Selecting Storage

Storage is a universally tricky subject for designers; every client wants more, but no one wants to surrender precious aesthetics or too much physical space to get it.

Master baths, depending on the clients’ tastes, are expected to be spas, bathhouses, beauty parlors, entertainment rooms, storage centers, dressing rooms and the place where the water closet is located. Kitchens are not just for cooking or eating, they need to be a domestic Las Vegas: the entertainment capital of the home. And every space surrounding these two rooms will suffer a cluttered fate if the right balance of storage-to-style isn’t struck within them.

Brooke Voss, allied member ASID and principal of Minneapolis, MN-based Brooke Voss Design, says she often feels as though her clients have never met a closet they liked.

“My clients are always looking for direction on how to design the perfect closet,” she says.

Cabinetry and closet efficiency is priority number one for Philip E. Rudick, architect and owner of Urban Kitchens + Baths in Austin, TX.

“Clients interested in maximizing storage expect me to offer designs that include mechanisms that store specific items in an organized and efficient manner,” he says. “Efficiency equates to good visual display of stored items occurring in kitchens, baths and closets. This is true for every room calling for storage, no matter what type of item will be stored there.”

Achieving efficiency seems to mean elevating the design of a cabinet’s interior to the same level of importance as the rest of the room’s design outside of the cabinetry. Just as a client would ask for certain types of appliances to make their time in the kitchen efficient, so too should a designer consider storage interiors to be as pivotal to this efficiency and convenience, says Sharon L. Sherman, ASID, CKD, CID of Wyckoff, NJ-based Thyme and Place Design.

“Specific-use storage is key. I like pull-out storage with specific point-of-use: snack drawers for the kids near the refrigerator, open-front cabinets for pot and pan storage under or around the cooking surface, space for cookbooks within the kitchen itself, dish drawer storage near prep areas, etc.,” says Sherman, adding that the same model holds true for other rooms: “I design a lot of mudrooms, which need a variety of storage for outerwear, sports equipment, school bags and other essentials. In baths, it’s nice to provide make-up storage and a place to store a hair dryer that doesn’t have to be unplugged. I have that in my own bathroom and love it!”

While individual needs will necessarily dictate the amount and type of storage, Richard Cowan, CKD, co-owner of the Kailua, HI-based design firm Archipelago Hawaii, says that most designers – himself included – have certain favorite solutions that can work well across the board.

“Overall, I tend to design kitchens with as many large drawers as possible. They are the best form of storage, are easily accessible and can house anything from cookware to Tupperware and miscellaneous storage units, mixing bowls and baking utensils,” says the designer.

Chock-Full Check Lists

Providing the right storage efficiency for each client requires a focus on it from the very beginning of the design process, according to designers surveyed.

Voss notes that a client should come in expecting a designer to know what questions to ask. “The right questions are key to ensuring storage needs are addressed up front and not as an afterthought.”

Clients requests should start the process in motion, according to Rudick: “Families with young children often request I look for ways to store the kids’ personal and school items. Personal lockers can include places for hanging jackets and cubbies for books and homework, and lunch boxes, among other items.”

While that will serve an immediate purpose, Rudick explains that great storage design will be able to transition to future scenarios as well. “It is important to note that specific storage be combined in proportion to flexible storage to accommodate changes in use by homeowners.”

“With aging-in-place and more Universal Design projects coming to the forefront of design, it is a designer’s responsibility to consider long-term design issues that may arise later,” says Sherman.

Rudick agrees: “I don’t think you can talk about storage efficiency without addressing mobility.”

Cowan suggests a hands-on method to get a sense of what clients will require for adequate storage.

“It is imperative to understand what your client requires for storage; the first thing I do when I walk into a new client’s kitchen is open up all of the cabinetry because I want to see how and what they are storing. This way I can design better storage solutions for them and help create specific storage places for larger items like stand mixers, oversized cooking pots, cappuccino machines and the like because I know what they have,” he says.

Rudick concurs, and adds: “Often when I visit a home, I will observe what is out on the countertops and then, when designing, I consider better ways to store these items. For example, medicine bottles sitting out need a secure method of accessible storage.”

Master suites have needs that, with enough room and the right client, will go beyond simple medicine cabinets, and Voss has the master bath-as-dressing-room issues down to a series of measurements and questions.

“I begin by taking inventory of the current organizational needs: How many feet of long-hanging clothes (dresses, long coats, etc.) is required? How many handbags or shoes need to be stored? I will consider separated hampers for light, dark, whites and dry-clean-only clothes, if space allows. There may be special storage needs for ties, jewelry or luggage. I will plan ahead to include space for a three-way, full-view mirror; perhaps I will include a center island for storage if room allows. Depending on the client, I have the capacity to accommodate unusual requests such as room for a beverage refrigerator for bottled water and iced coffee, among other possibilities,” she says.

