It’s no secret that I’m a little obsessed with built-ins. Built-in shelving, storage, furniture, all of it. In this house, it’s a bit of a necessary obsession because of the weird shapes and sizes of some of the rooms. I wouldn’t say that it’s a small house, but there just aren’t a lot of good places to put all of our modern day furniture. Built-ins to the rescue!
Some readers have asked me to write a post on the planning process for the amazing built-ins that we’ve been starting to add to the house, so I thought I’d put together a few simple things to think about that will get you started in the right direction.
Measure Your Space: All Of It!
Even the smallest most insignificant bit of empty wall space can become a really beautiful and useful built in. Make sure that when you measure out your space, you go all the way up to the ceiling and right up to door ways or windows. Every inch counts and makes a big difference. In Kennedy’s room, we even built right across a strangely angled wall and it made for some really good display shelves, and helped the room actually feel bigger and more of a normal shape.
Think About Skill Set, Comfort Level, and Available Tools
These projects can be as simple or as complicated as you make them. Be realistic with yourself about what your skills are and how comfortable you are with the project and don’t bite off (much) more than you can chew. These projects have a way of dragging on for months or even years if you make them something you dread. This should be fun! And while we’re talking about that, tools make all the difference. Having the right tools can make a really complicated project seem really easy. If you’re still building up your tool collection, that’s just fine! Just make sure you plan for what you can actually do with the tools you already have, not the ones you wish you had.
What Materials Will You Use?
We like to use a combination of MDF, pine, hardwoods, and drywall for our built-ins. Don’t think you need to stick with all one material for all parts of your project. There are some places where you’ll want to use MDF for it’s straightness, while there will be other places where a small piece of wooden trim will looks best once everything’s painted. Plain painted MDF edges are not the prettiest thing so plan to cover up the rough, exposed ends if you go with MDF, like we did in Baby Jack’s room.
How Much Time Can You Spend?
This desk and shelving unit in Kennedy’s room looks pretty simple now that it’s all done, but it took Chris about 4 days from dawn til dusk to get everything to fit just right with all the weird angles and uneveness everywhere in the room. And then it took me another full day to paint it! If you’d like your project to go a little quicker and you’re dealing with just a straight wall, consider using pre-made shelving units for all or some of your project and just attaching them to the wall and trimming them out with some moldings. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can transform a room that way and you’ll wonder why you waited so long!
It’s never fun to worry about your budget on DIY projects, but it’s even less fun to realize you’ve overspent afterwards. Really look at the costs of all the materials your plan requires and see what it’s going to cost you. Sometimes the smallest pieces of a project can be the most expensive! Realize that you’re almost definitely going to be running back to the store once or twice to get something you didn’t realize you needed or replace a piece that you made a mistake on. It’s just part of the adventure!
Honestly, having a good idea is half the battle, so do your research! Look at hundreds of pictures and see which ideas you find that really stand out to you and then tailor them to your space and your skill level. Having an idea that you’re really excited about will carry you through those hours and hours of measuring, nailing, and painting! You won’t be able to wait until you get to see the final result! I can’t recommend a few good evenings spent on Pinterest enough!
We’ve got plenty more of these types of projects either half underway or just in the planning stages around here. The thing you really need to know is that no matter how much planning you do, you’ll always have to get a little creative and you’ll always run into some kind of challenge, BUT you’ll also always love the final product so much more than you thought you would! The extra storage and functionality that built-ins bring to our home really do make my life better on a daily basis. So if you’re thinking of taking on the challenge of adding some built-ins to your home, I say go for it!
Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.