Rethinking Storage: A Personal Story

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Space: Everyone wants it, but in a square-foot world, it’s increasingly a luxury.

A material age presents a lot of space-making challenges. Where do we put all that stuff when urban dwellings are shrinking?

Just last week, a New York writer’s 90-square-foot apartment went viral. Opting to live in the perfect location just two blocks from Central Park and Lincoln Center, Felice Cohen compromised space to live in a convenient neighborhood, and learned to use use every square-inch of her postage-stamp-sized pad.

After watching that video, my 660-square-foot 1952 apartment sounds positively palatial, but living in it, this “palace” feels full.

Storage strategies around items that are most important to you

With inherited antiques, books, and collectibles I love and cherish, making my space work for me has long become a way of life in my one-bedroom apartment. If it’s not a lamp or a chair, it has storage. Every piece of furniture in my home can hold something else.

Single-use furniture? A cardinal waste of space, and an urban-living error not worth committing, friends.

But what about modifying existing spaces in your home? How do you maximize built-in storage options?

Whether it’s a well-appointed accent table with drawers or a cubby, a shelving installation, or simply removing shelves to redefine storage possibilities, most homes don’t have to stay the way they were when we moved in. Mine sure hasn’t.

When we can change things, you know. It’s like Martha says: A good thing.

Storage efficiency is all about your creativity

We’ll talk general storage solutions another time, but today I’ll tell you about how I made my own little space act much bigger.

When I moved into my character apartment, I was flummoxed by its old-fashioned storage ideas — like an oddly austere bathroom that had only a mirror with a small medicine cabinet, a Muchkin-sized bathtub, freestanding sink, and a toilet. It didn’t even have a vanity.

Hello, toilet-tank-cover shelf. You sexy thang!

You don’t have to read Good Housekeeping to know there are better places to keep one’s toothbrush.

Years ago, I sketched out the corner-shelving idea you see pictured here, and my always-awesome dad put it together on an afternoon. With a coat of paint, this approach in a 4x5-foot tiny 1952 bathroom, the wasted corner is useful, and looks good doin’ it.

The lesson here is, sometimes Ikea doesn’t have a solution. Sometimes it’s not made in China. Sometimes, your local building supply is where to turn, and a hammer and tape measure are your DIY best friends.

Storage ideas the ignite your ‘what if?’ impulses

It was in measuring all my spaces with a what-if and totally-open-mind attitude that, after 10 years living here, I finally came up with a creative furniture solution.

My home has been long-crammed with two massive armchairs and a three-seater — as well as a seven-foot desk, three hutches, and four large bookshelves. Then there are side tables and a dining area.

It’s a one-bedroom place, people, not the Taj Mahal. Something had to go, but I wasn’t willing to ditch any remaining furniture, and knew I had to rethink things to store my massive antique armchair.

When measuring my in-suite storage, it occurred to me that this mondo 1840s chair was only ½” too high to fit under the SECOND shelf. If I could get rid of that bottom shelf, angle the chair slightly, it’d fit right under!

I could finally stop banging my toe on the chair’s feet!

After pounding that lower shelf out, the Under-World is now the orderly home of my armchair, its large ottoman, a canister vacuum, and even a 5-gallon stockpot.

Don’t follow anyone’s storage plan except your own

Broom closet? If following someone else's plan, maybe. But, this space was always meant to be a pantry. So, now it is. See how that works?

For another rethought space, let’s turn to my kitchen.

Bafflingly, the 1950s’ architect seemed to think a 2x2x7-foot space IN the kitchen was necessary for a broom and a dustpan. The bathroom’s 4×5 feet, for crying out loud! How big were these brooms of yore?

Again, for 10 years, I followed the “plan,” and here I kept a broom, mop, an ironing board, and a few cleaning agents on the top shelf. It was mostly wasted space.

One day, a friend said “That could be a pantry, you know.” I’m a foodie, so ding-ding-ding, this suggestion was genius.

I picked up some 1x2s, cut them to lengths, framed out the broom closet on all three sides, bought ¾” thick MDF I cut to size for shelves, and, in an afternoon, I had the pantry storage I always dreamed of. Check out the photo I’ve included. See how simply it’s put together? You can do that!

Modest though it seems, I swear, I heard Handel’s Hallelujah playing as I filled it with my foodstuffs.

Aside from creative-space shelving and ensuring all my furniture doubles as storage, I’ve also installed well-mounted overhead shelves near the kitchen, where I keep cereals and grains in canisters, as well as teas, and even pretty stuff,  because we like the pretty.

Storage: work smarter, not harder

By making every space in my small, packed apartment work for me, I’m doing the decor equivalent of “working smarter, not harder.” You can do it too.

When it comes to home-cooked storage solutions, a tape measure is your best friend. With power tools, shelves, sandpaper, and a coat of paint, you’d be surprised at how you can maximize your storage potential, like I have.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.