Carving Out Niches Of A House For Storage

HOME WORK

March 16, 1991|By Karol V. Menzieand Randy Johnson

Old houses simply bristle with storage space, if you know where to look for it.

The trick is to evaluate every space to see if it's most useful as it is, or whether it might be put to better use as storage. A front wall with two or three windows, for instance, typical of row houses, might be turned into a wall of shelves with window openings. The shelves could be designed in a combination of open and closed units, with seats under the windows.

Shelves or cabinets can be specially designed to fit under stairs and store coats, cleaning utensils, linens, toys.

What kind of clutter do you have? If it's books, a lot of open shelving is probably the answer. If it's collectibles, shelves or glassed-in cabinets may be what's needed. If it's canned goods, shallow closed shelves might work.

Once you've decided what you have to store, consider how permanent you want the storage to be. Basically, there are three types of storage:

*Free-standing furniture -- bookcases, cabinets, secretaries, chests, sideboards, etc. Pieces may be heirlooms or new, but you can choose a style to fit any decor and take them with you when you move.

*Modular systems -- shelving and cupboards. These also come in a wide variety of styles (though most are fairly contemporary) and can be added to or rearranged as needed. You can buy them, build them yourself, or find them in kit form. They also move when you do.

*Built-ins -- shelves and cabinets. They're a permanent part of the house, but can be customized to fit any space, no matter how large, tiny or oddly shaped. They can be virtually hidden, in recesses or behind paneling. It takes some skill to design and build good fitted cabinets, and if you have to hire a carpenter or cabinetmaker, such units can get expensive.

Whatever type you choose, figuring out where to put it may be like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Here are some of the spaces we've seen turned into storage:

*Under stairs. Can be simple, such as enclosing space for a coat closet, or complicated, such as fitted cabinets for specific utensils. One idea is specially designed bins mounted on casters that can be pulled out for access. The sides that face out are cut to match the slant of the stairs, so a row of them presents a unified look that completely fills the space.

*Between fireplaces, or between fireplace and wall. This is a classic solution, popular even in Colonial times. Typically, more modern units have cabinets at the bottom, shelves at the top. (It's not unusual for renovated houses to have more than one fireplace in a space that started as separate rooms.)

*In dormers, as window seats with shelving or cabinets below, or with the seat doubling as the lid to a storage space.

*Above, below or beside windows. If you don't need a whole wall of shelves, a long window seat can have shelves or cabinets below, or a wall-to-wall shelf above the windows could provide space to display collections.

*In eaves. The space may not be tall enough for furniture, but a couple of shelves can make it useful.

*In room dividers or wall cavities. Storage can be closed or open. Small cabinets or shelves can be recessed into the space between studs (for a bathroom cabinet, or kitchen spice cabinet). Dividers can be tall or short, with storage accessible from one side or both.

*Lofts. In very tall rooms, storage space (even room space) can be stolen from top or bottom. (A wall of deep closets with bed space above, for instance.)

*Above closets. This is space that's often wasted.

*Underneath stairs. Basement stairs under first-floor stairs often have space at the back that isn't needed for headroom.

Another storage solution is to customize kitchen or bath cabinets so the space is more useful. You can add pullout shelves or bins to a vanity or under-sink cabinet, for instance.

One of the cleverest storage-maximizing schemes we've seen was designed to fit a narrow space beside the refrigerator in a wall of built-in cabinets. A deep shelving unit just a few inches wide -- wide enough for spices, small boxes and cans -- was mounted on wheels to pull out when needed and disappear when not.

Next: Making custom cabinetry.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.

If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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