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The Pros and Cons of Built-In Furniture

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By Bill Primavera

When I rented my first apartment on my own after college, my first urges toward becoming The Home Guru manifested themselves when I decided to build bookcases on both sides of the closed fireplace jut-out in my bedroom. 

I built them cleverly as self-contained units that could be inserted into the allotted space and secured in with molding, but removed when I chose to leave the apartment. That was all well and good until I proudly showed my handiwork to my landlady. She announced that the units had to stay with the apartment since they were considered built-ins. I’m not sure if there’s any law that dictates that. I suspect it depends on local laws, but I was not about to tangle with the woman, a former Ziegfeld Follies girl who was as tough as nails.

So, there we had a disadvantage to build-ins. The moral to that story is never spend money on house improvements in a rental unless you can afford to do so and don’t care about getting your investment back when you move.

But when I bought my first single-family home in Brooklyn Heights, I located a carpenter to build units in my living room, which featured bookcases above and cabinets below, offering a wonderful amount of display and storage space. In those days, I didn’t know the difference between skilled carpentry and that which was merely perfunctory. My experience in that situation was definitely the latter. 

The same was true when I moved to the “country” and had cabinets and drawers built in the main bedroom. Inferior lumber (pine with knots in it) was used and the drawers were somewhat dysfunctional from the start when opening and closing.

However, I lucked out when I wanted built-ins in my current home. I located a master carpenter who had a large workshop in town. In this case, fine wood and professional finishes were employed and I now enjoy really fine built-in furniture that is unique to my home, reflect my personal taste and, I’m sure, will add great value to the future selling price.

The good thing about built-ins is that it maximizes space and, when designed properly, can serve more than one purpose. For instance, when I had bookcases built in my current living room, I took the opportunity to incorporate a fireplace at the same time. It’s not a functional fireplace with a flue (I live in a condo where there is no such accommodation), but an electric fireplace that creates a darned good illusion of a real fire. It even offers the option of generating heat. No trouble with gathering firewood, lighting the fire or cleaning up the ashes!

In both our main and guest bedrooms, I’ve had clothing drawers installed in units made of fine woods that are as high quality as any furniture manufacturer could produce. Again, built-ins here maximize storage space in that they have been built flush with the floor, which is normally not the case with individual pieces of furniture.

My particular leanings toward built-ins are that they are commissioned by the homeowners who want to distinguish their homes as a personal expression. It’s an opportunity to engage in the creative process of making bricks and mortar bend to the will and imagination of the homeowner.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and a journalist who writes about and promotes real estate. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call him directly at 914-522-2076.

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