- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

Built-ins come in all shapes and sizes and bring the promise of something every homeowner needs — space. And they have become a popular choice for homeowners converting alcoves and unused hidden areas into storage solutions as well as enhancing living quarters.

Cabinets and shelves wrap around doors and windows in family rooms and kitchens to create reading nooks.

Floor-to-ceiling wall units and benches can transform a spare room into a library or home office.

“People like the look; they want it to be part of their home,” says Michael Herron, president of Woodwise Interiors, a company with offices in Virginia and Maryland specializing in built-ins.

“We’re seeing increases every year. They’re remodeling, and they want to put it into their furniture,” he says.

Almost any space can be transformed with a built-in wall unit or bookcase. These are becoming standard in today’s homes. Older homes are getting updated looks with wall-to-ceiling entertainment centers, libraries and home offices.

Homeowners also can tap into unused areas, such as under stairwells, basement walls and attic nooks, to create more space.

“There are many, many options,” says Nader Nolte, manager of Zadia Wood Center in Rockville. “They are looking to improve the quality of the home as well as storage.”

“People are always upgrading their homes and trying to make their environment fit their particular wants,” says Robert Greene, president of Amazing Grain Woodworking Inc., a Rockville cabinet and mill shop. “People realize they can customize it exactly how they want it and build it floor to ceiling.”

Many residential homeowners are demanding custom entertainment centers to accommodate plasma televisions, and libraries with computer work stations.

“It’s a real asset to the house,” Mr. Greene says. “They certainly recoup their investment. It’s a selling point for the home if it’s done correctly.”

Before any work is done at Mr. Greene’s firm, designers create a finished plan of the project and he usually drafts three proposals before finalizing the design to help select the finished product.

Some high-end mill shops offer set-ins, a slightly cheaper alternative that pieces together a built?in that can be removed later if you move.

“It fills a space, like a built-in, but you can bring it with you if you move,” Mr. Herron says. He says set-ins built in the firm’s North Carolina plant account for 40 percent of the company’s business.

Before getting started, decide on your budget.

Projects can range from hundreds of dollars to hardwood library sets totaling more than $20,000.

The price depends on the type of building materials chosen and the scope of the project.

Homeowners can cut costs by using unfinished furniture and painting or staining the furniture themselves.

For most projects, the cost will depend on design choices.

Homeowners need to choose from more than 12 varieties of crown molding; half a dozen decorative fluting styles; and, typically, eight styles of cabinet doors at any given mill or cabinet shop.

For a fee, many cabinet and mill shops offer design services on site that will provide the homeowner with a design of the finished room. They also can help resolve issues, including how the additional furniture will affect lighting and how to avoid interfering with a room’s traffic flow.

Homeowners need to take careful measurements to avoid problems. Make sure note to cover up electrical outlets or interfere with doors in and out of the room.

Mr. Nolte advises his clients to take three measurements — at the bottom, in the middle and at the top — to get the most accurate numbers.

“Sometimes the house can be a quarter of an inch or an eighth of an inch off,” Mr. Nolte says.

Designers advise homeowners with widely varied measurements to order units slightly smaller, then finish off the edges with trim that is cut to size.

Besides depth and height, homeowners also should use a carpenter’s square to determine a room’s right angles.

A wide variation might require a custom-made piece that will end up costing a lot more.

Most bookcases and cabinets come in 6-inch increments. Stores typically stock cabinets or bookcases in sizes ranging from 24 to 42 inches.

Shelves can’t span more than 42 inches because they will bend and cannot be secured to hold books or artifacts. Most built-ins are 30 to 36 inches wide and 8 to 12 inches deep. To support weight adequately, shelves should be at least 3/4-inch thick, the Hardwood Manufacturers Association says.

Bookcases and wall units are usually made of hardwoods because they can support more weight — as much as 300 pounds.

Other building materials, such as medium-density fiberboard, can hold only 100 pounds or less. MDF offers a cheaper alternative than traditional hardwoods, and the surface can be painted easily.

Once you have chosen the type of building materials for your project, choose the type of fasteners. Metal standards screwed into the recesses of bookcases are adjustable but don’t offer a finished look. Most upscale stores use pins that are less visible than metal standards.

If you are working with a carpenter, make sure vertical supports are used to reinforce larger shelves. Shelves also can be strengthened with veneer or wood edging. Most woods can handle more than 200 pounds on a 30-by-8-inch shelf.

Because many companies order cabinets out of state, completing a project typically takes six to eight weeks.

Projects could take longer if there is extensive design work or demolition work involved. Having the area refinished and the walls prepped can make finishing the project much faster.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide