Built-in buffet is reminiscent of craftsman charm

May 02, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Syndicate

First-time homebuyers and foreign investors with cash are swooping in to buy older homes in the few pockets of the country were real estate is starting to show signs of life.

This in no way means that we are out of the woods. But we are seeing first-time homebuyers being enticed by tax breaks and low interest rates.

Not always, but often, houses in depressed areas are exceptionally affordable. There has recently been a lot of good publicity for artists attempting to turn one shabby Detroit neighborhood into a haven for struggling young people.

What begins in just a dozen or so communities might provide a hopeful vision for others. Older homes offer an amazing opportunity and, in many ways, fit our new era of austerity.


Most bungalows built at the start of the 20th century were quite small. Therefore, the cost to refurbish them can be manageable.

Of course, there is the serious expense of new kitchens and bathrooms. Old houses eat up funds with things that have to be done behind the walls that no one gets to show them off. You know, boring but critical items such as wiring, plumbing, heating and ductwork.

One aspect of renovating older homes is the size of the rooms. They are not huge spaces, and it is possible the furniture you already own will not fit. Built-ins are one excellent way to use every square inch of available space.

The photo shows a gorgeous and unique wall-to-wall storage piece that could live elegantly in a kitchen, breakfast room or main dining room. The style, with its tiny apothecary drawers, is an interesting blend of Shaker, Japanese "tonsu" and country.

If you find the opportunity to use a recessed space between two walls, try to make it important looking. By that I mean invest in something that is truly special. Instead of a 29-inch-tall buffet, the custom piece in the photo is the height of sidepieces from an earlier era.

European-style buffets from the 1800s and 1900s followed this pattern: Often, the lower sections were about 40 inches high and they had upper cupboards above that resting place. The surface that hosts the orchid shown in the photo can be deep enough to function as a serving surface.

This one built-in could make an entire room and could be paired with all sorts of different styles of dining-room sets. It would be wise to include at least one electrical outlet to make possible brewing coffee or plugging in a hot tray for entertaining.

If the cost of a custom built-in is not in your budget, consider shopping for an older piece instead. Check out used pieces online or in local vintage shops. Expect to pay anywhere from $800 to $2,000 for something decent.

You can find small, French dessert buffets that have a marble top on the lower section and perhaps shallow shelves above. These are generally petite and, therefore, affordable. It is possible to find a French dessert buffet for between $700 and $900.

As you look to dress up a room, keep in mind that the advantage of a wall-to-wall storage piece is its supreme functionality and seamless look. Craftsman-era homes always featured a simple dining-room built-in with functional drawers and cupboards. There were generally built-in bookcases flanking the living-room fireplace, or perhaps separating the living and dining rooms.

o Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at

Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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