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The Ultimate Guide


Beautiful Living Rooms With Built-In Shelving

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    Why Built-Ins?

    Living room built-ins can add style and personality as well as storage. And because built-ins can be designed to cater to your household's specific needs, the options are virtually endless. So whether you want to create closed storage, an open display area, or you want to call attention to certain details, custom built-ins can offer the perfect solution.

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    Maximize Space

    Custom A Frame Built Ins
    Foley & Cox

    A-frame houses can pose certain complications when trying to decorate and maximize space. The angle of the walls can make it difficult to use prefab cabinets without causing a visual break. In this case, custom living room built-ins can provide an excellent solution. Here they were brought all the way up to the ceiling, maximizing the space and drawing the eye upward.

    Interior design by Foley & Cox

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    Two Tone Color

    Blue living room built ins
    W Design Interiors, Photo by Scott Hargis

    Customization of built-in shelves doesn't have to stop with the measurements. Painting built-ins so that they contrast or compliment other colors in the room is a great way to add interest to a room and create a focal wall.

    Interior design by W Design Interiors

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    Keep it Classic

    Custom built ins in transitional living room
    Cory Connor Designs

    Traditional white built-ins with closed storage on the bottom and open on the top are so versatile that they can fit into just about any style of living room. Choosing a simple cabinet style will ensure that if your tastes change and you decide to redecorate, the built-ins will always fit in.

    Interior design by Cory Connor Designs

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    Wraparound Shelves

    The beauty of built-ins is that they can be customized to suit a home's or homeowner's specific needs. In this room from Wendt Design Group, the shelves wrap all around the room, providing a ton of storage and display space. A blank area was left above the sofa to allow for sconces and art. The contrasting color manages to create a focal point in the midst of all the shelves.

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    Less is More

    Contemporary custom built ins
    Angela Free Design

    Living room built-ins don't have to be overly decorative or ornate to make a statement. The streamlined silhouette of the unit in this room is striking in its geometric simplicity and adds to the overall contemporary feel of the room.

    Interior design by Angela Free Design

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    Short and Sweet

    When it comes to living room built-ins there's no need to always build from floor to ceiling. In this case, built-in cabinets were installed about halfway up the wall, beneath windows on either side of a mantel. They manage to maximize the available space while framing the focal point and not blocking the light.

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    Highlight a Collection

    Built-in shelving comes in all shapes and sizes. And they don't have to house only books. Treasured collections and shapely accessories can take center stage when displayed thoughtfully and highlighted with accent lighting.

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    Architectural Highlight

    Custom built-ins can be designed to highlight and compliment a room's architectural details. Here the shelves were taken up close to the ceiling and match up with the widths of the ceiling arches. The finials at the top of the shelves act as a connecting force between the built-ins and the arches, making them appear almost as one unit.

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    Tall and Narrow

    Contemporary living room with narrow built ins
    Micheal Abrams Limited, Photo by Scott Shigley

    Sometimes less is more, especially in rooms where there isn't a lot of wall space. Tall, narrow built-ins can help frame a fireplace and reinforce a focal point while still providing some display or storage space. Accent lighting helps draw the eye to where it's supposed to go.

    Interior design by Michael Abrams Design

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    Side View

    Contemporary living room with custom built ins
    Portico Design Group, Photo by Kristen McGaughey

    While symmetry is naturally appealing to the eye, it's not always the right answer. In this room by Portico Design, a built-in unit was installed on one side of the mantel to house the television and other items. Instead of the fireplace being the sole focal point, it becomes part of a triangle-shaped focal area with the art hanging above, and the television.

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    Built In Seating

    The term"built-in" doesn't just refer to shelving. Seating can also be a component. This built-in unit has the best of both worlds, with closed cabinets on one side and a built-in seat with drawers underneath on the other.

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    Entertainment Center

    Add drama to a living room with sleek and modern built-ins designed around entertaining. Media centers have been popular for quite awhile, but home bars are quickly catching up. While they used to be relegated to dining rooms, basements and less populated areas of the home, they can now often be found front and center in the living room.

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    Floating Shelves

    Modern living room with black built ins
    State Street Interiors

    Create a contemporary look with simple floating shelves. The lack of hardware and decorative embellishments keeps the look clean, while the dark color adds drama. A look like this is fairly easy to replicate using pieces of wood cut to size but in order to get the look be sure to paint the back wall a similar color as the shelves.

    Room design by State Street Design

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    Architectural Detail

    Beach house living room with built in shelves
    Molly Frey Design

    Don't be afraid to add a little decorative detail to living room built-ins. The back of this unit has a shiplap detail that adds a subtle coastal vibe. In this case, the detail is architectural, but things like paint and wallpaper can also be used to great effect.

    Interior design by Molly Frey Design

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    Don't Be a Square

    Built in shelving with arches
    Liz Williams Interiors

    Arched built-ins with decorative trim add a feeling of elegance to this relaxing living room. The arched shape provides a nice juxtaposition to the streamlined mantel while the trim adds a beautiful finishing detail.

    Interior Design by Liz Williams Interiors

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    Enhance a Focal Point

    Inset built ins with rounded tops
    Kelly Keiser Design, Photo by Ken Gutmaker

    Simple, streamlined built-ins with minimal accessories can help call attention to a more decorative focal point. In this case, the shelves help frame the ornately carved mantel, both contrasting and complimenting it.

    Interior design by Kelly Keiser Design

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    Think Outside the Wall

    Built-ins don't always have to be against a wall. Sometimes they can be incorporated into other areas of the room in a way that makes a lot more sense. These shelves that are built into a staircase are a great use of space. They do not impose on the rest of the room and provide ample storage for books and accessories.

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    A Warm Embrace

    Traditional built-in cabinets in a warm wood finish help give this old world living room a comforting and comfortable atmosphere. In order to create a look like this make sure that the built-in cabinets wrap around a significant portion of the room. They act like an embrace, framing the seating arrangement and creating a sense of warmth.

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    Go Bold

    Blue living room with built ins
    Ann Lowengart

    Bring some life to your built-ins by painting them a bright or bold color. While the style of these units is fairly straightforward and traditional, the intense, bright blue color gives them a sense of playfulness.

    Interior design by Ann Lowengart Interiors

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    No Frills Built-Ins

    Sometimes simplicity is best. These no-frills, frameless built-ins provide plenty of storage while reinforcing a contemporary aesthetic. The clean lines provide a nice contrast to the curved lines of the furniture, which is important for creating a sense of depth.

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    Dark and Romantic

    Dark built-ins can contribute to the sense of intimacy in small, cozy rooms. Here they flank the fireplace and help call attention to the stone facade. Dark leather wing chairs with nailhead trim reinforce the masculine aesthetic.