Build in Some Character

Filed in Design and Decor by on July 18, 2014

window seat pinterestDon’t you love to walk through older houses and seeing all the built-in character? That corner hutch in the dining room fascinates me with the century of stories it holds, watching over her inhabitants enjoying Sunday meals. And realistically, think about it: No one uses the very corner of a space, so what an ingenious idea to turn a dead corner into an important place to store your valuable china, silverware and stemware – not to mention adding a look to support the architecture of the house.

Built-ins are the ultimate invention for houses. They are truly a win-win for the homeowner. For new houses, built-ins can reduce the amount of square footage needed for the space to function.

A perfect example is a sofa in the living room. Most living rooms today have multiple seating elements for entertaining guests. Most homeowners do not entertain on a daily basis, so try this on for size: Instead of buying an expensive couch, build a comfortable seating element into a bay window. This effectively removes a minimum of three feet out of the space, which can cut 50 square feet out of a medium-sized living room.

At an average construction price of $130 per square foot, that is a $6,500 savings, not to mention the savings of not having to buy the expensive sofa, either. But wait, there’s more. With a built-in seating element, the lower portion can be  turned into storage for blankets and throw pillows, board games, etc. You’ve effectively turned your couch into a closet and saved $8,000. You can now afford the set of Ginsu knives.

Here  are a few other wonderful ideas for a new or existing home, adding character as we take a walk through your home.

Dining Room

The same built-in seating can work for an informal dining nook. Shove the table up to the built-in bench but add storage below for miscellaneous items like placemats, candleholders, seasonal table decorations and whatever. Drawers could be substituted for a hinged top.

Reviving the traditional corner hutch or the half-wall hutches found in old four-square houses, organized all the other items a dining space needs. To modernize, a paper command center either in the dining space or adjacent to the kitchen makes paper organization, computer use and bill paying much easier and allows for shutting off the clutter when needed in an entertainment mode.

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Clean up the clutter of a dirty, high-traffic space by finding built-in nooks, crannies, cubbies and bins for items such as winter boots and outdoor clothing, pet items, school bags, a mail/paper center, sports equipment, gardening center and a built-in bench to sit and use for donning/doffing boots. If I only had space in my own house!


I love the built-in bed frame and base. This puts the bed slightly higher to proportionately fill the space created by the typical higher ceilings. It also allows the designer or homeowner to bring in the architecture of the house and integrate these designs into the wood or trim motifs of the bed-turned-cabinet. Storage can be introduced at the head, sides and feet. An elegant head piece could be added for additional architecture, and even an ascending TV can be built into the foot of the bed. Now the bed is a sleeping space, closet and entertainment center all in one!

Stairways & Hallways

Does a hallway or stairway need to be just a space for getting from one place to another? Absolutely not. I like to think of these spaces as perfect opportunities for libraries. Imaging walking up the stairs, with built-in shelving for books, sculptures, etc. The landing can be extended by a few feet and turned into a ready space complete with a comfy chair, lamp and coffee. Wonderful place to dive into a great book.

Smaller houses once used the upstairs hallway for a series of built-in chest of drawers. That’s another neat and efficient idea to bring out character in an ordinary blah space.

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You can see in magazine ads today that there is an increased need for organizing closets. We need to think about what goes into a closet, how it needs to be accessed and how often. A bit more shelving, drawers, etc. in a closet can actually double or even triple the space enclosed by a closet. Let’s use the space we already have in a smarter way.


Designers and cabinet companies have done a great job in bringing some of the older character back and have come up with great new ideas for increasing storage and functionality for the modern kitchen. This article could not begin to touch all the wonderful inventions for the kitchen. Needless to say, a designer can greatly help in this highly important space in your house. Function and beauty should be the goal of every great kitchen.


I once heard of an architect who designed, into a new home,  a bathroom towel closet that was also a dumbwaiter/clothes cute down to the lower level laundry room. When the towels were washed, dried and folded, they were place in the dumbwaiter. Up the shelf went into the bathroom to serve the occupants. When the towels were used and ready to be washed, the shelf was lifted up and down the dumbwaiter shaft went the towels to the laundry room. I am dying to try that in one of our houses someday.

What are you thinking for you home? Even a quick walk-through with a designer can give you some great ideas for an existing home or create some food for thought on your new dream house. Use your wonderful creativity and have fun!

by Philip Stahl


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