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Storage Solutions

‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ – this must be a maxim familiar to everyone. And although it sounds rather tediously tidy, it should at least be the aim of your storage strategy throughout the house. Whether you can get the family to conform to your carefully worked out systems is another matter! It is helpful first of all to consider the ways in which storage can be provided around the home for your family, for the solutions to storage problems are many and varied. The list below starts with the simplest ideas, which are usually the cheapest, and then goes on to list more expensive and sophisticated solutions.


Systems based on a simple box unit can be surprisingly useful. You can use boxes on their ends as bins, where they will cope with general clutter, being particularly good for toys. Or you can turn boxes on their sides to make open storage compartments; these can be stacked to make fairly extensive storage system into which you can ‘pigeonhole’ your belongings. At a most basic level, your boxes can be made of cardboard, and you can glean them from the supermarket. You will find that these are fairly strong, and you can smarten them up with oddments of paint left over from decorating projects, or you can face them with wallpaper. For a more durable finish, bind their vulnerable edges with cloth sticky tape. Alternatively, you can make your own more substantial boxes from 19 or 25 mm. chipboard , 25 mm. timber, or 12 mm. g in. plywood. Joints can be simply glued and nailed.. You can add internal partitions if you wish. Size can be adapted according to what is going to be stored inside. Open boxes allow their contents to be easily seen and found but will look untidy if the contents are untidy! Those more proficient in woodworking can add doors or upward-opening flaps to their boxes with hinges.


Do not neglect the homely hook. A plentiful supply of hooks throughout the home enables you to keep the place tidier, as a lot of general clutter can be removed from the floor onto the wall. The simplest hooks to fix are screw-in cup-hooks which can be fixed to sides of cupboards, doors, undersides of shelves and so on. If you want to screw a cup-hook directly into a wall, you will have to drill a hole, and plug it first. In addition to kitchen utensils and crockery, large cup-hooks will cope with light-weight clothing, shoe bags and so on, being particularly useful for children’s rooms. Sometimes it is easier to attach a row of hooks to a wooden batten, simply screwing them in, and then to attach the batten to the wall with screws and plugs. When screwing in a cup-hook, remember that you will have to make a starting hole with a gimlet or a bradawl. Coat-hooks, single or double, attached with separate screws, are larger and sturdier than cup-hooks and will cope with heavy-duty hanging, providing they are firmly fixed into wood, or into a wall-plug.

For suspending a series of small objects such as kitchen utensils or tools, you could fix up a sheet of perforated hard-board and then use the special peg-board hooks which fit into the holes to provide hanging points wherever you want them.

In a garage, or attic, a rod with ‘S’ shaped meat hooks suspended on it can be useful for hanging up bulky items.


No home can seem to have too many shelves; they are useful in just about every room in the house. Their most obvious use is for books, but you can often store a wide variety of small items on them, at times when you cannot afford to install a cupboard. A set of sturdy shelves fitted with upright dividers at intervals will form open pigeon holes which can even be used for smaller articles of clothing – jumpers, socks and so on. Much cheaper than drawers!

Materials for shelving Shelves can be made of 19 mm. chipboard, with supports every 90 cm , or every 50 cm if you are going to load your shelves with heavy books. Chipboard is the cheapest material you can buy for shelving. You will need to finish the edges of your chipboard with iron-on veneer strips; the board can be left its natural colour and varnished, or stained and varnished, or painted. You can also buy from d-I-y shops a wide range of veneered chipboards for shelving, including boards with a plain white melamine finish. These come in various standard widths, including 15 cm, 30-5 cm, and 46 cm Alternative shelving materials include 12 mm. plywood, and 19 mm. block-board. You can use natural timber 19 mm. thick for light items, and 25 mm. for heavy objects. When making plans for shelving, always start by finding out the standard depths offered in the various materials at your local store; then you can tailor your design accordingly. Make a note of the price at the same time, so that you know what you are letting yourself in for! D-I-y shops will often cut your timber or board to size for you, but materials bought this way are more expensive than if you buy them uncut from a trade timber yard and cut them to size yourself.

