Storage & Organization Tips

Local Pros help maximize your home’s spaces

Michelle Reid, Designer with Rooftight Construction, says it’s hard not to be impressed by these picture-perfect examples of function and organization.

“We’re exposed to all of these great looks and ideas, and everybody wants that for themselves – even if it’s on a less grandiose scale,” says Reid.

“We’re all so busy, and a messy home is a stressor – particularly for women – so we need to do whatever we can to make our homes functional and free of clutter.”

Clear out the clutter

Nina Boulanger, Kitchen Designer and Accredited Interior Decorator with Cabinetworks, says the first step in any organization project is to start purging.

“Go through all of your stuff, and if you haven’t used it in a year, you’re probably not going to ever use it,” says Boulanger. “Everything in your home should have a purpose, and its own place.”

Create custom storage

“One of the most popular features right now is window seats, especially in kids’ bedrooms or in dining rooms,” says Reid. “We can use hinged pull-outs or drawers to create lots of storage.”

Reid says many homeowners also like the idea of building big, rustic stone fireplaces with large storage cabinets on each side.

“It’s a great place to store audio components, toys, games, and even seasonal items,” says Reid. “I also like to use large storage baskets with lids, or storage ottomans, because they’re easy for children to access.”

“There’s no sense in storing toys on a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, because you can’t expect children to reach something on a high shelf.”

Pam Tower, Registered Interior Designer with Tower Interiors, says some homeowners are taking advantage of the space under their stairs by adding hidden pull-outs or drawers. Savvy builders will even suggest building a drawer into each stair, giving you a dozen drawers that you can walk over every single day without noticing.

Create a drop zone

Reid says front entrances are often only used by guests, and it’s the rear foyer that is often used by a family.

“People are primarily coming into the house through their garages, so that’s really where the heart of the home is. Instead of the traditional ‘mudrooms’, we prefer to call them ‘drop zones,’” says Reid.

By creating “lockers” for each member of the family, everyone can hang up jackets and bags in their own designated spaces. Baskets above and below a bench can store hats, mittens, and footwear.

“The idea is that you can remove all of these items – and store them – before you get into the main part of the house,” says Reid.

Reid says seating should be incorporated into any entryway, so people can sit down to take their shoes off.

But the most popular aspect of any “drop zone” is the charging station with outlets for mobile phones, tablets, MP3 players, and laptops.

Tamara Barker Watson, co-owner of Whitestone Developments with her husband, Andrew, says their family’s charging station is essential in their home.

“Everything’s all in one place, so when you leave the house in the morning, you can easily grab it all,” says Barker Watson. “We have one in our house, and it’s where everyone plugs in their devices.”

Consider the layout

“For many years, we had separate kitchens and dining rooms and living rooms, but now we just have one big great room,” says Tom MacFarlane, owner of MacFarlane Homes, “It can be harder to store things in an open-concept area, because there aren’t as many spots.”

Reid agrees, noting that when her clients are building a new home, they’re usually very insistent that they want more storage than their previous home offered.

“It’s especially a hot-button issue for women. They want enough space for everything, especially clothes and toys,” says Reid. “But in open-concept living, you have to be very creative, because the kids are living and playing in the kitchen and the dining room and the great room.”

“You want to be able to tuck all of their stuff away when company comes, and that’s the great thing about our designs – you can incorporate storage at the planning stages, without struggling to retrofit an existing home.”

Take advantage of unused space

Jerred Ramey, Draftsperson at Scotian Homes, says he always tries to take advantage of unused space by designing in extra storage, wherever possible.

“Sometimes a particular floor plan leaves a room with a bit of an ‘L’ shape, so I try to reclaim the odd piece of that room with either a storage closet or built-in shelving or cabinets,” says Ramey.

Get full use of your garages or utility rooms

Reid recommends using modular storage solutions designed for garages and utility rooms – like plastic totes or snap-together resin cabinets that won’t rust, dent or rot.

