Molly Rose Photography
Genius built-ins, like this cozy daybed, make use of neglected or awkward spaces.

Whether it’s a desk tucked under a stairwell, or a cutting board that disappears with the slide of a drawer, a clever built-in is a designer trick with a big payoff.

Christine Lennon  –  Updated May 12, 2021

The Costa Mesa-based team at Sérendipité interior design got their hands on this Orange County home, with an open farmhouse-inspired layout, early enough in the design process to squeeze in creative built-ins that give the home its custom charm. A desk tucked under a stairwell, a reading nook with library sconces and shelves, and some smart storage in the kitchen and laundry room make it easier to live clutter free, and utilize every square inch of space in streamlined way.

Molly Rose Photography

A custom-made mattress and bolsters and a coordinating Roman shade give this space its charm.

Sérendipite lead designer Valerie Saunders began her career in home building, and brings that construction knowledge to every project. Saunders and her team worked with Pacific Coast Builders, based in Santa Ana, to fill the house with custom surprises—like a cutting board with a hole to scrape scraps into the trash. Here, Saunders and Eli Obie of Pacific Coast Builders share tips for better built-ins.

Eli Obie, PCB: Look for areas in your home that are otherwise unused and have the potential to become something with character. The desk underneath stairs and the nook with the roof angle is a good example. It’s that little detail that makes it special. Something that always helps is to have a designer draw up plans; they may be able to identify the best locations if you find yourself scratching your head for good ideas. Knowing what you want is key—along with having a budget in mind. 

Molly Rose Photography

A desk in place under a stairwell, in an area that may have been dry-walled off and empty, is a savvy use of space.

Saunders: My advice is to think creatively when finding a fun space in your home for a reading nook. I would recommend considering underutilized closet spaces, especially under the stairs, as typically these are areas that tend to collect clutter and are not all that usable. This reading nook is integrated into the living space and super useful for storage. We love to design useful and pretty spaces

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Clever built-ins can turn a kitchen into a hyper-functional work space, where a cutting board with a hole to scrape scraps into the garbage can disappear into a drawer.

Obie: Everything was custom-made to fit the space constraints of the ceiling and roof, which ended up giving that reading nook—which used to be a closet—much of its character.

Saunders: There are so many options to make these kinds of spaces unique. Install shiplap paneling or wallpaper, choose a paint color that pops, use a different species of wood that will stand out from the rest of the house. Have fun with light fixtures, shelving, and storage. It should be functional and fun. But the planning is essential.

Molly Rose Photography

In a well-designed kitchen with its own surprise nooks, a coffee maker vanishes into a pantry.

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