Before & After: Custom Built-Ins Totally Transform This Writer’s Living Room

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Rust colored living room with caned armchairs.
Credit: Rebecca Enberg

When Rebecca Enberg, home expert and author of the Substack Your House Machine, and her husband needed a place to store books and records in their living room, they wanted a display that looked more visually interesting than a standard bookshelf. Keeping their entryway clutter-free topped the priority list, too, so they decided to create custom built-ins that served both purposes.

“I wanted this to do more than just store things,” Enberg explains. “I really studied the needs of my family and household before taking on this project. I knew [built-ins would] look nice and fit the era of the home, but I also wanted it to enable us to run systems to keep our home tidy with minimal effort from me.” 

The resulting storage system, which frames the living room doorway and surrounding walls, includes a total of 12 shelves along the top and six lower drawers. Enberg wanted each person in her household to have one drawer for their own personal items — like hats, gloves, and sunglasses — as an ode to the 5S method of organizing. That way, when anyone inevitably asks her where something is, she could just say, “look in your drawer.” 

Credit: Rebecca Enberg

“Before jumping into the cabinet solution, we did a dry run with bins where we tried out this idea of everyone having their own spot,” Enberg explains. “It worked, so I felt confident taking the plunge with our built-in drawers.” 

Using cabinets from Cutting Edge Custom Cabinets and enlisting help from a local painter, Enberg admits that the project was expensive overall. But, she ultimately chose to invest in custom-made cabinets to fully maximize much-needed storage on the home’s main level. The cabinetry also has a coating of oil-based paint — in the same shade used throughout Enberg’s home — which tends to cost more than water-based paint. She notes that if you invest in higher-quality wood or pre-painted cabinets, you can skip the painting step entirely to save both time and money.

However, Enberg adds that “it doesn’t require a $7,000 investment to streamline your living room.” For similar budget-friendly alternatives, she recommends using ready-made IKEA shelves or cabinets, like the BRIMNES bookcases with drawers, HAUGA cabinets with doors, or HEMNES cabinets with glass doors and drawers. 

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