BUILDER is pleased to introduce the second installment of Design Details, an ongoing series that focuses on the little stuff. Each round-up explores a particular theme, showcasing the kinds of innovative solutions that make a house memorable. Got a clever detail you’d like to show off? Send photos, specs, and a brief project description to senior design editor Jenny Sullivan at

Your trim carpenter is already clocking time on the job site, and you’ve got a pile of scrap lumber that’s otherwise bound for the landfill. So why not transform that crawl space or alcove into something noteworthy? In today’s smaller plans, built-in storage can compensate for reduced square footage by making tight spots more functional. And in plans of all sizes, built-in details is an area where quality craftsmanship can really turn heads.

Photos: Anice Hoachlander

Geometry Lesson
One of the defining features in this historic Capitol Hill row home was a large wall of glazing overlooking the rear garden. Its asymmetric panels resembled a Piet Mondrian painting, a visual vocabulary which Barnes Vanze Architects borrowed for a recent renovation. One of the simpler changes involved replacing a tired galley kitchen's accordion doors with a pass-through window. This one-stroke solution allowed greater penetration of natural light into the galley, while freeing up additional countertop and storage space. It also presented an opportunity to repeat the Mondrian aesthetic. Open, blond wood display shelving in the pass-through space matches the maple cabinetry in the kitchen and is arranged like the glazed wall.  Project: Capitol Hill Rowhouse
Architect: Barnes Vanze Architects
Builder: Frank Saunders Construction, Inc.

Photos: Courtesy Structure Homes

Quick Study
Empty cavities underneath staircases have a lot of potential, offering useful space for broom closets, storage cubbies, lockers, small powder rooms, and more. In this California residence, Structure Homes made use of the dead space under a gently curving stair by converting it into a miniature library and reading nook. The walnut built-ins match the shoe molding and stair treads, and the addition of a small table makes for a lovely little workspace that is removed from traffic, but still part of an open floor plan. Project: LA Residence
Builder: Structure Homes 

Photos: Jack Gardner

Happy Hideaway
Built-ins usually count among the final finishing touches added to a house, but these cozy sleeping quarters were constructed before the slab foundation was poured. Factory-built and then shipped to a Florida beach community, this modular concept home (a 2007 Builder’s Choice Award winner) arrived on site more than 80% complete. Clean architecture notwithstanding, the house includes everything an empty-nester couple could possibly want--including built-in bunks for visiting grandchildren. These bunks are outfitted with LCD screens, recessed reading lights, and fun porthole-style windows. The millwork, which is routed to look like authentic bead board, has a fresh, maritime feel.  Project: Tucker Bayou, WaterSound, Fla.
Builder: Haven Custom Homes
Architect: Looney Ricks Kiss Architects

Photos: Coles Hairston

Wine Time
Space wasn’t a constraint in this remodel for wine lovers. Per the client’s request, CG&S Design Build increased the kitchen’s overall square footage and anchored the space with a cherry island that included a prep sink and casual seating. But instead of leaving open space for a wine rack, the design team made a “wine center” one of the kitchen’s permanent fixtures. A short wall perpendicular to the island provides cubbies for bottles, display shelving for china, glass upper cabinets for stemware, and additional closed storage below. The custom painted and glazed cabinetry by Archwood Cabinetry and Millwork is accented by an Italian tile backsplash, and a corner curve in the millwork subtly echoes the arc of the ceiling above. Project: Courter Kitchen, Austin
Builder/Designer: CG&S Design-Build 
Interior Designer: Alexandra Singleton Design

Photos: Curtis Staiger

Pragmatic Furniture
Utility areas can be beautiful and functional, as long as attention is paid to clutter control. In this multipurpose work zone by Brogan Development, things aren’t exactly as they appear. Some of the painted maple recessed-panel doors are fronts for dovetail drawer boxes with soft close hardware. Other panels in the laundry area disguise practical features, including a pull-out ironing board and three pull-out laundry baskets for sorting. In an adjacent workstation with a secondary sink (designed as an auxiliary prep and cleanup area for parties), similar furniture-style panels hide a full-size dishwasher. The whole area, whose cabinetry was created by Wood Brothers, can be closed off with sliding mahogany pocket doors, but it also looks presentable when left open. Project: Manawa Trail Renovation, Mount Prospect, Ill.
Builder/Developer/Designer: Brogan Development
Architect: Paul Psenka Architects

Photos: Jay L. Clendenin for AARP

Vanity Fair
This built-in bathroom vanity actually isn’t built in at all. The module underneath the fixed countertop and sink is a detached storage cabinet on lockable casters that can be easily rolled away to allow wheelchair access. It’s just one of many ingenious pieces of carpentry in a concept home by architect Emory Baldwin, who designed his own urban infill house as a demonstration home for universal design. A 2010 AARP Livable Communities Awards winner, the residence is presently occupied by Baldwin’s young family, but it’s designed to eventually accommodate his in-laws, whom he expects will move into the house in the years ahead.

Project: Green Lake Residence, Seattle
Architect: ZAI 

Photos: James F. Wilson

Bed and Bath
The floor-to-ceiling headboard backing this comfy bed is more than just a headboard. It doubles as a wall partition hiding a private bathroom around the corner. Obscured glass cutouts provide a decorative accent on the bed side and allow natural light to filter in on the bathroom side. The wood is cypress harvested from Florida riverbeds, which is a wood appreciated for its sustainability, durability, and interesting grain variations. Cypress built-ins form a common thread throughout this idea house, which was designed and built as BUILDER’s 2008 show home for the International Builder’s Show in Orlando. Project: Tradewinds, Baldwin Park, Fla.
Architect: Geoffrey Mouen Architects
Builder: Charles Clayton Construction
Interior Designer: Brown & Deddens

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Seattle, WA, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, Orlando, FL.