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Design

Building A Built-In (And Making It Look Original)

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Hey friends, today we’re diving a little deeper into my TV room. Why? Because that built-in bookcase and cabinet is my dream come true. It was one of the very first ideas I had when we started renovating the house, and seeing it come to fruition was WILD. But, while the idea was mine (and yes, it was genius), the actual bringing to life of this project was the result of the amazing design skills of Velinda Hellen and excellent construction by our contractor Ron.

So, I’m going to let Velinda take it from here . . .

Back in 2019 when Sara showed me her awkward corner she said, “so you can just… design something to stretch from one wall to the other that makes the shape of the  room feel more balanced and purposeful. Something with decent storage that feel like it belongs with the rest of the house and hides this weird corner.” Oh, okay Sara. I’ll just do that.

She handed off the sketch of the rough concept she had in mind, which I hope she still has and inserts here:

Did that work? Is there a picture above now? GREAT. So now you can now see what I was working with. (It was actually very helpful. You don’t have to be Picasso to try to communicate with your designer). I measured her existing space, took into consideration future millwork that didn’t yet exist (door trim) and got to drawing. 

This piece of the design took me about 7.5 hours from measuring to concept, through drawing and dimensioning. It then took me another hour of calls with the carpenter making sure the details were being executed just so. 

an overhead look at the design

So let’s look at those details. Due to the sharp angle of that wall, centering the lower storage (as Sara’s hunch had been) would have actually removed a great deal of what was usable about the space. The wall not housing the exterior door is flat and  provides an area to make a full box, unlike the sloped wall, which doesn’t permit shelves to be deep enough to be useful right along the wall. Still, why lose that handy, full box on the opposite side? 

straight on details

By dedicating that normal-shaped box to stand on its own as a high-functioning lower (ie. inserting pull-out drawers), but combining the remaining awkward space into one cabinet so that there was flexibility to maneuver around that awkward shape, I attempted to give Sara and Mac the game-storage they needed.

a look inside . . .

I also wanted to make sure electronics could be wired to hide in here since I knew the layout of the room wouldn’t allow for a legit media console. A shallow shelf was about the best we could get. 

What I liked about this design too is the stretch of evenly-sized cabinet doors would almost feel like millwork in the room… and millwork plus built-ins are something craftsman homes traditionally have a lot of. So to leave that millwork-inspired feel, I made the door open via a push latch, so no hardware is necessary.

The rest was easy; center some open shelving, throw in some beadboard detailing, finish it off trim to match the rest of the room and push it off on someone else to do the hard part (the building). 

When it came to actually building the bookcase, they hired an awesome contractor named Ron. First he built the lower and upper sections separately off site, and assembled them on site. Then he added drywall and plastered over everything. Finally he spray painted the whole thing with a color-matched lacquer.

Here’s what it looked like once it all came together. You an see the angled wall in the bottom cabinets that allowed us to keep more depth, while we flattened out the top half.

Once it was all said and done, this is what Sara and Mac ended up with – a stunning built-in that not only looks original to the room, but works super functionally for their lives:

Finding the right lights was the hardest part of this whole ordeal. I knew right away that I wanted to flank the design with sconces for that library-feel, but we the swing of the door meant finding ones the had barely any projection (max 7”).

After a lot of hunting or “sourcing” (not included in the 8.5 hours I spent designing this whole thing), these became the perfect solution. The brass pops against that moody, deep green and the shades provide an ambient, diffuse glow adequate to allow overheads to be killed at night. I’ve witnessed, this room gets seeeexxxxy in the evening.

Ok! That’s it for me, I’m going to hand it back over to Sara who’s going to share just a little bit more about how it’s holding up, now that they’ve been living with and using this for several months.

I’m BACK! So . . . now that the photoshoot is over and we’re actually living in this room, how are we using it? Well, it’s mostly game storage. The top shelf houses Mac’s PS4, our router, and our modem. My dad and Mac spent about two days drilling and configuring all the wires so that they all hook up to the TV by running under the floor. Then the two pull out drawers are used for card games and video games.

