Not all that long ago, the only way I could find suitable shelving for my home entertainment components was to design and fabricate my own. These days, such furniture is more readily available in electronics stores.

It has become clear that many people demand electronic entertainment furniture that can be customized to begin with and later reconfigured to meet new needs. After all, home audio/video is a rapidly-changing field, and you don’t want to outgrow your entertainment furniture as quickly as your kids do their clothing.

One way to avoid that problem is to insist on modular furniture, the kind that has related elements you can combine in various ways. When your needs change, you can easily make your unit taller, extend it on one or both sides, run it around a corner, move it to another room or take it with you to a new home. Modular furniture gives you those precious options.

The best of today’s entertainment furniture offers other advantages as well. Here are a few things to look for when you shop.

If you want furniture to maintain its value over a period of years, check out units with traditional hardwood finishes. Be sure cabinets are spacious and expandable since, now or later, you’ll almost certainly want it to accommodate a wider TV than the one you currently have.

Look beyond critical exterior dimensions. You’ll want the interior to be roomy enough for new or upgraded components, which you’re bound to be buying in time. Shelves should be adjustable–the more adjustability the better–not only to provide ample space for electronics but to leave breathing room for any that generate heat.

If the back of a furniture unit is enclosed, look for a rear panel design that allows easy access to cables and component jacks. And don’t forget to ask how much weight shelves are rated for; entertainment components can be heavy, and you don’t want that to create shelf-warp.

Are you facing a choice that pits built-in shelving against freestanding furniture? It’s true that custom entertainment systems are often housed in built-ins, but the lower cost and higher investment value of freestanding cabinets argues strongly against building in. In most cases, a freestanding unit is far and away the best option for holding and/or showcasing your electronic entertainment hardware.

I think of freestanding units as built-out furniture, and I’ve found that even the best built-out audio/video cabinets cost far less than their built-in cousins. Actually, a cabinet that’s made to a client’s specifications by a carpenter often costs 10 times the price of one with similar dimensions and features from a dedicated home electronics furniture manufacturer. Even buying something from Ethan Allen can cost three times as much, and it isn’t likely to give you nearly as much flexibility.

Here’s another point you might want to ponder: built-in cabinets can make selling a home more difficult, since prospective purchasers are very likely to have other purposes in mind for the space you used as a media center. When that’s the case, those buyers will take the cost of cabinet removal and wall restoration into consideration before making offers for your house, co-op or condominium.

On the other hand, if your cabinets are freestanding and modular, you can easily dismantle them, take them with you and adapt them to your new home.

Good freestanding modular entertainment furniture has an extremely long life span provided you choose it wisely and make sure you can reconfigure and expand it to accommodate new equipment when the time comes. Just remember that you’ll want to be able to customize your unit at the outset and repeat the process whenever it becomes necessary, whether in its original room setting or a very different space.

Reflect on these important points before you decide on the unit that will accommodate your audio/video system. Consider, too, that it’s difficult to overstate the importance of modular capability, since it prevents obsolescence and makes your entertainment furniture purchase a solid investment.