients have requested painted built-ins. “I’m having fun using classic white with a pop of color on the back wall or going bold with navy blue as an accent and focal point at the same time. We’re also updating already-installed built-ins with new paint and hardware.”
Built-ins are multi-purposeful. “I love how built-ins add interest to an otherwise simple space, can balance out a room, satisfy storage needs, and offer an area to showcase family mementos and photos in a beautiful way,” Coleman says.