“But if everything is neatly wired under the floors, then what is that white cord hanging out of the top shelf?” you may be wondering. Haha, that’s a little peek at reality. It’s an ethernet cable that runs from our modem all the way to the front bedroom and plugs into Mac’s desktop. Since we’re both working from home, Mac needs he’s intense work set up to run super fast, and that means a hardwire to the internet. It’s chill.

And here’s what we’re storing on the inside of those cabinets. GAMES. Listen, I wasn’t kidding when I said we were big game people. And these cabinets manage to barely store ALL of our games. Plus, please see our “normal life” styling on the shelves above. Not too different from the photoshoot styling, but definitely more pops of Mac in there 🙂

And now the part I know you’ve all been waiting for . . . The final tally. What did this little project cost us. Well, very luckily for us, we didn’t actually have to pay Velinda for her 8.5 hours of designing on this project (if you want a closer look at the juicy details of how much it actually costs to work with a designer you can read that post here), BUT we did pay for all the materials and for Ron’s labor.

  • Cabinet materials (paint, wood, drywall, etc.) – $1200
  • Drawers and hardware – $67.46
  • Cabinet construction (including materials) and install – $2,350
  • Sconces – $129.98
  • Sconce shades – $30.99
  • ACTUAL GRAND TOTAL: $3,778.43
  • Velinda’s theoretical cost – $1,547
  • THEORETICAL GRAND TOTAL – $5,325.43

So, it’s wasn’t a budget project (even without Velinda’s theoretical design fee), but it was a great investment that really makes the whole room feel complete. We couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. HUGE thank you to Velinda for her brilliant design (hire her!), and to Ron for his beautiful execution (DM me on Insta if you’d like his contact info and you’re in the LA area!).

Has anyone else taken on a similar project? Or were you lucky enough to have an existing built-in (like we did in our living room on either side of our fireplace)? Let’s chat!

Fin Mark

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Cris S.

Hmmm – this makes me rethink what I thought was an outrageous quote for a built in cabinet/bookcase to run one length of our living room (about 140 inches) to hold the tv/books/collectables and store items: $5000 from a custom cabinet place. After doing a gut reno/second story addition I did not have $5000. You and Velinda and Ron did a really really nice job. It looks, as you said, original to the house. I ended up watching Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace like a hawk and got an enormous, solid wood, cabinet (that splits into 4-5 pieces for moving) that spans almost that entire space and goes almost up to the ceiling for $500. It was a custom piece that came from a very high end furniture store in our area and still had the name of the people that ordered it on the back (I got the piece from a disaster recovery company that had removed it from their home). I looked them up (yes, I know…) and their home had been profiled in Traditional Home magazine! I put in sweat equity with deglossing it and painting it with white cabinet paint and a slate blue for the back of it,… Read more »

That is awesome! Did you add trim to it? or did it have trim on it already? I think the right furniture can be a great stand-in for built-ins if you can size it right!

Hi Cris. The Trim was all added to the design. The baseboard was carried over from what was already in the rest of the house.

Kap

This is so beautiful Sara and Velinda! I love the moody built-in so much and the color is truly gorgeous. I’m a person who is getting super into board games and really appreciate games storage content lol.

Also, Sara I know you mentioned a few of your fave board games earlier but could you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do a jumbo list of board games that you enjoy with short reviews.

Kap

Just as context: I ended up getting both Arkham Horror and 7 Wonders Duel after they were suggested here and thoroughly enjoyed both of them!

Kap, perfect time to be getting into board games! We love Catan…. and they make a two-player version, if you’re a small household. Splendor is fun.

I looooove this built-in! In fact- I love all built-ins. Not only are they ridiculously functional, but they add so much character to the house. It’s such a GREAT use of a small strange space in Sara’s house. Our living room has a big brick fireplace in the middle of the long wall, and had these big open spaces on either side. So, probably 6ish years ago (? my 40 year old brain can’t remember) I came across a blog that showed how to do “built-ins” with the IKEA Billy bookcases. So, I decided to do that on either side of the fireplace (I had way more energy back then) and it was a total game-changer. Like, insane. It’s the first thing people notice. Plus, it makes all my husband’s book and knick-knack hoarding look intentional and chic instead of scary. I highly recommend built-ins wherever you can do it. I don’t remember how much it cost anymore, but back when I was doing a blog, I wrote all the things I needed to do it, so I guess if anyone is interested, you can just add up the cost of those bookshelves and guess on trim. That’s the key… Read more »

Jenn B

How much space was closed off behind the wall? Are you going to try and utilize some of that in your bedroom at some point?

