Why shelves make better storage than cabinets

Room for your stuff

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 21, 2012

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Room for your stuff

Arrol Gellner
Inman News®

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series. Read Part 1.

Last time we talked about how, despite all the fancy cabinets you find in new houses these days, most people still end up storing things in the garage. The reason: While cabinets may look pretty, they're really not very practical for storing all the oddball stuff that we Americans tend to accumulate.

As anyone who has open shelving in their garage can attest, it's much easier to store and find things on shelves than in closed cabinets. There's a lot less frenzied door-flinging and "now where did I put that thing?" going on. The stuff you want is either right there in front of your face or it isn't. This is why your local grocer puts his stock on shelves and not behind doors.

Shelves are also better at accommodating various and odd-sized items, since they're not interrupted by a lot of vertical dividers the way closed cabinets are. Hence, there's less bother figuring out how to make things fit or what order to put them in.

The old Victorian idea of the kitchen pantry or larder is a perfect example of this kind of practical storage. Even in the fanciest houses of the time, the pantry was never just an excuse for installing more showy cabinets, as it often is today. Rather, it was a no-nonsense room lined with open shelves that could store a few months' worth of food and dry goods, along with bulky seasonal appliances such as ice cream makers and canning apparatus.

The separate pantry room was one of the first things to go when houses were dramatically downsized in the Craftsman era, and that was a loss, as anyone who cooks in one of the teensy-weensy kitchens of the 1920s and '30s can tell you. Not that small kitchens are bad -- they're often much more efficient than the sprawling kitchens found in some of today's houses. But what's lacking is a catch-all room like that Victorian pantry, where things can be easily stored and quickly retrieved.

Whether you call it a pantry, a storeroom, a catch-all or whatever, a little room lined with shelves is a practical storage solution that's cheaper and more functional than all those fancy cabinets people have gotten used to paying for.

So the next time you have the chance to design from scratch or to rearrange the storage you have, instead of adding more cabinets, consider setting aside some floor space that can be closed off with a regular door. An area as little as 3 feet by 4 feet will do, but of course, the more room, the merrier. Ideally, this space should be near the kitchen, but it'll serve well no matter where it is in the house.

Inside, install adjustable shelves from about 12 inches off the floor to within 8 inches of the ceiling. Most of the shelves can be between 8 inches and 12 inches deep, but if you can, try to include a few that are 16 inches deep to hold awkward or bulk-packaged items. Where space is really tight, shelves as little as 8 inches or even 6 inches deep will still be useful. Although the aisle space in front of the shelves should theoretically be around 3 feet wide, I've seen it made as narrow as 18 inches without any real loss of function.

Since the whole room is hidden behind a door, you needn't fret too much about how it looks. All that matters is there's a place to put your stuff.

Read Arrol Gellner's blog at arrolgellner.blogspot.com, or follow him on Twitter: @ArrolGellner.

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