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Making the Most of Awkward Spaces

No matter how intentional we are about functionality, order, and beauty, we occasionally still come up against spaces in our homes that are well…just plain awkward. Take for example this closet tucked underneath the stairs. It’s very narrow and very deep with a ceiling that slopes toward the back. We knew right away that to get everything out of this closet that we needed it to do, we were going to have to be a bit creative.

The first step in organizing any storage space is identifying how you need the space to function. What kinds of items are going to be stored in this closet, and how often do we need to access those items? In this case, our homeowner has zero other indoor closet space other than bedroom closets, so they really wanted this to function both as a coat closet, as well as a space to store extra household supplies. Some of these items would need to be accessed daily while others would be needed less frequently, such as weekly, or even just occasionally. That’s a tall order for one awkward closet, but we were here to make it work!

The next step was to identify other values the homeowner had for the space. We asked questions such as:

How important is beauty compared to functionality? In this case the homeowner was less concerned about the aesthetic of the space, and more concerned about functionality. They reasoned that the door to the space would almost always remain closed keeping the need for decoratively arranged items low on the priority list.

What is the budget for this project? Our homeowner preferred to keep costs to a minimum for this project, and was committed to re-using organizational items they had leftover from their recent move. The cost incurred for this closet amounted to about $115 worth of clear bins, small drawers, and hooks in order to maximize the space for storage. And it took about 5 hours of hands-on organizing time for one organizer.

Which family member/s “own” this space? This question seeks to identify which members of the household we are creating a functional space for. Is this a closet that is really mom’s domain? Is dad the one who will need to access these items most frequently? Are we dealing with items that should be easily accessible to children? Maybe there are items that should be out of baby’s reach, etc. In this case, because it’s such a multi-functional space, we decided that most items should be easy to access by any member of the family, and well-labeled to encourage replacement of items, but that ultimately mom “owned” the space and would decide what functioned best for her.

Next came the fun part!

We began by taking EVERY single THING out of the closet. Here is a general list of the items we sorted:

One vacuum

Two sets of vacuum accessories

A sewing machine

Three empty frames

A bin of cold weather hats and gloves

Many lightbulbs

Multiple sets and sizes of batteries

Extra facial tissues

An air mattress*

Sewing accessories

Stationery supplies

6 jackets

4 backpacks

2 purses

1 pair of shoes left behind by a houseguest

A bin of face masks

Extra school supplies

Dog leashes, dog toys and “cone of shame”

Wrapping paper and supplies*

A large wall calendar

A file box full of files

A bunch of magazines

Lots of hardware supplies such as hooks, nails, drawer pulls, etc.

A label-maker

3 sheets of poster board

Countless pens and pencils

1 breast pump

A karaoke microphone

A device charging station

3 kindles

A whole mess of extension cords

A couple umbrellas

And of course the usual assortment of “what is this, and why was it never thrown away?”*

Remember, I said multi-functional? Indeed!

Designing a functioning storage system

After all items were cleared out of the closet, and a quick vacuuming of the floor, we decided that we would make use of the depth of the closet by lining one wall with furniture designed for storage. We used two 3x3 cube organizers and one hanging wall hutch which the homeowner already owned. These supplies would have totaled around $250 to purchase new for the space. On the opposite wall we chose to install a piece of wood salvaged from an old broken dresser and attached 4 large hooks to accommodate coats, purses, and backpacks. These installations allowed access (though admittedly it is quite narrow) to the entire depth of the closet.

Next we decided which items would be the ones that lived toward the front of the closet and which items would be needed less frequently and could be tucked in the cubbies toward the back of the closet.

The best part is, when we were finished, almost everything went back in the closet*. We did find a new home for both the air-mattress and the wrapping paper, and of course we threw away or recycled any trash. Everything else was grouped with like-items and designated it’s very own bin, drawer, or cubby-space with a label. Items that were too large to fit in the square cubbies or bins found homes on the floor toward the back of the closet, and items that could be hung, were placed on hooks opposite the cubbies. One of the beauties of using this bin system is the flexibility it offers. For example, we needed a place to store cold weather gear, such as hats and gloves, but because those items are seasonal, they can be moved to the front of the closet for easy access during the winter months, and then easily switched to a cubby at the back of the closet when they are no longer required daily.

The result of this time and effort is that our client now has an accessible, multi-functional, albeit awkward space at the center of her home to neatly store all kinds of household items!

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