A Proper Place

In a world where spaces are increasingly being upgraded with amenities rather than square footage, storage becomes a critical issue. No matter what room of the house is being remodeled, paramount is smart, accessible storage – and plenty of it. Nowhere is this more important than in the kitchen and bath, where the imperative tools for living are stored.

“First and foremost, all storage needs to be as ergonomic and easy to use as possible, or it will not ever reach its optimum utility no matter what interior system is installed,” says Roberta Kravette, director of New York, NY-based Nieuw Amsterdam Kitchens.

“It’s all about getting creative with the nooks and crannies of these spaces,” agrees designer Michelle Cooney of Littleton, MA-based Homestead Kitchens. “Making use of every inch and making it as functional as possible is always the focus.”

“Organizing has become big business,” says Joan Eisenberg, CMKBD, ASID, of Baltimore, MD-based JME Consulting. “With clients asking for more, larger commercial-style appliances, the space for storage has decreased considerably. The need for smart interiors has become an imperative.”

“It’s always about making the most of tight spaces where certain elements have to be worked around in existing homes, and creating functional, logical work flows in new construction,” agrees Denise Laridaen, owner of Mauston, WI-based Cabinet Creations.

“We’re encountering a more savvy clientele who are educated on the options available to them,” notes Martha Kerr, CMKBD of Portland, OR-based Neil Kelly Co. “Couple that with the open plan designs that are so popular right now and suddenly designing the perfect solution becomes more complex.”

Spacing Out

Eisenberg advises to start planning storage right at the beginning of the design process.

“I’ve always told my clients to work their budget to be able to purchase the price point of cabinetry that will provide them the ability to fully fit in the interiors with pull-out shelves, deep drawers, swing-out or pull-out mechanisms for pantries, cutlery partitions, safe knife storage, etc.,” she says.

Once the budget is established, however, the shape of existing space and what can and cannot be moved during remodeling is the paramount concern.

“We are Manhattan-based, as are 75% of our homeowners, so our biggest challenge is always lack of space and site conditions. Many of our buildings are pre-war and have pipes, columns, return air ducts, etc. that cannot be moved. The spaces are, by nature, smaller,” says Kravette.

She adds that, in conditions where altering the footprint is hindered by immovable elements, the interior fittings in cabinetry, and the choice of that cabinetry takes on a new importance.

“We are absolutely seeing a rise in the specification of interior fittings as a direct result of these conditions,” she says. “Simple things like trash receptacles many times need to fit under a 24" or 27" sink base and still clear the pipes!

We use the fabulous U-shaped drawer that fits around the pipes in Heritage Custom Cabinetry’s Zona Cucina line whenever we can.

“We sometimes use roll-out trays in the bottom of sink bases, and 6" wide pull-out chrome baskets by Häfele that hug the left or right wall of a door/drawer base and are great for cleaning products,” says Kravette.

The situation is similar 1,000 miles away in Wisconsin.

“Roll-outs, pull-outs and trays are fairly standard now,” says Laridaen. “It’s convincing an older demographic that drawers are the way to go that is a challenge – it’s a different concept for them. Many seem to opt for a tray pull-out in a standard cabinet instead of a drawer.”

Bringing cabinets to the ceiling is another space-capturing option. Designers note that storing seldom-used items in these spaces is gaining popularity.

“We typically maximize the height of wall cabinets by going to within 1-1/2" of the ceiling and then scribing the remaining space. We make use of all the different types of flip-up door hinges, again depending on the site conditions.

We use wall and base pull-out spice and tray racks that are tall and skinny and can utilize small spaces between pipe chases,” says Kravette.

Cooney finds a new need for customized storage solutions for things other than spices and pots and pans.

“With the advancement of technology, we have more and more need for storage of items such as cell phones, PDAs and the like. A concept that we use to address this need is to add a shallow hidden cabinet to store a plug strip for charging small electronics, as well as for key and mail storage,” she notes.

“A common challenge is certainly homes trending toward more open concepts, with a minimum of wall space for cabinetry and storage,” adds Cooney. “We often address this issue by making storage in base cabinets more functional by using roll-out shelves, pull-outs for corner cabinets and affording space for cooking oils and vinegars next to the range or cooktop. Peg board plate storage makes the depth of base cabinets more easily accessible.”
Kravette notes that island/peninsula spaces take on a new significance in these layouts.

“The rise of open-plan kitchens gives us an opportunity to make use of the back of an island or peninsula for additional shallow storage. We also have the opportunity for built-ins around the kitchen: Things like window benches, built-in wall units to house media, books and glassware that follow the theme of the kitchen, or vice-versa,” says the designer.

“It’s not just innovation in cabinetry that’s important to the topic; the appliance industry is addressing it, as well. Take the example of the microwave drawer that can go in any base area, and has the effect of freeing up valuable wall cabinet space in the process,” adds Kerr.

In a pinch, designers are even going against their gut, in the name of sparing space, says Laridaen. “I’ve had to commit every designer’s worst sin because it was what the kitchen and the client called for in terms of leaving enough room for storage and workable countertop space: putting the microwave over the range!”

Borrowing for Baths

In terms of tackling storage in small bath spaces, Kravette’s hometown, New York City, where spare space is at a premium, has given her much experience in the subject.

“We sometimes go into the wall where we can, which allows us to pick up anywhere from 2" to 4". We do roll-outs and drawers in vanities where possible,” she says. “Most vanities are floating now, which cuts down on storage. One interesting thing we did recently was to use four 5"-deep 12"x12" wall cabinets. We sunk them into the wall 3" so that they extended the room only be 2-3/4". By making use of the grain direction, we made these look like an art piece and not just cabinets stuck on a wall. You can store a lot of paper goods and toiletries in those little cabinets,” she says.

“Baths in most places are going to be a challenge if you can’t touch the footprint. The aim is luxury, but how much can you fit in a master bath in an older home? Just today I ordered a 33"x18" vanity, and we were having trouble accommodating even that size,” says Laridaen.

Cooney sees a rise in spa-inspired minimalism in the bath influencing the way storage is designed.

“Minimal spaces where everything needs to be tucked away and the lines need to be clean are often a problem, which we tend to address by making the interior storage more easily accessible and therefore more functional,” she says. “You have to be creative in designing and ordering custom pieces to fit in the nooks normally dismissed as unusable space.”

Again, size constraints sometimes push designers to break their own personal style rules.

“As much as I dislike putting a closed cabinet over the toilet, sometimes this is the only option. Robern has a medicine/storage cabinet in its M series that is 70"x19"x4" that can be surface mounted or recessed, and something of that size provides great storage,” says Eisenberg. “I also look to see if we can use space in a corner to add a small freestanding accessory for things like toilet tissue.”

Designers agree that unusual problems pop up in the most unexpected places. “The most unusual issue I’ve seen in a bath was the woman who wanted her small vanity to double as the place for her cat’s litter box. It needed a ‘cat door’ and we were also concerned that the vanity itself would pick up the cat scent,” says Kravette.

“Right now, I am working on a home that has 3"-thick concrete walls throughout, making it difficult to recess anything into the wall,” adds Eisenberg.

“The one constant in almost every project, even after many years in the business, is that there will always be some unusual site condition or physical issue we have not yet seen. We’ve found that our best resource for innovative storage solutions comes from our own extended team; the manufacturers we use provide us with technical assistance and work with us to come up with new solutions to fit any new issue,” concludes Kravette.