Supporting and fixing shelves There are several different ways of supporting your shelves. The easiest and the quickest involves no wall fixing. You simply stack your shelves on suitable supports – you can use piled-up bricks, concrete blocks sold for screen-walling, breeze blocks, or solid blocks of timber. This type of shelving is informal and can easily be dismantled if you think you will be wanting to move the arrangement to another room, or another house or flat, in a short while. However, it is not recommended to a height of more than four shelves, as taller structures lack stability. To fix shelving to the wall, you can use simple angle brackets; they do not look too ugly, if brackets and shelving are all painted to match the same colour as the wall. Alternatively, you can use one of the many systems available which have slotted uprights, into which you clip brackets in a choice of various sizes to suit your shelving. Your brackets should extend to within 12 mm. of the edge of your shelf. These brackets need not be unsightly if you paint shelf, wall and bracket the same colour when the job is finished. Decide on the position of your shelf, taking care to avoid places where people may bump their heads or walk into the shelf. Two brackets will support a shelf about 106 cm long; anything longer may need three brackets. You may also need extra brackets to support heavy loads. Your brackets should be positioned from 15-20 cm in from’each end of the shelf. Hold your shelf up to the wall and get it level using a spirit level. Draw a guiding line on the wall, underneath the shelf. Work out and mark the position of the first bracket. Put the shelf to one side and hold the bracket up to the wall to mark the position of the necessary fixings. Take down the bracket and using a No. 8 masonry bit in your drill, make the necessary holes in the wall. Plug with No. 8 plugs, then screw in your first bracket using No. 8 screws which should be long enough to penetrate through the plaster into the brickwork by about 20-25 mm.. Fix the other bracket in the same way.

Rest your shelf on the two fixed brackets, and mark the position of the screw fixings to be made into the shelf. ¦

No. 6 screws should suffice, and these should penetrate 12 mm. into the shelf. Drill pilot holes, replace shelf and screw down firmly. Alcoves Many people like to fix shelves into an alcove, and this looks particularly nice on either side of a chimney breast, making use of space which would be wasted otherwise. You can use one of the systems with slotted uprights and brackets, as described above; or you can simply attach wooden wall bearers to each side of your recess, making them the depth of your shelves. For long shelves, it is a good idea to fix a bearer along the back wall as well. Short wooden battens 25 mm. square are fine for small shelves; larger heavier shelves will need battens 50 by 25 mm.. It is essential to ge^ both bearers and shelves absolutely level. For adjustable alcove shelving, you can screw vertical boards to either side of your recess, allowing them to rest on the skirting. To these, you can attach slotted metal ‘bookcase’ strip, which takes small metal brackets for your shelves.

Sizes and spacing for shelves What sizes should you make your shelves? Suitable thicknesses for structural strength have already been mentioned. The depth will be governed by the standard depths available, but it is worth noting that in rooms where space is very tight, even narrow shelving only 10 cm deep can earn its keep – in a kitchen, for example, for single rows of mugs and jars, or in a bathroom, for bottles, jars and so on. A very wide shelf can often be incorporated into a system at table-top or work-top height, to provide a working surface. If your shelving is not adjustable you will work out your shelf spac- ing very carefully: once fixed, it is very tedious to have to alter shelf positions. Measure carefully the things you will be wanting to store. If, for example, you are putting up shelves for books, you will make the best use of space if you place your shelves at differing distances apart, rather than deciding on one uniform distance. For example, a 19 cm gap will cope nicely with paperbacks, but you will also need shelves at intervals of say 23 cm and 26 cm for larger books, plus at least one very widely spaced shelf, say 31 cm to take large illustrated volumes, etc. It is worth spending a bit of time on this initial basic planning. You should also remember that shelves higher than you can reach will only be useful for objects not in constant use.