Julie P

That or have a tiny panic room!?!

Arli

Really, really nice! Looks like it was always there.

MsZ

Love this, thank you! just a small suggestion for post like this that have the pictures that flip through: I’d really rather just see them in a series so that I can enjoy and ponder over each one instead of having it flip through to the next one!
We have three ethernet cords running from our router around the house, one of which is a 100-ft cord. Sigh. We used Command hooks to run them along the ceiling after spending a day or two tripping on them. Highly recommended, but let’s hope this is over soon!

Iz

Have you tried powerline adaptors for your ethernet? We have those for our computers upstairs, while the router is downstairs. You plug in one adaptor next to the router and join with an ethenet cable, then “pair” it with another adaptor plugged in near your computer and joined to that with another ethernet cable. Works great and avoids long cables or holes in the floor.

Julie P

This was such a timely post. I have had a custom cabinet maker do several projects for me – a bathroom vanity at my old condo, refacing a bathroom cabinet, adding custom pull out shelves in bathrooms and kitchens, building out the interior of a coat closet to become a nice pantry. I was on the fence about having him build out a reach-in closet with a fully custom built in closet/cabinetry – mostly closet and drawers, with a desk on one side and shelves above. It will be a game changer for storage in my guestroom/office. But it’s $2600 for 94 inches wide by 96 inches tall. When I saw this post by you guys I realized this was actually a great deal, so I’ve pulled the trigger! Thank you EHD! With WFH going on forever this will be amazing. 💓

Julie P

Btw, my cabinet guy Leo is AMAZING and does work all over San Diego county. If anyone wants contact information please post a reply. 🙂

Debra H

Hi Julie! I would love the contact information for your cabinet guy. Thank you!

Definitely great timing! Custom isn’t inexpensive, but can be so worth the extra cost.

elle

Love this post. Getting the details of the planning and execution is so very helpful. It also ups the appreciation of all that goes into creating such a wonderful space. I echo MsZ about the quickly flipping pictures; it would be so very nice to have time to study those pictures, but they flip by much too quickly.

Rusty

I agree. I like to ponder on pics and zoom in and stuff.

Sarah

What is this most beautiful paint color ? I am inspired to do my office with a similar library vibe!!

Margaret

This is just beautiful, and such an ingenious use of an awkward space.

Thank you so much, Margaret!

bobby

this is the moment to hinge the upper shelves to take advantage of the “v” shaped alcove beyond. Everyone loves a secret room even at mini scale (perfect to hide a safe, guns, or hiding presents… etc.)

Katie

Does anyone have insights to more budget built-ins if you aren’t a DIY genius? Those Ikea hacks look very labor and skill intensive. I’m thinking more like Anne Sage’s CA Closets office/nursery—has anyone done a semi-custom install like that? I have a 12 foot wall with a window and a radiator, but would love shelves on either side with closed storage/radiator cover below. Maybe I just need to start saving and be patient…

Meg

To maximize your storage space, I recommend this organizing solution for board games – it keeps them super organized with a smaller footprint

https://homegrowntraditions.com/game-organization-into-bags/

Kate

I am about to embark on a similar DIY project and would love to know what software you have used to sketch up your diagrams. I have totally confused myself trying to come up with a cutting list

Herselfindublin

This really is terrific and the bespoke fit makes it really worth the cost (even with Velinda’s fee). It totally changes the room, which looks amazing, and I’m sure it will pay off if/when you ever go to sell.

Jeffrey C

Moral of the Story:
Everyone Needs a Ron

The built-in is so much awesome and the color is truly gorgeous. Your step by step guidance will help people to built in their own home.

Heather Obrien

Sara’s TV room just may be one of my most favorite room’s ever! The built in is completely brilliant!!! I wouldn’t change one thing.

We have a lot of the same board games you do!

Love your TV room & the built-in, it looks great!

xo Jules

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