Looking for Space — and Finding It

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Storage starts with space, and chances are you’ve got more to work with than you realize. This section shows you how to find that space and how to use it well. Take the Photo Tour to see effective solutions to common storage problems.

Your storage situation needn’t be a full-blown crisis to disrupt the pattern and rhythm of daily life. Whatever the scale of your storage problems, this book will help you identify their source—and solve the storage puzzle. You’ll work with three key aspects of any storage situation: identifying the things you need to store and the places where they should be stored; seeing new ways to take advantage of your existing storage resources; and planning ways to tap unutilized storage potential by adding new components. Storage starts with space. Finding space and making it work for you is what this book is all about. It offers a process that can help you get organized, ideas for fitting out your space with purchased storage aids, and techniques and directions for building storage projects from drawer dividers to wall systems. The result: a house-wide system that solves storage problems with efficiency and style.

How to Use This Guide

Looking for Space—and Finding It. Section 1 focuses on the potential storage space that’s hiding in your home. The illustration on below will help you look at your home as space, to see the places that can be utilized for storage. Then take the Photo Tour shown later to see practical and attractive ways to make use of spaces of all sorts.

Making Your Space Work for You. Section 2 offers a five-step process for thinking through the way you use your space, before you build or buy a thing. Let the design guidelines and the pointers on structure and style guide you as you organize your living space and design its storage system. The Potpourri of Project Ideas illustrates ways of combining components to plan a project that meets your needs.

Instant Solutions: Products You Can Buy. In Section 3 you’ll find a brief survey of some of the storage helpers—from drawer inserts to furniture systems—that you can buy. These products can solve problems all by themselves, or they may be part of a project that you build.

Tailor-Made Solutions: Projects You Can Build. For truly individualized storage, there’s nothing like the project you design to suit your particular situation. Section 4 contains instructions for building and adapting a range of basic storage components, along with a handbook on tools, workshop techniques, and tips. When you build it yourself, you’re sure to get just what you want, and you’ll have the satisfaction of living with your own craftsmanship.


A dining-room wall becomes a storage area with the ad of shelf-in-case units. The cubes are actually four separate cases with fixed shelves; where the top case fits onto the bottom one, interlocking rabbets help stabilize the stack. Oversized books fit well into the cubes, which are sturdy enough to hold the weight. Above, the open spaces show off the family’s collections. The dining room gains not only practical storage but also a lively and colorful focal point.

A Perspective on Storage

Storage means more than just places to stow things. It’s a system composed of three interrelated elements: people—those who need to get to and use stored things; places—the space devoted to storage functions; and things—the items stored. The better these three elements fit together, the better your storage system will work. This guide is designed to help.

Where Storage Problems Begin

We all face storage problems. They arise from the structure of our homes and from the patterns of our lives. Most homes lack adequate storage facilities, possibly because storage space is rarely a priority when they’re designed. Even when a home contains good storage space, individual life-styles will make a difference in how fully it is utilized. For example, older homes may have a built-in storage and serving space in a dining area, appropriate to an era of formal dining. Today’s more casual lifestyle may well mean that such a unit is rarely used.

Individual living patterns can be at cross-purposes to the fundamental structure of the dwelling, as well, which will aggravate storage problems. Furniture arrangements and habits of doing certain tasks in certain places may conflict with the natural traffic paths and activity areas of a home; such a conflict undermines even dogged attempts at improving storage—or anything else (traffic patterns and activity areas are discussed later).

It is also a fact that, over the years, we tend to have more and more possessions. Households expand in the twinkling of an eye, but the size of living space doesn’t. Perhaps it’s a new baby—complete with diapers, highchair, and stroller. Perhaps it’s children who grow into and then out of everything—clothing, activities, toys—faster than seems possible. Or maybe your own changing interests bring a tide of new things into your life: board games, expanding libraries and record collections, or new hobby, cooking, and sports equipment. Somehow there are more things that we can’t live without, such as food processors, video equipment, televisions, tape cassette players, and hair dryers. In addition, there are the cherished mementoes of a lifetime, family heirlooms, and personal records—all of which have to be dealt with somehow.

Getting Started on Solutions

Your own storage situation will be unique. People differ; no two households are quite alike; even identical dwellings will be used quite differently by different people. The particular way in which you approach and resolve your own storage problems will be appropriate for you. There is no single rule or set of rules that will apply to every situation, but there are some basic approaches that can help you untangle even the tightest storage knots. One thing to keep in mind is that, although to have a storage system you need to be systematic—that is, to be logical and organized—you can make up your own system. Some people find it very sensible to store spices in alphabetical order; some do the same with their books. Perhaps alphabetical order doesn’t work for you, especially in your kitchen. That’s fine; but you’ll want to find some way to organize your books and spices that you will be comfortable with. You may want to group items by size or shape—all the frying pans on one shelf—or by frequency of use—the two frying pans you always use in a handy place, two others in a less-accessible spot. You may want everything of one kind together—all good coats, hats, and boots in the entryway closet, all rough or dirty outerwear hanging on hooks in the back hall—or you may want items used by particular individuals collected together—all adult coats, boots, and hats in the entryway, all kids’ things out back. None of these methods of organizing is necessarily best; what’s important is that there is a method. When part of the process of improving your storage situation is to settle on a method, then you have a framework to fall back on every time you look at an object and wonder where you’ll put it. If at some point the method seems to be losing its effectiveness, it may be time to reevaluate it and establish a new method.