“These kinds of storage solutions go together very easily, and they’re made from materials that won’t wick up water the way MDF shelving will,” says Reid. “They’re crafted especially for these environments, so they’ll stand the test of time.”

Save space with a wall-bed or desk-bed

Custom wall beds and desk beds save precious floor space by folding down when you’re ready to use them. A desk bed looks like a standard desk, and the work surface drops down to the floor and is replaced by a bed in one smooth motion.

“They’re great for small spaces, especially if people only have overnight guests a few times a year,” says Boulanger. “People want to make the most of their space, and have an office or craft room or playroom that’s also an extra guest room.”

Think vertically

Monica Strong, Interior Designer with Crave Cabinets, says it’s a good idea to utilize the full height of the cabinets to gain extra storage for items that aren’t needed every day.

“It’s true that you can’t access that top shelf unless you stand on a step-stool, but it’s only for the Christmas dishes that you’ll get down once a year,” says Strong.

High shelving is also great in bedroom closets, and although her potential buyers sometimes declare they’ll “never use a shelf that high,” Barker Watson disagrees.

“Yes, it’s high, but you’re going to use it for storing winter sweaters or swimsuits – items that you’re only going to move around once a year,” explains Barker Watson.

“Most rooms have quite a bit of unused space right overhead. How often do people use the upper corners of their rooms?” notes Ramey. “Shelving comes in countless different shapes and styles now, so there are ways to use these spaces that don’t take away from the desired look and functionality of the room.”

Add a pantry

Pantries are an essential in today’s new-construction homes, and they range from small 4×4 corner pantries to huge, beautiful walk-in spaces.

“A lot of our clients are wanting a large butler’s pantry with a second fridge, a second sink, an extra dishwasher, maybe a wine fridge, and extra storage for out-of-season items or big pots they don’t use very often,” says Reid. “People are choosing to forgo a den or a larger ensuite because they’d prefer to have a nice, big pantry that gives them plenty of storage.”

There’s another benefit to these walk-in pantries – they’ll actually save you money during construction, because you’ll need fewer cabinets in the main part of the kitchen.

“Cabinets are a huge expense, so you can cut down on that by storing items on shelves inside the pantry,” says Reid. “You’re getting all of this storage in a little room that’s a fraction of the cost of cabinets.”

Barker Watson agrees and loves the pantry in her home.

“If you tend to always buy items in bulk, it’s hard to store anywhere but a pantry,” she says, “they are essential these days, and should be worked into any design.”

Research products

Boulanger says many homeowners decide to renovate because they’re envious of the new fancy storage and organization solutions that weren’t available when they first built or bought their home.

“Sometimes they see their friends’ pantries or pull-out shelves, or shoe and purse organization solutions in closets, and they want that for themselves,” says Boulanger. “One of our most popular items is a lazy susan for shoes – it’s called a Lazy ShoeZen – that sits in a corner and spins around, holding all of your shoes. People love it.”

Tower likes Magic Corners – specialized cabinet pull-outs that make it much easier to access items in those deep corner cabinets. And Barker Watson suggests lazy susan recycling units in the kitchen to keep cans, bottles, and newspaper at bay.

Dedicate a room or closet to a specific theme or use

Barker Watson recently built a house that included a custom ‘Christmas closet’.

“The homeowner has so much Christmas decor, and she has a village she works on year-round, so now she has a closet with everything in it.”

Cold rooms can also be added to store preserves and wine. Cedar rooms are also becoming a popular addition to the basement, so out-of-season clothing has a safe spot to hang up and absorb the fresh scent.

Use glass that hides mess

“Choose cabinets with frosted or beaded or textured glass, so you can see in slightly, but you can’t really tell what’s inside the cabinet,” says Strong. “It still gives that lightness, and people love the look of glass.”

Build custom storage in the bathroom

Boulanger says people are often intrigued by the new solutions for bathrooms – like hamper pull-outs, vanity storage for cosmetics, and specially-designed pull-outs for hair dryers, curling irons, and flatirons.

