A built in is so much more than a storage unit, and I’m definitely not complaining about extra storage because as we all know storage is life and the more storage in your home the better… but I’m talking about creating something amazing that will make your guests say ‘wow!’ when they enter your room and give you somewhere you can display an array of beautiful objects and artwork.

A well designed  built in can totally transform a room and can make amazing use of what would otherwise be a plain old wall. In this Inspired Interior entry I will go into detail on how to design a built in, but not just a standard storage unit that does nothing for your space. I want you to be able to create something really special for you home that will serve a functional purpose, while also making a statement.

Installing a built in to at least one room of your home is a great idea. It gives you the opportunity to take your art and accessories up the wall instead of just on surfaces and it’s an excellent location for extra storage. Firstly you need to think about how you want to use your built in and what you want to display or store inside it. More than likely a television will feature prominently if you’re planning a design for your living room. What a world we’re living in where televisions are so flat and thin and we can now get away with a 12 inch deep built in compared to back in the day when a minimum of 24 inches was necessary to accommodate them. All it takes is 12 inches of the footprint of your home.

We will cover the 3 main concepts that can be assigned to any situation when it comes to a built in. These principles are as follows:

  • Dominant location on a focal point wall.
  • As wide as possible and as tall as possible i.e. bigger is better.
  • Light it up! It makes a world of a difference trust me.

Focal Point wall


This is the first thing to consider. You want your built in to be in a place where you’ll be able to see it the moment you walk into your room. Choose a wall that is a focal point wall, in other words, when you walk¬† into your room use the wall directly in front of you to place your built in. If this can’t be done for whatever reason for example the wall is full of windows, you want to use the next most important wall you can see from the entry to the room. Note that just because there are windows doesn’t mean you can’t have a built in. Consider using them to your advantage and incorporating bench seats into you design as you can see from the above photo. It’s best avoided placing built ins on walls where you need to turn around to see them after stepping into a room.

Bigger is better


This principle is fairly self-explanatory. Go as wide as possible and as tall as possible. You want to create an impact with your built in from the moment you enter the room. Use as much of the wall as you possibly can by going wall to wall and all the way to the ceiling. There’s nothing worse than seeing a built in stop before it hits the ceiling especially when the ceiling isn’t particularly tall to begin with. This just makes the built in itself look short as well as giving a feeling of the ceiling being lower than it is. This gives you the opportunity to take your art and accessories up the wall and enables you to be able to decorate the entirety of your wall.

Let there be light


Yes it may be a little extra work having an electrician come out and wire everything up, but I highly recommend lighting all the shelves of your built in. This is by far one of the smartest things you can do and really not all that difficult for the impact it creates. It’s unfortunate that more people don’t do this. So many times I see people install beautiful built ins and they don’t light the shelves, and you can’t see their accessories, especially if they’ve chosen a dark stain finish. Light enables you to be able to see everything you have on display and really creates a wow effect.

Use puck lights as far forward as you can, and angle them downwards to light accessories and create a ‘waterfall’ of light down your shelves. Alternatively you can use LED strip lighting to back light your shelving. Always have your lights on dimmers to avoid them being so bright at nighttime when you’re trying to relax and read or watch television. Being able to dim your lighting will also help you set whatever mood you’d like for your room. Lighting up your shelves and in turn your objects and accessories makes a world of a difference and is something I highly recommend.



Of course the way you accessorize is very important too. Trends change over time but as a general rule of thumb I prefer to stick with lighter colored accessories. Keep it as calming, simple and beautiful as possible. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, less is more when it comes to decorating and choose a theme and stick to it. Also follow the rule of odds by grouping small vignettes of accessories together.

Artwork can also make huge impact in a built in if you have the space for it. Hanging a piece of art inside your built in particularly as the focal point in the center or on either side as well as being lit up can make quite the statement to your room.

Faux built in

If you’re on a budget or don’t wish to have something so permanent, you can also create a built in look by using various pieces of furniture to mimic the effect of a built in. A simple way of doing this is by using 2 tall bookcases or display cabinets to flank either end of you wall and using a wider and lower cabinet in the middle between them. This will create symmetry as well as giving you a place in the center to fix either your television or a large piece of artwork to the wall. You can also choose to use a sofa in the middle instead and this will give a similar effect. Be sure to use the same design principles mentioned earlier by choosing a focal point wall and choosing well scaled furniture pieces to give a similar width and height a built in would. Also remember the importance of lighting. Using lamps on your shelves or a floor lamp on each end will provide ample lighting while giving you a similar look for less.


To recap, what makes a good built in are these three things: Location, size and lighting. And we should also throw a bit of symmetry in there for good measure. Choose your best wall, go as large as you possibly can and light it up. By following these simple built in design principles I’m sure you will end up with a gorgeous built in that has a real wow factor and adds so much impact to your home.