Millwork Details to Elevate Your Space

Millwork has definitely been one of the most time consuming parts of our build. In addition to the amount of time spent designing the plans for our millwork, I’ve also spent countless hours agonizing over all of the small details and, still, I am almost certain that once we move in there will be things that I wish we’d done differently. Until then, here are a few of the design details that we’ve included in our millwork plans to elevate the look of our cabinetry.

The Ends of the Cabinets

In our first home, we didn’t add any decorative elements to our millwork. The ends and corners of our cabinets were left flat. With our second home, the majority of the millwork was built-in between walls, so we didn’t have any exposed cabinet ends to consider.

This time around, we have several exposed ends, so I’ve tried to be purposeful in designing those spaces.

In our laundry room, for example, since the end of our cabinet is exposed, we made sure to add some decorative panelling to tie it in to the rest of the millwork. You wouldn’t think to notice the ends of cabinets but when you compare the drawings with and without the finished ends, it’s a no-brainer – decorative panels go a long way to elevate the space.

Pay Attention to the Top and Bottom of your Cabinets

Another added detail that we were conscious to pay close attention to this time around was the top and bottom of our kitchen cabinets.

For example, we have one section in our kitchen where the end of the cabinet is exposed. We decided to add a decorative baseboard to that panel so that it blends in with our kitchen island.

Since we have 12-foot ceilings in the kitchen, we added a 2-foot bulkhead and then 10 feet of cabinetry. In order to make the bulkhead and cabinetry appear seamless (and intentional), we added this modified molding that will close any gaps between our upper cabinets and the bulkhead.

Let Your Counters be the Showpiece

We put a lot of focus on our millwork in the kitchen and laundry room because those were our two largest cabinet spaces where we need our millwork to be functional and, ideally, pretty. In other areas, such as the master ensuite and the Jack & Jill bathroom, we opted to go for a clean and simple cabinet design (no additional detail work) and are making our stone countertops the showpiece of the space.

The boys’ vanities, for example, are just a set of two drawers for each boy (no cabinets); we want the eye to focus on the counters – which will be a 5-inch thick skirted edge – and let the millwork blend into the background.

Custom is Not Always Best

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when building a custom home to try to have everything created and designed specifically for us. But all of those personalized designs come at cost. There are definitely spaces in our home where we don’t need to invent the wheel. In our guest bathroom, for example, we omitted all custom millwork and purchased a ready-made vanity from Home Depot. We framed the space so that the vanity is snug between two walls and that will help give it the built-in look without the custom-built price.

Store bought vanity from Home Depot Canada

In our case, as in most cases when you’re building a home, millwork was one of the priciest items in terms of “add-ons” for the house. My biggest piece of advice where millwork is concerned is to be intentional, purposeful and resourceful with each space. In addition to the above tips, consider making a wish list of everything you’d like and then work with that to create your space. For example, I knew early on that my wish list items for our pantry and mudroom were too expensive to fit in to budget at this time. Instead of settling for less, we decided to completely omit those spaces from our current millwork plans. We allocated the funds for those spaces towards finishing the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms the way we want them and we’ll tackle the pantry and mudroom down the road. If there’s an area of your house that you really want custom but it’s not currently in the budget, consider not doing it all for now. I’ve often heard that “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction” but I don’t believe that applies when building a home or renovating a space. Personally, I don’t believe in spending money on things I don’t love, so I prefer to do nothing until I am ready to make it my everything.

Making our Design Choices Fit our Family

In our previous Production (i.e.: tract) homes, we inherited whatever floor plan the builder designed and basically worked with what was there. We’ve never had a dedicated mudroom, a proper foyer, enough outdoor lighting or even a garage large enough to fit two cars. While our homes never lacked square footage, we were still required with each home to adapt to the space. So when we were designing our custom home, our main goal was to ensure we create a space that fits our family and not the other way around. We learned pretty quickly what wasn’t working for us in our past houses and, below, are some of the design changes we made this time around while building this home with our family’s needs in mind.

No Sink in the Island

Photo credit: Monika Hibbs

I feel like this first choice is a controversial one with two distinct trains of thought – you’re either team for sink in the island or team against…

In our previous homes, the sink was always integrated in the island. We were definitely team “FOR” sink in island until we lived with it for a few years. The counter around the sink was always wet from splatter and the space never looked clean.

So this time, the sink will be by the window! Our island is smaller than our last (also a design choice since we found we didn’t need another 9-foot island) and we think it’ll now be the perfect size for hosting (whenever we can host) and for our little family, plus it’ll make keeping the kitchen looking clean that much easier.

Toilets with Concealed Trapways

Ok, so maybe jumping from the kitchen to the toilet is not the best segue but I am actually really excited about this choice! Have you ever bent over to clean all of the creases in a standard toilet? Yes, so you understand! Now imagine having two little boys with their own bathroom and you will WISH you had a curve-less toilet – one wipe across and done!

Luca is obviously still way too small to start thinking about how often he will “miss the bowl” when learning to pee standing up (and, lets be real, all the boys/man in my house will forever have moments where they miss the bowl, even after years of practice…) but Theo is at the age where he thinks its fun to try standing. He’s got pretty good aim but there are times where I wonder if there was more that landed on the floor than in the bowl… So toilets with concealed trapways, while slightly more expensive than the standard ones, was a non-negotiable for me this time around!

Joint Mudroom and Laundry Room

This choice came as an unexpected “non-choice” for me. While we’ve never had a dedicated mudroom, our laundry rooms have always been a decent sized, designated space. So when we started drawing out our floorplans, I had always envisioned two separate rooms but budget and square footage constraints meant that we had to combine the two.

When we were planning out our layout, Theo was not even three years old and hadn’t yet discovered the world of sand, dirt, mud and puddles. Fast forward 18 months and I literally have to get him to undress outside our current rental home before he comes in because of how filthy he is! Add to the fact that, eventually, Luca will be joining the mess and I am now so grateful to know that they can come in through the garage straight into the mud/laundry room and put away their dirty clothes before even entering the main living space.

Inspiration photo by Kate Marker Interiors

Cold AND Hot Water in the Garage

Paolo has always enjoyed detailing his car. He puts on his headphones and spends hours scrubbing every crevice of his car (and I usually get him to do mine too!), then, he tops it off with pressure washing the outside at the end. Last summer, since we were all stuck at home due to the pandemic, Theo also started spending a lot of time outside amusing himself with different water games. The one con with any of our outdoor water activities (aside from watering the grass) was that the water was always freezing cold!

So this time around, when we discussed plumbing with our builder, Paolo’s first request was that the hose bib in the garage have both hot and cold water! His hands won’t freeze when he’s washing our cars, Theo’s lips won’t turn blue when playing with his water table and, as for me, I’ll be able to hose down my children (see point above!) when they come home messy without feeling as though I am torturing them!

Access to Basement from Garage

This last one was not a must but a strong want for our family. Given Paolo’s shift work schedule, he sometimes comes home in the middle of the night and is not yet ready to go to sleep. We decided to add a staircase from the garage down to the finished basement so that he can go straight down to watch TV after work and not risk waking the family (and the dog!) by walking past the main living space.

We also figured, from watching how my nephews (aged 21 and 15) go straight to the basement of their own house with their friends, that Theo and Luca will one day appreciate being able to go straight downstairs with their buddies without having to engage in the always awkward parent conversation that would be required if they all came through the front door…

While I’m sure that even with a custom home there will be things that we wish we had thought of or designed differently, I am really excited for the lessons we’ve learned in past homes and the opportunity we now have to make this house fit our family’s needs.