Take some time to reflect on the details before committing to these built-in beauties

Many of our homes feature places and spaces that just seem destined for custom cabinetry. Whether it’s a nook naturally framing a future window seat or niches begging for bookcases, your mind’s eye can visualize the aesthetic appeal and organizational benefit of shelving tailored to its environment.

But as with all design projects, you should ask some serious questions prior to the undertaking. After all, the “built-in” aspect of a built-in implies that these are permanent fixtures, meaning you must undergo significant construction to change them. On the flip side, sadly for some, you can’t take them with you when you change residences.

Here are a few considerations as you broach the custom cabinetry conundrum:

Open for business or closed to the public

Shelving can be intended to proudly and visibly display treasures, or unsightly items can be placed behind closed doors for storage. Is your space tailored to one, the other — or both?

Quick Tip

Shine a light

When it comes to custom shelving, don’t forget the light. Be sure to include outlets within the cabinetry for lamps or to hide wiring. Rope lighting or niche lights can help illuminate treasures.

Accent on beauty

Hardware and trim are necessary components of any built-in and can dramatically change the look and feel of the space. Think about finishes, and also study how these design elements might best complement other aspects of your room.

Follow the lines

Look around the room, and consider the natural lines surrounding the built-in space. Do fireplace mantles, custom niches or larger furnishings suggest a natural line to follow when designing the built-in?

Fair and balanced

Oftentimes, the space surrounding a door, hallway or entertainment niche makes for the best built-in location. Keep balance and symmetry in mind when undertaking built-in construction.

How to work with a cabinetmaker

Built-in wall cabinet

Working with an expert craftsman can be stress-free — or quite frustrating when there’s a failure to communicate. Here are a few ideas to inspire a better process:

Making contact

Does the cabinetmaker prefer email, text or phone calls? Have the conversation beforehand to eliminate communication gaps.

Happy trails to you

A paper trail — sketches and estimates requiring sign-off — may prevent a “he said, she said” debate.

Trust issues?

Appropriately, a cabinetmaker is in the business of — you guessed it — making cabinetry. In light of that fact, he or she may just know best. Approach the project with a healthy dose of trust, but also trust your instincts.

Creating personal space
with custom cabinetry

Custom cabinetry can be more than just shelving and bookcases. Oftentimes, a personal hideaway can be created by customizing a niche — like framing a spectacular window that offers a peek into another world, or making use of a ledge adjoining a cozy fireplace. So curl up with a favorite book and enter a space tailored to you with these creative options:

Cabinet with personal space

Window seat

We’ve all heard of the concept of bringing the outdoors in, but this option can bring the indoors out. Window seats extend a room into the outdoor landscape, framing a window overlooking a magical garden, a water feature or any other scenic setting. Fluffy pillows and under-seat storage make these spaces an inviting, organized retreat.


Originally, inglenooks were small recesses adjoining a fireplace. They were intimate places for warming up by the fire. Modern design suggests that these ledges can still provide for intimate warmth, but also can be lined with custom bookshelves, include warm lighting and accommodate comfy seating for the ultimate in relaxation.

Custom bed alcoves

Parents of young children can relate to the constant need for more beds. While sleeping bags work for sleepovers, what could be more ideal than a niche custom fit with a mattress for that convenient extra bed? And best yet, that alcove also can transform into a cozy reading space for your child when friends are absent.

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