“People are really getting into bathroom organization now, especially if they have small children or teenagers,” says Boulanger. “They feel there are never enough drawers for all of the little things.”

To compensate, they suggest a series of shallow drawers to hold small items like hair clips, nail polish, and cosmetics.

Ample linen storage

If you have a hefty amount of towels, face cloths, sheets, pillowcases, and extra blankets, your linen closet might be bursting at the seams.

MacFarlane says they always put the laundry room on the main level, and that’s just one of the many locations where you’ll find room for linen storage.

“We build a linen closet in the laundry room that’s five feet long. It can store enough linens to run a hotel,” laughs MacFarlane. “We also usually put a small linen closet in the master suite, as well as another linen closet in the basement by the other bedrooms.”

Use a linen tower

If a bathroom doesn’t include a linen closet, Reid often suggests incorporating a linen tower – which is a tall storage cabinet with various combinations of drawers, cabinets, and open shelving – to store towels, face cloths, and toilet paper. It can also double as a privacy screen.

“Some people like the ‘hotel chic’ look of open shelving, but I always have them think about what they’re going to be storing there,” says Reid. “If there are things you want to hide – like toilet paper and personal products – you’ll want a linen tower that has cabinets or drawers, too.”

Plan a functional laundry room

Tower says it’s important to utilize the space above the washer and dryer by installing a shelf or cabinet to keep detergents, bleach, and stain-removers. If you have stackable washer and dryer, she suggests there may be room to add a full-height pantry cabinet with pull-out rack.

“There should be a counter-top space for folding clothes, or cloth bags or shelves with laundry baskets for sorting laundry,” says Tower. “It’s a good idea to have a fold-down or pull-out ironing board. And if you like to hang your clothes to dry, you should make sure there’s adequate floor space for a drying rack – or install a rod for hangers.”

Hide countertop clutter

In Barker Watson’s kitchen, she has “appliance garages” built above her countertop that roll up and down to conceal her small appliances.

“We have our toaster and bread in one, and our Keurig coffee machine and K-Cups in the other one. It really helps to keep the countertops tidy.”

Prep-Space: think outside the triangle

Strong says many people ask for additional counter space in their kitchens, because they feel they don’t have enough room for prep jobs. Sometimes the solution lies in changing the room’s layout, which Strong says can initially be difficult for some clients to accept.

“They might say the sink must be under the window because they like to look outside while they wash dishes,” says Strong. “But how often are you really standing there, doing dishes, compared to how often you’re going prep-work?”

Strong says breaking up the traditional “kitchen triangle” – sink on one wall, fridge on another wall, and the stove across from the fridge – can be a huge improvement.

“With the triangle layout, you always feel stuck in a corner. But if you move the sink to another location, it opens up the room and gives you a lot more prep area,” says Strong.

Add pull-outs and drawers

Strong has noticed an increase in demand for more drawers in kitchens, because homeowners don’t want to get down on their hands and knees to find something in the back of a base cabinet.

“People are getting older, and it’s much easier to pull out a drawer, or pull out a roll-out section of a cabinet,” says Strong. “They allow you to easily access everything without digging around.”

Strong says truly functional organization can make your home a more relaxing, stress-free place.

“It means you don’t have to think about where something goes, because it already has a specific place,” says Strong. “It’s a good feeling.”

Consider hiring a Pro

Whether you’re building a new home or planning a renovation to increase your home’s storage and functionality, always consider consulting with a professional interior designer.

“It’s important to plan it properly the first time,” says Tower. “It will lead to much greater satisfaction, because you’ll have long-term efficient storage solutions. Compare your lifestyle now to five years in the future – how will your storage needs change?”

Heather Laura Clarke

Heather Laura Clarke

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist whose work regularly appears in many Atlantic Canadian newspapers and magazines, including The Chronicle Herald, Metro, Hub Now, Business Voice, Dugger's, Progress, East Coast Living, Bedford Magazine, and Southender Magazine. She also has several corporate clients.