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4 Strategies To Maximize Storage in Small Spaces

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Maximizing Tiny Interiors

Shamika Lynch

Finding sufficient storage in a small space can be difficult; doing it with decorative finesse can be even trickier. That’s where Shamika Lynch comes in. Lynch, owner of Jersey City-based Maximizing Tiny Interiors, understands the charms and challenges of living in small spaces, and she’s made it her mission to help her clients make the most of their modestly sized rooms. Here are her tips:

1. Be Self Aware

“When I walk into a home, I look at how the people are living,” Lynch says. “Every home is different. Every family is different.” Lynch wants to know the particulars of a client’s lifestyle. “In an entry, for example, I’ll ask ‘how does this space work for you? Where do you drop your keys?’” The best solutions are those that work organically with a client’s habits. “I don’t want to stage it just so it looks pretty. If it feels natural to drop your keys to the right, I’ll put a table on the right.” The bottom line: “You have to know what you want your home to do in order to get your home to do it.”

A cabinet in a foyer adds storage and surface space for keys or decorative elements.

2. Abide by Basic Rules

Though each project is unique, certain principles are universal.

  • Deal with Disorder: “One of the first things we address is clutter,” Lynch says. She asks clients to take a critical look at their belongings. “I’ll ask, ‘what are you storing in this piece of furniture?’ and the response is, very often, ‘I don’t know.’ So I encourage them to think about what they’re holding onto and why.”
  • Make Your Furniture Multitask: “Anything that takes up surface area needs to be multifunctional,” Lynch says. “For example, in a living room that’s used for both relaxation and as a home office, we’ll get a piece that can be used as both a desk and a side table. I try to get one piece to function at least two ways — though ideally it would be three.”

 3. Think Outside the Box

Lynch advises dropping preconceived notions of what goes where. “The piece of furniture holding the TV doesn’t only have to store media materials,” she says. “You can store important documents or books or wine in that media console.”

She also recommends dispensing with a usual bedroom standby — the dresser. “They can become clutter magnets and they’re not as functional as they could be.” Instead, Lynch endorses wardrobe cabinets. “They function so much better because they’re tall. Even if you have only 8-foot ceilings, you can use a lot of that height, whereas a dresser is usually only about 4 feet high.”

Replace a dresser with a tall wardrobe cabinet to maximize storage.

4. Choose Optimal Storage Systems

When it’s time to select storage products, there’s a lot to choose from, but Lynch stresses that before buying any organizational product, it’s imperative to measure your space. “The problem with some stores that sell organizing tools is that they’re warehouses. Everything looks smaller there,” she says. “If you don’t have accurate measurements, you may bring home a product only to realize it’s way too big.”

  • Bedroom: “Most closets feature one rail and one shelf. A lot of times that can turn into a pit. The goal is to fit as many things as possible — neatly — into the closet.” Lynch explains that organizing one’s closet is a very personal endeavor. “So if you have an opportunity to customize it, really customize it. For instance, I have a lot of sweaters, so I know I need dedicated shelves to fit those bulky items. Someone who is back in the office full time might have 12 pairs of trousers that need to be hung. That would require more dedicated hanging space. Shoe enthusiasts might need a Carrie Bradshaw-type closet with lazy Susans and display cases.” Systems that include drawers are a bonus, Lynch notes. “They alleviate the need for a dresser in your bedroom.” When storing belts and jewelry, Lynch likes thin, pull-out drawers within a wardrobe. “That really allows you to see everything you have. Another option is tabletop displays for jewelry and hooks inside a closet for belts.”

For those without standard closets, Lynch is a big fan of standalone systems. “You can place them next to each other and create a wall of storage. Those units are great because there are so many ways to customize them.”

Standalone systems, available at many big-box stores, are customizable and provide extra storage for those with small closets, or no closets at all.

  •  Kitchen: Lynch advises using vertical space whenever possible. “I love pot racks,” she says. “Pots can be decorative when left out in the open. Everyone knows a kitchen is where you cook, so looking at pots is not going to be offensive or surprising to anyone.” In slightly larger kitchens, prefab islands can be useful on a number of fronts. “They bring in additional counter space, storage space and, if you have room, seating space.”

When kitchen space is at a premium, pot racks and prefab islands can make up the difference.

  • Bathroom: Once again, the solution is going vertical. “Over the toilet is your best bet,” Lynch says, adding that an upper cabinet designed for a kitchen can be mounted above the toilet for storing towels or toiletries. If space is really tight and you’re able to do some construction, Lynch also recommends using space behind a wall to create a niche. “Sometimes there’s a foot of space behind a wall and that’s an opportunity to add storage.”

Cabinet uppers above the loo and wall niches in the shower add storage space to this narrow bathroom.

  • Living areas: Lynch prefers closed storage for the more public spaces. “I know open shelving is trending — and it can work for items that are naturally neat, such as books. But for messier things, like kids’ toys, pretty baskets can hide a multitude of sins.” Closed storage gives you the benefit of an additional aesthetic. The face of the storage unit — whether it’s a woven basket or a wooden cabinet — enhances the decorative aesthetic.

Open storage works well for tidy items, such as books. Closed storage for messier gear, such as toys, helps maintain an orderly aesthetic.

Creating practical yet beautiful spaces is a realistic goal, even in the smallest of homes. “Many times in design, small spaces are overlooked,” Lynch says. “So many of us live in smaller homes. I firmly believe that we deserve to have homes that function beautifully too!”