Keeping current is a key issue in any storage situation. We change over time, as do our interests and activities. We sometimes forget to change our living spaces to match our lives. Often a storage problem develops because we’ve outgrown some interest, but never quite gotten rid of its related equipment. For instance, in basements and garages all across the continent there repose outgrown skis and old wooden tennis racquets. Many homes have formal living rooms that amount to wasted space because entertaining takes place in the family room. Or a house may have a nice little sewing area that is no longer well-utilized space because other activities have replaced sewing. One way to start on storage improvements is just to review the pattern of daily 4e and see what changes have occurred.

Finally, keep a sense of proportion about the subject. Your problems may be driving you to despair, and so them is important, but a rigidly organized, inflexibly ruled home won’t be a happy or satisfactory solution.

At its heart, the aim of improving storage is to decrease the amount of attention it requires. If you can get the pedestrian aspects of daily life to chug cheerfully along as a self-sustaining support system, it will free you and those you share life with for more engaging activities. Storage begins with space; it can end with people—living in balance with one another and their surroundings.

People and Places

As you think about changes and improvements in your storage system, you have an opportunity to arrange your living space so that it fully serves the people who use it. You and those who share your home come in different sizes and shapes, with different physical characteristics, strengths, and abilities. Standard building practices can’t take individual physical needs into detailed account; for the sake of economy, homes are built for an average consumer. For instance, standard kitchen counters are 36 inches high. Yet the people who use them might be much more comfort able if they were lowered to 32 inches, or raised to 40 inches. When you’re purchasing or building improvements for your home, you can make such adjustments.

The illustrations shown some of the factors to take into consideration. For example, how high and how far can you comfortably reach? What about your children, and their grandparents? How low can any of you comfortably bend? What are the differences in your lines of sight? Do any of you have mobility limitations? You may find it helpful to keep a list of measurements describing the ranges of motion of those in your household. Use it as a reference when you’re deciding on dimensions for additions and improvements to your storage or your living space.

Consider also the space you allow for circulation and work zones. Any work zone such as the kitchen stove needs a clear area in which a person can stand, bend over, move from side to side. This zone can impinge on an adjacent circulation zone, or traffic pathway; people aren’t walking there all the time. The circulation zone in itself should be at least wide enough for a person to walk comfortably through it. Keep these considerations in mind so that you don’t build yourself into a congested corner.

Finding Space

The drawing at right points out some spaces in a typical home that may be unused or under-used, and suggests some ways, drawn from the photo graphs and illustrations in this guide, that storage potential can be tapped. Consider the ideas shown here and throughout this guide, read through the guidelines below, and then look at your home with new eyes to find the space you need.

Start by examining the storage areas you now have to see if you can utilize them better. Only when you’ve used all existing space to best advantage should you consider new construction. In looking for places to add storage capacity, search out the nooks, insets, gaps, next-tos (next to the door, next to the stove), spots above or below existing units such as a refrigerator, places that can be filled in and fitted out without sacrificing a lot of floor space. Don’t forget that you can build into the space between studs on interior walls.

Look at all surfaces. A door back can be lined with pockets). In some places—the garage, basement, attic, or laundry room, for instance—door fronts can also be put to work: hooks and racks can be fastened on them, or they can be surfaced with perforated board.

Look at all volumes. Seating units, for instance, always enclose a space that might be a storage place. Build a couch above pull-out drawers, add a window seat, or turn a storage cube into a seat by topping it with a cushion. There’s a lot of volume under a staircase.

Examine your own “musts.” Do you have to have a dresser? You may be able to substitute enough shelves, baskets, and pockets to do without one. Does your “dining room” have to be used for dining? It might be better utilized as a study, with a dining table in the living room instead, Consider ways that you can make any space serve more than one function; that will free another part of the house. Can the cookbook corner of the kitchen become an all-purpose desk? Can your work space—sewing, typing, model airplanes—be a cube on wheels that tucks into a corner or closet, so you needn’t devote space full-time to a use that’s only part-time?

Think, too, about the structure of the house and your household’s needs. Would you like a more open space, or set-apart, specialized areas; more privacy, or more togetherness? Can you add a room divider with storage in it? Can you eliminate furniture? See images on this page; the ideas shown there can aid you in the process of developing a new awareness of the storage potential in your home.

A Photo Tour of Storage Spaces

Bathroom storage is usually just a set of cabinets. You can increase their capacity by installing a horizontal rollout shelf under the sink, as shown below. The rollout allows you to reach bulky items at the rear of the cabinet without disturbing small things in the front. For other rollout configurations, click here.

Deep drawers fitted with dividers make ideal storage for pots, pans, and lids. Slip them between vertical dividers spaced according to their sizes. The drawer opposite does the job of two full-depth base cabinet shelves, yet consumes only half the amount of storage space. It is mounted on full- extension, heavy-duty slides.

Platform rollouts can replace standard base cabinetry shelves. Mounted on full-extension, heavy- duty slides, as shown opposite , they can carry a great deal of weight. The full-extension slides allow tighter packing and even stacking of stored things—and since you need allow only a few inches of headspace between the rollouts, you can have five or six surfaces where the average cabinet has only two.

A handy little phone spot puts address and telephone books right where you need them—and hides them behind a fold-down door when you’re through. The fold-down surface is large enough to open the book on and sturdy enough to support it.

Metal-lined bucket drawers

hold flour and sugar ready for easy scooping. Like the other ideas shown, these drawers maximize the use of below counter space, and free countertops for other functions. In a kitchen where pests are not a problem, drawers such as these can hold any bulk supplies.



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