Built-In Cabinetry

Ask the Architect

Built-In Cabinetry

Paul D. Rugarber, AIA

Question:  We have been thinking about having cabinetry built in our family room for a TV, storage and bookshelves.  How should we go about planning and executing this project?

Answer:  Built-in cabinetry is a great way to enhance any space.  Cabinetry can provide you with a focal point for a room as well as storage for items you want hidden, and display space for items you want to show off! I will discuss where cabinetry can be located for maximum effect, how to design the piece, and how to get it built.

Where to locate the built-in piece depends on how you are using a room.  Often when there is a window or a niche with a window, a practical and decorative solution is to design a window seat that provides storage below and a place to sit and enjoy the views or read a book.  Book shelves can be located anywhere – alongside windows, in a wall recess in the hallway, in a bedroom or office, or next to a fireplace mantel.  A larger built-in unit for a TV can be designed around existing fireplaces or windows, and can add a great element to the room.   If there is a fireplace and TV, they may fight for space, but locating the TV to the side or above the fireplace or on a different wall may work well too.  Keep in mind that heat may be an issue for the TV, so consult the fireplace and TV manufacturer’s recommendations.  Designing doors for the unit is a way to conceal the TV or other items you may not want exposed everyday.


Designing your cabinetry does not have to be difficult.  Look at the existing style of your home and decide what you like, such as the doors, trim, and furniture details.  Some people want the new piece to have its own style, which can work as well.  The internet, magazines, and books can help you brainstorm ideas that work, and might give you examples you hadn’t even thought of.  I have designed lots of units for people who have some ideas and pictures, but are not sure how to pull them together into a cohesive piece.  Consider if you want open shelves for display or would you like to be able to store games, DVD players, and DVDs behind doors.  Often we will provide doors on lower cabinets and open shelves above for a combination of storage types.  Glass doors can be provided on shelves as well, which makes for a more refined look and keeps dust at bay.  The existing base trim can be wrapped around the bottom of the unit, and crown trim completes the top.


Now that you have a design, let’s focus on construction!  Whether you have a simple hand sketch with dimensions or a detailed drawing, you should be able to get pricing for your piece.  There are many cabinetry showrooms that can price out your design and offer install services, or you can employ a local carpenter to build it either offsite or in your home.  For a stained finish, you will want to use oak, mahogany, cherry, or maple; for a painted finish, poplar is a good choice.  Once again use your house as a guide – do you want the new piece to blend in with the room or stand out and make a statement? The type of finish will affect the overall cost and look.

Now that you understand what is involved, start planning that next beautiful built-in cabinetry project you have been putting off.  Stay informed, ask questions and have fun along the way.  Let us know how we can help you with your project!

If you are looking for more ideas, visit us at www.pdrdesigns.com or email paul@pdrdesigns.com!

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