The opportunities to provide custom solutions are endless, says Sherman. “In some cases I have designed closets for golf clubs; wine storage is also a big request. Any type of bulk storage area is generally at the top of client lists.

And, of course: closets, closets, closets.”

Principal Problems

Badly designed rooms are irksome to good designers, and each designer has a pet peeve that gets under their skin and spurs them to create functional, attractive solutions.

Cowan has it in for freestanding trash cans. “I’d say a trash can sitting on the floor of a large kitchen is a peeve of mine. Trash and recycling areas should be designed into cabinetry in any new kitchen. They should be located next to the primary prep area and another small one should be in the sink cabinet,” he says.

For Rudick, an underestimated garage is a gross misuse of space. “In Austin, we do not generally have basements for storage, so the garage becomes the storage room by default,” he says. “Improving storage in each area of the home will help ease storage space requirements in the garage. Also, well-designed storage elements within the garage might mean the garage can go back to storing actual cars.”

Cowan agrees that the garage ranks behind only the kitchen and bulk storage areas in terms of storage need and potential. “The kitchen is the biggest storage area next to large walk-in pantries and the garage. Garages are often overlooked and can greatly benefit from storage organization solutions.”

Sherman is foiled by the overall lack of wall space that seems to be an issue in every project. “There is only so much length to a wall; when you add windows and doorways there is, naturally, less space for storage. Take out the appliance dimensions and you have to literally use every square inch, especially in smaller spaces.”

Creativity is the key to solving these space concerns stylishly and effectively. Sherman continues: “It is important to be creative in concealing the storage options. There are so many great interior options to choose from, the challenges are really reduced. The important thing is to be able to think a project through ahead of time and not just design the quickest solution.”

Rudick, too, is troubled by the trend of open plans doing away with wall space. “The two most challenging design problems for remodeling kitchens and baths are homes with open floor plans that have few walls and lots of windows. The other is an older home where there are more windows and ill-placed doors than floor or wall space. These type of projects require thinking outside of the conventional box. This is where I look for that unconventional approach that can bring hidden opportunities.”

Savvy Solutions

So how are designers fitting more and better storage into each room?

“The worst case of limited storage I have tackled was a very small condo remodel. The kitchen was only 64 square feet and had very large opposing appliances and two dead corners,” says Cowan. Rethinking the layout and relocating some of the major elements was the way out of that jam. “We were able to completely redesign the space and utilize each corner and relocate the large appliances. The clients were avid cooks and greatly appreciated the new design. Small apartments are the most challenging to design due to the limited space, plumbing and electrical issues.”

Cowan has also done projects where the only goal for the client was to get the clutter out of the way. However, the agreed upon solution and finished result became a favorite design.

“The client wanted to create an office/den area in the home and have her husband’s office area designed into the built-in cabinetry with a fold-out desk and computer station. He was in architecture school and she wanted him to be able to put away his mess every evening,” he says. “During the design process and field measure I found that a long closet ran behind the wall where we were going to place the built-in cabinetry. I came up with a hidden office design that took over half of this closet space. The door to the office matches the cabinetry and, when closed, looks like a tall, built-in den cabinet. It is a very James Bond detail that is one of my favorite designs.”

Voss puts her efforts into finding the right pieces to solve the small apartment storage conundrum.

“I worked on a small condo in the John Hancock building in Chicago with very limited space and storage. Every piece of furniture specified had to be done with purpose and intent. A long parson-style sofa table with drawers was custom made and doubled as a desk, with a beautiful Herman Miller chair pulled up to it, and a sleek, modern file cabinet on wheels tucked underneath. A shallow depth chrome and glass bookcase in the bathroom doubled as both a linen and a medicine cabinet, holding towels and lacquered boxes with lids. Open storage can create a beautiful display if done properly,” she notes.

His-and-hers closets and bathrooms are commonplace. Rudick has done something a little more unusual: he has designed a his-and-hers kitchen.

“Other designers had wanted to add onto the home, but that was not an option for these clients. Working with the couple to develop a design program, I learned that the adjacent bedroom could be incorporated into the kitchen redesign,” he recalls. “The decision to use this option allowed me to create his-and-hers prep centers with cooking for each. The refrigerator, oven and pantry were placed where they were easily accessible and shared.”

To get the needed space to do this, Rudick opened up a doorway so that hall space would be open to the kitchen. “I then created a space for guests to sit while the clients cooked. The rest was balancing the countertop to tall storage ratio,” he concludes.

“In every remodel we do, I try to find the best way to reinvent the space,” says Sherman. “I recently reconfigured a master bath and bedroom. I moved one door to allow for a new entrance to the bath and added a giant walk-in closet by converting the old hallway entrance to the bath. There was a smaller walk-in closet that we were able to convert to a small ‘mom cave’ for the working mother of two. In her words, the remodel ‘changed her life’!”
However different the project, all designers surveyed expressed the same basic sentiment: proper storage solutions have the ability to create a design that functions efficiently, looks great and stays clutter-free.