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Sherri Richards, Published February 12 2012

Make the most of your storage areas

FARGO - When Ursula Hegvik looks at a typical closet, with one rod across and one shelf above, all she sees is wasted space.

“You can double hanging space by adding another pole, or move the pole down and add more shelves above it,” says Hegvik, owner of Smart Spaces, a custom closet business in Fargo.

All around our homes are ways to make better use of the space that’s there, she says.

Whether it’s containing clothes pouring out of the closet, taming the tide of children’s toys, or keeping a kitchen shipshape, the key to winning the storage war is to divide and compartmentalize.

Open wall space can also be easily transformed with shelves or hooks, Hegvik says, noting that only 20 inches of depth is needed for a hanging rod and shelf.

Tall cupboards and deep drawers are rife with underutilized space. These can often be retrofitted to allow more shelving or compartments.

Nifty kitchens

The Braaten Cabinets showroom on Main Avenue in Fargo is filled with tricks for making better use of kitchen space.

A dual-sided, hinged spice rack swings out of a top cupboard that also contains shallow shelves for canned goods. Wine and stemware racks are mounted under counters.

A backsplash railing system holds utensils, spices and even a cookbook. Adjustable drawer inserts ensure a place for every gadget.

Many of these ideas are best incorporated into new construction, but existing cabinetry can also be modified, says showroom manager Dawn Schmitt.

“The biggest thing is to figure out how you cook,” Schmitt says. Then create zones within the kitchen for each task. Customizing the zone for its purpose then makes the best use of that space.

Schmitt’s own kitchen has zones for baking, cleaning, prep work and even putting away groceries. Spices go in the baking zone. Dishes are near the cleaning zone, so they can be efficiently put away after being washed.

A system of pegs can divide a deep drawer into spots for plates and glasses.

Probably the easiest feature to add, and most useful, is roll trays, Schmitt says. Wheeled tracks allow easy access to deep cupboards. Pantry shelves, garbage cans and even large dog food bags can be pulled out easily.

“All this stuff has been around, but it was so expensive,” says Schmitt, who’s been in the industry 15 years. Now these organizers have come down in price, and the popularity of HGTV makes them more relevant, she adds.

Calm closets

Bedrooms or hallway closets can also be retrofitted. Tie and belt racks and fold-out mirrors are accessories that can be added to closets, Hegvik says.

In a closet, Hegvik says it’s preferable to have several stacks of three or four garments rather than tall, toppling piles. This keeps things neat, and makes it easier to find and put away clothing.

It’s also nice to have drawers and a laundry basket in the closet as well, she says. Storing everything needed to get dressed in the closet avoids the back and forth between spaces.

While most closet poles are hung at about 5 feet, a pole can be as low as 40 inches from the floor to accommodate shirts, folded pants and even suit coats, Hegvik says.

One easy way to create the feeling of more space in a closet with a low and high pole and a shelf between is to hang pants on the top pole and shirts on the bottom, Hegvik says. The folded pants will not hang as far as the shirts, making the shelf more accessible. And it’s more visually appealing to enter a space where what’s on top is recessed, she says.

“Kids’ closets are one of the most underutilized spaces and one of the most silly designed spaces in the home,” Hegvik says. “There’s usually one shelf and pole and it’s usually 5 feet from floor. So until your kids are 10 years old, they can’t use it very well.”

Making items reachable fosters independence, Hegvik says. Plus, shelving and drawers in the closet allows toys and books to be stored there, too.

Tammy Doeden of Fargo had Hegvik created custom closets in Doeden’s three children’s bedrooms.

The kids needed larger furniture, which Doeden worried would overwhelm the small spaces. She wondered if a new closet system would create enough space to eliminate an extra piece, such as a dresser.

Low closet rods and lots of shelving increased the storage space in each room, and made items more accessible, Doeden says, especially in her 4-year-old son’s room.

Everything inside a three-drawer chest and on a bookcase is now in the closet, including his toys and books. Now, the bedroom contains only a bed, nightstand and writing desk.

“It’s an amazing transformation,” Doeden says. “I still have half of his organizer that I can still use. I was able to get everything out of the room.”

They decided to leave off the closet doors. The spaces are visually attractive, and the kids like seeing their things, Doeden says. Her 11-year-old daughter displays her picture frames and knick-knacks in the closet now.

Around the house

For toy storage, Hegvik recommends choosing pieces that do double duty, such as ottomans that are also storage containers. “A lot of people use them for blankets. I say put the blankets over the edge of the couch and put the toys in there.”

In the bathroom, look for an inexpensive piece that fits over the toilet for extra shelving. Rather than a towel bar, Hegvik prefers hooks. She says they fit more in the same space, plus accommodate things other than towels, such as a robe.

The mudroom or entryway is a key area to maximize space, Hegvik says. Like in the bedroom, entryway closets can be made over with additional hanging space or shelving. Individual bins for hats and gloves can control that clutter.

Once remodeled, there may be extra space in the closet for it to serve double-duty as a pantry, Hegvik says.

If there’s no entry closet, place hooks within reach for kids to hang their coats and bags. Narrow shelves and baskets can be hung on the walls to hold keys or mail.

“If you can get that area of the home under control, that makes a big difference in your life,” Hegvik says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556