Built-ins make cozy comeback

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2012 - 8:54 AM

Architectural storage, a centuries-old design solution, is finding new fans.

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Simple open shelves hold dishes and let light into the kitchen in a renovation by Albertsson Hansen Architecture.

Built-in furniture and cabinets have cycled in and out of favor for centuries. Now they're making a comeback, inspired by the better-not-bigger trend in residential design.

"Built-in storage seems to be more on people's radar," said Jean Rehkamp Larson of Rehkamp Larson Architects. "There's also a thoughtfulness about making them part of a home's architecture."

Today's built-ins house everything from flat-screen TVs to kids' sports equipment, but their smart, space-saving utility is timeless -- and adds to a home's appeal.

"Built-ins make a house more than a box," said architect Todd Hansen of Albertsson Hansen Architecture. "They hold the stuff we need for everyday living and are an integral part of the style and character of a home."

The two Minneapolis firms' storage solutions, from simple shelves to elaborate pantries, are featured in the recently published "All New Built-Ins Idea Book" ($19.95, Taunton Press).

The trend toward smaller-sized homes with open floor plans is expected to make custom-made built-ins a hot commodity in remodels and new construction.

"In open floor plans, they can be used to define rooms, and as a divider instead of a wall," said Larson.

The only drawback is that you can't take built-ins with you. "But if they're well designed, it's money well spent," Hansen said.

To read more about built-ins, including trends and space-saving storage ideas, turn to H6.

From window seats to pantries to media cabinets -- author Joanne Kellar Bouknight's "All New Built-Ins Idea Book" covers them all. The book ($19.95, Taunton Press) is written from a home design perspective and offers more than 275 color photos of a range of built-ins for every room. We chatted with Bouknight about trends, kids' rooms and her Connecticut home.

Q What is a built-in?

A When I was writing this book, it was cold and snowy, and I was reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I noticed what really became "home" for the family was when Pa made a whatnot or a wood shelf. No matter how small their shanty was, Pa would nail five wood shelves in place, and they decorated the edges and set their books and treasures on them. Built-ins can make a home more functional, cozy and comfortable.

Q Are built-ins becoming more popular in new construction and home renovations?

A Yes, because there's all sorts of levels and prices now. You can do high-end custom built-ins or reasonably priced assemble-yourself cabinets from Ikea. People are realizing that it's better to make your house more functional and add character than to have excess space. Sarah Susanka is the queen of the built-in. Her "Not So Big House" books have had a huge impact on design, and focus on the details that make a house usable rather than the "wow" factor.

Q What are some trends in built-ins?

A A lot more open shelves and pantries for storage instead of the matching base cabinet and wall cabinets in the kitchen. People also want kitchen and mudroom built-in recycling bins. Flat-screen TVs are getting bigger and bigger. The new units have to be designed to accommodate TVs and audio equipment. Another trend is the built-in computer desk. With laptops, this area can be smaller -- but now everyone in the family wants one.

Q How does a built-in add style, as well as make a home feel cozy?

A The design, hardware, color, whether it has crown molding -- those are all kinds of decisions that give a built-in style. They also can create smaller, more intimate spaces. And you feel comfortable when your things are stored properly.

Q What are some smart ways to use built-ins.

A Think of a boat designer -- they cram something in every little corner. One project in the book shows slide-out shelves built within a staircase. You can use knee walls in an attic for built-in drawers or recessed bookshelves. Build shallow shelves in the space between studs -- perfect for storing spices.

Q What are some good ideas for kids?

A Built-ins can personalize a kid's room -- for example a lofted bed, desk, toy storage. Paint a cabinet door with chalkboard paint, and kids can write on it. Window seats are wonderful for a kid's room and give it the look of thick walls.

Q I especially like the simple built-ins in the book. One is an extra-deep window sill supported by brackets to hold pots of orchids. What are some others?

A Open shelves are great -- you can get them at Ikea. Even the skinniest shelves can be a big help in a bathroom. You don't need a fancy cabinet.

Q Does the book include how-to instructions for designing and installing built-ins?

A It's primarily visual, but I do have recommendations for sizes, how to choose a cabinet style and guidelines for ergonomics.

Q Do you have lots of built-ins in your home?

A We have a small, old house in Connecticut that was already packed with bookshelves and cabinets. But we did build some window seats over the radiators.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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