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Kitchen & Bath Design NewsThe use of cabinets in places other than the kitchen and bath is a huge and growing part of work done by kitchen and bath designers today. In fact, I'm aware of two design firms and one showroom in my "neighborhood" (the Northwest) that have shifted their focus and their marketing efforts to built-ins throughout the house.
Recently, I had the chance to talk at length about built-ins, and stock cabinets in particular, with a design friend who literally wrote the book on this. The friend is Connie Edwards, CKD, CBD, director of design for American Woodmark, and the book is Beautiful Built-Ins: Plans for Designing with Stock Cabinets, hot off the press from McGraw-Hill. While Connie's focus is stock cabinetry applications, my experience is that the design concepts that come out of stock applications can easily be used and expanded on with custom materials.
Several key factors have influenced the fast growth of cabinetry outside the kitchen and bath and, in fact, throughout the house. First, the open plan is a part of most new and remodeling projects today, and this calls for better coordination among adjacent spaces. The quality and variety available in many levels of cabinetry makes this an easy task.
With interest rates at an all-time low, that fact that built-in cabinetry can be rolled into a mortgage where furniture cannot is another positive. Specific-use rooms or spaces are well-served by built-ins, as is our never-ending need for storage and better organization. The ability to customize has always been a driving force in the creation of built-ins. A favorite of many, Frank Lloyd Wright considered every aspect of the interior to be integral to the architectural statement, and so designed many built-in features. In fact, he used built-ins for everything, down to the table and chairs in the dining room. Today, built-ins allow us to create furniture that precisely fits the client's needs and the home's personality.
Just as in the kitchen and bath, the design of built-ins is inspired first by our clients and their intended use of a space. When you take this concept outside the kitchen, the sky is the limit.
Many designers have, for a long time, been including special-purpose rooms like the laundry, the library or the great room. Today, these designs are expanding as the purposes for the space expand, and the list of additional specialty rooms or spaces is growing. Included in Beautiful Built-Ins is a home with a dozen rooms of built-in cabinetry outside the kitchen, including a computer area, a loft-library, a child's imagination room, a home office and an energy room.
While many things are similar between kitchens and baths and built-ins, a few differences are noteworthy. Differences in heights and proportions are a good place to start. For one thing, as a rule, standard cabinetry elevations in the kitchen total 84", 90" 96" above the furnished floor. Most "full-height" furniture pieces finish between 72" and 80", a significant change in proportion that has great impact on the finished piece.
The differences in heights and proportion continue to the heights of the computer or mid-way break in the piece. While the height of the horizontal break in a furniture piece is usually lower than the 36" kitchen standard, it varies widely according to its intended use. An entertainment center might be much lower to accommodate the television at the appropriate height for seated viewers, v=but a hutch might go higher to provide better storage and a visual barrier between the kitchen prep area and the adjoining spaces.
To create a furniture look with built-ins, the proportions common in furniture pieces will be the best guide, along with consideration of the ceiling height and proportions of the space the built-ins will occupy.
Whether antique, reproduction or newly introduced, furniture can be a great source of inspiration, copied in great detail or simply in spirit.
Another aspect of balance and proportion comes into play when built-ins involve stacked cabinetry. One common stack is short-over-long, similar to what you might see in a tall utility cabinet. Reverse the order of the stock to long-over-short and the utility cabinet takes on the appearance of an entertainment or china cabinet...
Along with attention to proportion, details are a critical element in the design of built-ins. Moldings are one of the easiest ways to achieve a richly detailed look on even a simple built-in. Particularly with stacked cabinetry, it's also worth noting that more is definitely not better. Rather, the most important factor influencing trims, moldings and details will be the quality of the installation.
As previously mentioned, the designs for some of our old favorite areas for built-ins have expanded along with their intended uses. The laundry, once consigned to the basement, is now commonly placed near the kitchen and/or near the bedrooms. Near the bedrooms, it often takes on the storage and space required for a morning kitchen or a snack/medicine station as well as linen and clean laundry storage. Near the kitchen, the laundry/mud room has expanded to become the family foyer, with individual lockers and organized spots for outgoing items. In some cases, this expansion includes a family activity center, a computer nook or space for leisure time activities like planting or potting.
The designs of some of the new special-use rooms are particularly fun to consider. Given our growing appreciation for the "itty bitty sacred ones," rooms for our children are a great opportunity, untapped until recently. This space may be the corner of a family or great room, or it may be a dedicated room. It may be part of a child's bedroom or an unused bedroom given over to a child's imagination room. It may be as little as toy storage and a "work" surface at child's height, or a window seat and nook with everything planned to a child's scale.
Because children grow constantly and rapidly, flexibility and adjustability should be part of good design of this space. Given the nature of the intended uses, a design focus including safety, rounded corners, sturdy materials and secure installations with plenty of storage will serve well.
Another new direction, the home spa is a personal favorite. In the newer designs of home with so much open or public space, this is the opportunity to create a private space that is truly a sanctuary, with the comforts and therapeutic influence of water.
Flex space adjacent to a master suite in new plans or redesign of an unused bedroom in remodeling can elevate an exercise room to new levels. Two features that I am seeing more often in high-end projects are the massage table and the lap pool. These certainly speak to the stress-relief needed to balance our frenetic schedules.
We have barely touched on the opportunities for the design of built-ins throughout the house. Computer stations, home offices, entertainment centers and home theaters are but a few of the directions we have not taken, and certainly, Beautiful Built-Ins offers a place to delve further. Hopefully, the ideas and lessons learned, as shared here, will give you new directions for spaces you frequently design, as well as some thoughts on spaces and purposes you haven't considered.