10 Things I hate about you (my house) part III: there’s no storage

Oh haven’t we all felt this at some point? And I know there’s that old saying that it’s not about the lack of space but the amount of stuff you are trying to cram into it, but speaking as a someone with hoardish tendencies (History A level crib sheet folder covered in the Corona Fizzical stickers anyone?) there are things I just can’t throw away and just need to space to basically archive. So what to do?

home office soft neutrals via @mark_lewis_i_d image by rory gardiner @arorygardiner
home office in an alcove with storage via mark lewis interior design image @arorygardiner

Well I will say I am with Michelle Ogundehin on this, whose new book, Happy Inside,  we reviewed on the podcast last week – notes here) when she says that first you need to get rid of the stuff so you can make way for the things. Stuff is too many mugs and salad servers, things are the memories you have created along the path of your life that tell your story. Of course I don’t need my history A level notes but the file is the thing. At boarding school we used to write to companies and ask them for stickers and Corona (how apt that that was the one) that always used to reply and send us stickers for our school books. The Unigate milk company was another one with its Watch out for Humphrey campaign. The one we aspired to was Guinness with the toucans, which were such great design, but they always refused. At the time we thought they were mean, perhaps, looking back on it, they thought it was inappropriate to send alcohol adverts to schoolgirls. Anyway, things like that I want to keep. And the odd baby clothe (singular) as well as newspaper cuttings from my career.

pink storage via the modern house
take cupboards right up to the ceiling for a more streamlined look image via the modern house

And that’s not to mention the things I need currently – clothes, books, vases, bedding. It all has to go somewhere and, at the moment, space is feeling tighter than ever. I know I should do what Michelle says and clear out the cupboards but, while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and it’s easier to write about it than do it.

But let’s take a look at some storage ideas that might work for you once you have managed to declutter. For example, in the kitchen. When we first designed ours I was adamant I wanted a cupboard just for tupperware. That didn’t quite happen – not least because who can keep a matching tally of bases and lids – that surely is one talent that has passed me by) but it meant that I had a couple of cupboards that didn’t have that much pressure in them and so if nothing else I was able to fill them with random clutter until I found a use for them. And while I have been unable to summon the decluttering genie, The Mad Husband has unearthed two unused juicers, far too many mugs and a collection of old and chipped serving dishes that have all migrated to the back of his car awaiting more appropriate homes.

shaker peg storage by ilse crawford at high road house image via remodelista
shaker peg storage by ilse crawford at high road house image via remodelista

Think of odd spaces that you can use. In our last house, the owners had fixed a series of upside down triangles pieces of wood across a corner that made three shelving pockets for fruit and veg with a flat shelf on top. These can be as large or as small as you require and is a good way to use a small corner that isn’t otherwise contributing much. Don’t forget also that narrow shelves on spare bits of wall can be used as good storage for vases – which presumably you bought because you thought they were pretty so why not have them on display? You can paint the shelf to match the wall behind so the vases stand out as decorative objects. This will look prettier than piling everything up on top of the fridge (no don’t look at mine).

I have used the fireplace in my bathroom for storage

If you have lots of books to store then remember that a paperback is probably no more than 12cm deep so your shelves don’t have to be much more than that. You can build round doors and fill in alcoves but if you don’t want to do that then paint an area on the wall and fill that with shelves so that it looks more deliberate. And don’t forget those funny triangle alcoves by the side of chimney and even unused fireplaces themselves – which is where we store towels in the bathroom.

Talking of bathrooms you really do need more storage than you think. But again, most of the things you have to store in there don’t really need to be any wider than a roll of loo paper. So use the space above the loo or build a wall of cupboards in a gap between the towel rail and the basin. Often it’s just a question of looking at a space with fresh eyes and wondering what you can do.

the owners have created a wall of cupboards that houses a bed as well (image via the modern house)
the owners have created a wall of cupboards that houses a bed as well (image via the modern house)

It’s the same with that space under the stairs which is often wasted but which can take lots of coat hooks and shoe shelves. If you have some money to spend (ha!) then there are all sorts of clever things you can build under the stairs themselves that slide out but you will need a skilled carpenter for that.

