Before and After: These Luxe “Built-Ins” Cost $500 But Look Way More Expensive

published Feb 17, 2021
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About this before & after
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Rental Friendly
Before: cluttered guest room with white dresser
Credit: Emily Neal

Old apartments bring a lot to the table — history! Architectural charm! — but one thing they often don’t provide much of is built-in storage. That means, like Emily Neal, you might have to get creative.

Emily and her boyfriend live in an old apartment with what she calls “limited and awkward storage.” One space that’s especially suffering is the second bedroom, which has a bed in case of guests, an extra dresser for clothes, and not much else. “The room wasn’t living up to its potential and we desperately needed more storage, plus a second work-from-home station as my boyfriend and I were both working from home,” Emily says.

Credit: Emily Neal

She knew she wanted to expand the storage options as well as create space for a desk. Most desks they were looking at buying ready-made cost about $300, though — and when Emily priced out her plans for a totally custom project that would include desk space and storage, she realized she could do it for under $500. Inspired by DIYer Ashley Basnight’s (@smashingdiy) custom closet build, Emily rolled up her sleeves and got to work creating something that would give make this bedroom way more practical for her and her boyfriend

Credit: Emily Neal

Emily mapped out and built her double closets over the course of a week using a mix of IKEA PAX parts and plywood. She snagged the frames in IKEA’s clearance section, but they were shorter than she’d originally wanted. To help fill the gap between the shelf and the ceiling, Emily added MDF boards with arched cutouts — a chic solution to the problem that makes the built-ins look even more custom.

Another custom piece: the doors, which Emily crafted out of plywood. She bought it and the rest of the wood at Home Depot, where associates cut the pieces to size for free. “It can be intimidating going to hardware stores as a young woman, but I did all the prep work and research so I knew exactly what I needed when I walked in,” Emily says.

The desk in the middle of the closets is made with a countertop from IKEA that’s supported by a frame of 2x4s. It’s flanked by delicate Anthropologie sconces that Emily fitted with plug-in bulbs.

Credit: Emily Neal

Once Emily built her closet pieces, she painted them mossy green; using the same color on the wall over the desk makes the whole assembly look extra sophisticated. And even though everything looks like it’s built-in, it’s actually only attached to the wall with four screws — so Emily can bring everything with her once her lease ends.

“I love that it’s both functional and beautiful,” Emily says of the room now. “This space felt like a dead zone before and now it’s one of my favorite spaces in our home. It has a place for everything tucked away and out of sight.”

But above all, she says, “I’m most proud of the fact that I did this completely on my own. Completing this project has been a great boost in confidence.”

Inspired? Submit your own project here.