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Making Built-Ins Work for You

When it's time to solve the "where-do-I-put-it?" dilemma, get creative with these ideas.

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Built-in bookcases expand a narrow room's usefulness.

Builders of Craftsman and Prairie architectural styles were instrumental in popularizing built-ins. They advocated no-frills design, and wanted everything in a house to be useful. So if there was a need for bookshelves, the architects reasoned, why not just build them in?

If you think your living room would function better with a built-in or two, plan carefully before you commission them. Consider the following:

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Smart built-ins can add to the value of your home.

Look over your budget. Built-ins aren't cheap, but since they stay with the house, they appreciate in value. Think of them as an investment, unlike freestanding furniture, which begins to depreciate as soon as you buy it.

Consider what would really make the room more comfortable and easier to live in. Do you want more storage for CDs, books, videos, or toys? Or is display space for collectibles what you need? Or a desk, a bar, or a quiet corner?

A storage bench near the front door keeps outdoor gear handy underneath.

Assess your current furniture and make a list of the furnishings you think would meet your needs. If you wish you had an entertainment center, for example, instead of going out and buying one, sketch out what you want and talk to a carpenter or interior designer. You might be surprised at what can become a built-in.

This display hutch follows the line of the staircase.

Don't overlook the importance of style. Furniture isn't a built-in simply because someone nails it to a wall. A built-in should pick up details of the home, such as the trim and the molding, and add to the integrity of the architecture. Poorly designed built-ins detract not only from the look of a room but also from the value of the home.

A wall of shelves works attractively to showcase (and store!) servingware and also serves to frame the window.

French doors in front of a built-in cabinet protect collectibles displayed on glass shelves.

Bookcases (or other storage) under the staircase is a great way to use space that would otherwise be wasted.

A rolltop desk helps keep a busy kitchen organized.

Choose your builder carefully. When looking for someone to design and/or build what you want, ask friends and neighbors for references. If you already have a good rapport with (or are referred to) a remodeling contractor, don't automatically assume that he or she can build a china cabinet as well as they may have built a new wall or installed kitchen cabinets. Ask to see samples or photos and request references before you commit.

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