If you are buying cupboards and cabinets then if they can possibly be fixed to the wall so you can see the floor that will make the space feel bigger and is always worth doing. Likewise painting them to match the wall means they will disappear and not dominate the space. Unless it’s a gorgeous antique, in which case make a feature of it.

It at all possible try to avoid storing stuff under beds and sofas and piled in corners of rooms as that just looks like you didn’t have enough room and will automatically make a space feel cluttered – even psychologically. Wherever possible think of adding a shelf, or a cupboard or a wooden trunk so that it looks like you meant it.

Kate Watson-Smyth and Sophie Robinson take a house tour with home of Michelle Ogundehin for the Great Indoors podcast. In the living room cabinets are mounted on the wall and appear to float to create a sense of space. #livingroom #madaboutthehouse #thegreatindoors
Michelle Ogundehin has added floating storage cupboards to this wall to maximise the amount of floor you see and stop the space feeling cluttered

Built-in cupboards should go to the ceiling – not only does that streamline the look and make the walls look taller but it also prevents dust gathering on all the stuff on the top shelf. Which, let’s be honest, is on the top shelf precisely because you don’t use it that much in the first place.

If you need coat hooks then buy ones with a shelf on top to squeeze some extra use out of them. And this I stole from Martha Stewart – if your shoes have heels then fix a row, or seven, of architrave to the wall and hang your shoes on it. Or buy some pretty hooks and display handbags.

built in storage on landing at the home of orla keily (image by KW-S)
built in storage on landing at the home of orla keily (image by KW-S)

I have spoken before about the joy of the Shaker peg all round the room – you can use it for hangers, pictures, handbags, laundry bags and shoe bags.

Put a couple of shelves next to, or above if there is no adjacent space, your bed. Open shelves will force you to keep things tidier than if they were shoved in drawers and forgotten about.

built in storage on landing at the home of orla keily (image by KW-S)
built in storage on landing at the home of orla keily (image by KW-S)

I have written here about how much space you need to create a walk-through wardrobe so do have a look at that if you are planning a bedroom redo. The default position, in period houses, is to put cupboards either side of the fireplace but they are rarely big enough, stick out past the fireplace which somehow ruins its aesthetic and can mean the bed is then right by the door which also doesn’t feel right. If you have a bigger room then creating a false wall to put the bed in front of with the clothes behind can work really wall.

built-storage in bed at the home of orla keily image by KW-S
built-storage in bed detail at the home of orla keily image by KW-S

I hope that has given you some ideas to ponder as you wander round your house today wondering where you can put things.

Tags : built in storageclever storagedecluttershaker peg railstoragestorage at homestorage ideaswalk-in wardrobe
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Well Kate as you store in your bathroom fireplace …why not in the bath you never use??!!
    Seriously there’s a lot to be said for moving house at least every 7 years…STUFF is diminished that way in my experience.
    You can store under the bed if you have an attractive vallance but wrap the stuff well because the moths will find the stuff stored there for sure.
    I have found that my friends keep stuff they forget they have…I ask them how having this “stuff” helps their day to day lives. Of course it does not!
    Live lighter, give STUFF away, but always hang on to as many books as possible and put your photos on to your computer system. What you keep must enhance your life, offer comfort and make you happy.

  2. Some great ideas… smart storage solutions definitely make a huge difference. And can really take the stress out of living in small spaces – or large ones come to that. It can be alot of fun finding clever (and decorative) storage solutions for any space. And as you say, they can often be added in to spaces around the home that are otherwise unused and therefore wasted. I’ve found that the Small Space Living section on our blog always gets the most visitors – so it’s definitely a topic dear to many people’s hearts.

  3. Hi Kate, what are your thoughts on ceiling-height built-in cupboards vs cornicing? Do you let the cupboards cut it off, cornice across them or do something else entirely?

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