Tips and Guides

Choosing the Right Shelves: Free-standing vs Built-ins

Complete your space with the right storage unit

Original Article: Katherine Lopez Photography: Ocs Alvarez/ACME Visual Productions (Main Photo)

Having ample storage is important in any home. From cabinets, drawers, bins, and shelves—we make sure that our things are kept in order so that we can truly enjoy a relaxing and comfortable space.

When it comes to choosing the right shelf, do you opt for free-standing shelves or do you prefer built-in units? Interior designer Vera Villarosa shares the pros and cons of each to help you pick the best option for your space:


  • Pros

Free-standing shelves are easily available in stores nationwide. You can choose from a lot of options, plus, it's also cheaper when compared to built-ins because of its practicality.

  • Cons

Although free-standing shelves are easy to find, they usually come in limited colors and finishes. You might have a hard time finding a piece that matches your home’s overall style, especially if you have a specific look in mind. Also, the spaces on top of free-standing shelves are usually not used. 

Shelf, price available upon request, Heima.


  • Pros

If you have a small space, it’s best to pick storage pieces that are suitable to the dimensions of your nook. You don’t want to buy a bulky shelf that won't fit in your bedroom! “Space is usually maximized with built-in shelves because you can dictate certain measurements,” says Vera. With built-ins, you can choose the color and finishes that you want—depending on the style and vibe that you want to achieve.

  • Cons

While you can easily buy free-standing shelves, it takes time before you can actually maximize your built-ins. It needs to be planned ahead of time as it cannot be moved afterwards. You need to finalize the exact location where you need it. Since built-ins are permanent, it is not an option for renters.

This snippet originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Real Living Magazine. Minor edits have been made by the editors. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

Photo by Paolo Feliciano.

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