Hide your stuff

Manufacturers designing furniture that doubles as storage

August 13, 2006|By ELAINE MARKOUTSAS | ELAINE MARKOUTSAS,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO FIND A PLACE TO hide the stuff that gets in the way of a simpler life. Increasingly design-enlightened consumers are demanding something extra: value-added storage.

Responding to an obsession with hideaway design for everything from stow-and-go car seats to flip phones, home-furnishings manufacturers are providing clever now-you-see-it, now-you-don't solutions.

This translates to cool design nuances in the storage category, solutions that don't rely on the obvious. For example, it may look like an ottoman and act like an ottoman for stretching out feet or extra seating. But in addition, serving trays stored inside can turn the surface into a tabletop.

Or what looks like an ordinary coffee table with five drawers may have a safety-hinged top that opens to reveal hanging files.

We have come to expect drawers that have flannel liners for sterling or silver-plate flatware and jewelry drawers with velvet-cloaked inserts. Martha Stewart includes them in furnishings for Bernhardt.

But on a larger scale, the Italian bed manufacturer Flou went beyond drawers that tuck under platform beds to harvest the entire space beneath the mattress. The bed frame draws up to fit pillows, blankets and more, similar to lift-up compartments in RVs.

Consumers are fascinated with the idea of secret storage, says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance in High Point, N.C. "At the same time, this is a continuation of the trend of making the most out of the functionality of our furniture, making small spaces productive. It's efficient. People are looking for that, for their lives to be simple, unobstructed by stuff."

Secret compartments always have delighted furniture buyers. Old-fashioned secretaries often featured disguised drawers. Dining tables sometimes had hiding places under the top for silverware. Antique Chinese wedding boxes, often crafted from leather, included flaps that pulled down, legend has it, to stash opium and valuables.

Today's storage trends include furniture that makes clutter disappear into smart compartments and built-in cubbies. The latter have become a signature of retailers such as Pottery Barn, which also sells the containers to fill up the cubbies in television stands, benches and even beds.

Manufacturers also are becoming savvy about creating attractive storage that doesn't visually hog the interior landscape, taking cues from slim profiles and pocket whatevers (think plasmas TVs and iPods).

Attuned to entertainment needs, manufacturers also are extending other trends. Refrigerator and freezer drawers have become popular, though expensive, options ($2,000 and up) throughout the house, but the cabinetry designed to house refrigerators once was confined to custom work.

However, Frontgate catalog offers a freestanding mahogany cabinet with stain-resistant marble top that can house a minicooler. The cabinet is dressy enough for the living room or an elegant master suite.

If space is lacking, however, a clever approach is to hang it, fold it, retract it or minimize the profile. German manufacturer Villeroy & Boch introduced a vanity that looks like a floating shelf when closed. Its metal supports do their job without calling attention. But inside its hinged top, there's a mirror, shelf and roomy storage.

Kitchen cabinet manufacturers have been catalysts in exploring options for resolving leftover spaces. So what used to be fillers - dead spaces between cabinets sometimes marked by fancy pilasters or columns - are now functional, pullout storage for spices or cleaning supplies on racks inside. They are opened by concealed hardware.

And exposed "ends" of cabinets, whether in the kitchen or family room, are suitable for shallow storage, including message centers or CD and video racks. Even cabinets with mechanisms for lifting plasmas out of hiding are being designed to house CDs and DVDs.

Then there's a marvelously inventive shoe temple, a design by Mimi & Brooke for Laneventure. It's actually a folding screen in wood on brass casters, so it is mobile. Inside is a full-length mirror, four shelves and 70 shoe pockets.

Even high-end furniture manufacturer Donghia, known for contemporary design, has addressed where to stash magazines, books and newspapers. Its solution is a ledge on the base of a sofa, chair and ottoman from the Open Villa collection.

SOURCES

Diamond Cabinets: 800-342-5590 or diamondcabinets.com, available through Lowe's, 800-445-6937 or lowes.com.

Donghia Inc.: 212-925-2777 or donghia.com.

Frontgate: 800-626-6488 or frontgate.com.

Laneventure: 800-235-3558 or laneventure.com.

Storehouse: 888-STOREHOUSE or storehouse.com.

Villeroy & Boch: 609-860-9961 or www.villeroyboch.com.

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