Millwork Is Having a Moment in 2023

Learn how to make the most of this custom design feature and why you should consider incorporating it into your home.

Kitchen with Custom Millwork

Courtesy of Kris Tamburello

Whether your home is brand new, updated, or historic, you can give it a custom feel with millwork. Even if you're not familiar with the term, the feel of your space is likely influenced by its millwork, which is a fancy way to refer to baseboards, trim, paneling, and just about any other wood design elements in a room.

Vy Truong and Han Dang, cofounders and principals at Very Handsome Studio, believe the demand for custom millwork is based on a need for cost-effective solutions that utilize a space in a way that floating furniture can’t. Think of it as the key to meeting specific needs that are unique to your space, layout, and aesthetic. Whether you have ornate crown molding or sleek paneling, millwork sets the tone for a space even before paint, furniture, and decor are added.

“After the pandemic, people are really focusing on how to personalize their homes and how to increase property value," says Brittany Farinas, creative director and CEO of interior design firm House of One. "Custom millwork design achieves both."

To help you better understand all that can be achieved with this custom design element, including its installation considerations, benefits, and cost, we spoke to designers and gathered their best millwork tips.

Kitchen with Custom Millwork

Courtesy of Kris Tamburello

What Is Millwork?

Millwork is a term used in construction to describe just about any form of custom woodwork, encompassing everything from paneling and cabinetry to baseboards and trim. According to Dang and Truong, one of the benefits of millwork is that you can use it to renovate your space in the form of display shelving or even custom storage solutions. When looking for ways to maximize the use of space, sticking to floating furniture is rarely the full solution. Instead, calling on custom millwork can provide a more cost-effective option and add functionality without crowding your space.  

Modern Kitchen with Custom Millwork

Courtesy of Lifestyle Production Group

Millwork Design Considerations and Cost

Because designing with millwork has become so popular, there are hundreds of material and finish combinations available. And while this helps create a truly unique space, you'll need to narrow it down a bit before you get started. “When designing custom millwork, we aim to reflect the home’s architecture and the client’s personality,” Farinas says.

Dang and Truong urge clients to view millwork as permanent additions to the space, which means homeowners need to have a clear vision in mind at the start. Plus, knowing exactly what you want can help avoid costly changes or mistakes. “Forcing a design style into a space that is speaking in a different language is never the way to go,” Farinas says. “Custom millwork is meant to add a level of integration and luxury to a space, so when selecting finishes, I always think about what would be the absolute best way to elevate the space.” 

Because millwork is a custom addition, it can get costly. Dang and Truong explain that one way designers can help cut down on cost is by utilizing an out-of-box base system (like that of IKEA) to help save on investment. The pieces can then be customized with various materials, colors, finishes, and hardware to make them appear fully custom. “So don’t think that you have to pay a fortune for beautiful millwork; there’s a way to get what you want creatively,” the duo share. 

Kitchen with Custom Millwork

Courtesy of Lifestyle Production Group

Millwork Functionality

When considering adding millwork to a space, the primary objective should be adding functionality. Dang and Truong say it’s incredibly helpful to have clients who are willing to get into the nitty-gritty when it comes to exactly what they’re looking for. For example, if you're aiming to do custom shelves in your home office, how do you want the books displayed? Out in the open or tucked away? What are your thoughts on hardware? Do you have a need for file storage or hooks on the side of the unit to store all of your miscellaneous office items? The designers say this sort of information helps them think about millwork from a design perspective before they even begin mapping out plans.

Kitchen with Custom Millwork

Courtesy of Kris Tamburello

The Benefits of Millwork

The primary reason Dang and Truong are fans of millwork is simply how it can effectively maximize the space. They start by talking with their clients about what they envision for the space, then share their advice for utilizing millwork to achieve those goals, whether it’s a shelving system for the TV wall or shelving in a home office. When it’s well-thought-out, the designers believe it can both further a home’s aesthetic and create a more cohesive experience. 

“Investing in custom millwork is such a great way to tailor a space to you and provides an opportunity to optimize the use of your home,” Farinas says. But beyond how you plan to use your space on your own time, custom millwork can also serve to increase your home’s value and appeal when it comes time to sell. If you put in the effort to find ways to maximize the home’s footprint and create a custom look and feel that reinforces the home’s aesthetic, consider that added value when it comes time to list.

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