Shelving, of course, constitutes the simplest form of built-in unit. Add a door, sliding or hinged, to a set of shelves in an alcove, and you have a built-in cupboard ol the simplest kind, as the walls of your home form the cupboard back and sides. There are also many wardrobe systems which make use of this idea: the manufacturer merely provides the wardrobe fronts and internal fittings, including hanging rails, and you use your own wall as the cupboard back, thus saving on cost. End pieces are available for these systems, where they are not being built into a recess. Manufacturers also provide ‘scribing’ pieces with which you can fill the gap between the top of your system and the ceiling, and any gaps at the sides, to give your arrangement a fully ‘built-in’ look. Many of these systems are designed specifically for do-it-yourself installation; clear instructions are provided and fixings are simple. However, it is usually helpful to have two people on the job, as it may be necessary to handle fairly large panels.

If you do not feel confident enough to fit doors to built-in units, it is worth remembering that roller blinds can often make an adequate and cheaper substitute. Built-in units are not economical unless you plan to live in a home for some while – you will not be able to take them with you when you move, although you may be able to raise your selling price as a result of your built-in units.

Planning the insides of units Whether you build in your storage units yourself from scratch , or make use of one of the many kits for built-ins, commission or wheedle someone to do the whole job for you, one thing is vitally important: to arrange the dimensions of and the space inside the units in the best possible way for efficient storage. For hanging clothes, for example, you will need a minimum depth inside cupboards of about 55 cm ; each adult person requires around 1 metre of hanging rail, but you can save space here by providing some ‘two tier’ rails for storing shorter hanging items one above another. For a drawer, shelf or sliding tray, you should plan for a minimum depth of 30 cm from front to back. One or two deep drawers, say 30 cm deep and over, are useful for thick bulky items and should be placed low down as they will be heavy when full. Shallower drawers and trays will be more useful for smaller, constantly used items such as cutlery in the kitchen, or underwear in the bedroom. Very often the space inside cupboard doors can be utilised with racks for small packets and jars, or for saucepan lids. The above points are merely for general guidance. It is essential when planning, or adapting, all built-in systems to list and measure what you have to store, and then to proceed from there. Only in this way will you get the most out of storage systems which as they are being tailor-made, might just as well be tailor-made to your exact wishes!


Under this heading can be included all the conventional types of storage furniture available either new from furniture shops or second-hand from junk shops or auctions: wardrobes, chests of drawers, small cupboards, chests, dressers and so on. It is worth remembering that old-fashioned furniture is often built on more generous dimensions than modern counterparts, therefore you will be able to get more inside it. Of course, it will also take up more room and you should always take a note of your room dimensions with you when shopping second-hand to avoid lumbering yourself with something that will not fit the space available. A second-hand piece will often need a bit of handywork to make full use of its storage potential – a cavernous interior may be best divided up with shelves or racks, or sometimes it is possible to adapt furniture by splitting it into two, or taking off legs, or a similar piece of surgery.

One of the most attractive of modern storage furniture ideas is to provide a wall of storage in a living room, to include drop-down flaps for writing letters and serving drinks and meals, space for the television and record player, as well as storage for books, hobby gear, records, sewing materials and display space for precious possessions. These units are often sold in a choice of widths so that you can select a combination to fill one wall within a few centimetres. This type of furniture, however, is not cheap. You can achieve an equally tailored look by combining whitewood base units, suitably painted or stained, with shelving or small wall cupboards.

Although the trend in recent years has been to knock down walls for an open-plan style of living, there are sometimes occasions when you would prefer in fact to divide a room: to make sleeping areas for two children, perhaps, or to divide off a dining section from a cooking area. Remember that a storage unit, whether free-standing or built-in will form an effective divider, at the same time earning the space it takes up by providing storage, which can be accessible from both sides of the unit, should this be convenient. The manufacturers of several types of veneered chipboards offer leaflets containing furniture designs, including simple storage units, based on the standard sizes of their boards. They have developed simple fixing devices for joining the boards where necessary, thus enabling you to build your own storage at a reasonable cost with minimum professional know-how.

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