When choosing furniture, keep the focus as much on storage as on design. I’ve found that most people shop for surface furniture by looking only at design, never considering function. A glass coffee table looks sleek and contemporary but offers no practical storage in addition to its top. I prefer dual-function furniture, like a coffee table with a drawer and shelf to accommodate the junk that usually gets piled up on the table.
Bookcases are fine if you have an abundance of books and decorative objects. But if you need a place to hide the boxes of family photos you’ve been meaning to sort for the past decade, a trunk or chest of drawers is more practical. A small four-legged side table is better replaced by a small serpentine-front, three drawer French chest. When every inch of space counts, choose furniture that has both form and function. Your rooms will stay organized and clutter-free when you’re ready to add accessories.
If You Can’t Build Out, Build Up
When thinking about your walls and how to take advantage of the space they provide, here’s an important concept to keep in mind. If you can’t build out, build up! A bookcase could span an entire wall and reach up to eight or nine feet in height, but it only takes up floor space one to two feet deep. It’s amazing how much stuff can be stored in a wall unit. Using shelves and bookcases for your storage needs leaves other surfaces available for clutter-free entertaining.
Most of us think of erecting shelving units near our seating spaces, but shelves are wonderful at the end of a hall or around a small window. Shelves add warmth to these nooks and crannies and turn a pass-through space into a real workhorse. Love that!
Shelving can also make a difference in a home office, which often does double duty as a guest bedroom. Hidden storage is a trick that transforms a functioning work area into a comfortable guest room. Hat boxes and wicker baskets filled with office supplies look attractive and serve the important purpose of organizing work-related items.
The office-in-an-armoire is another clever idea for keeping a messy office contained and out of sight. They can be costly, but making your own version of the armoire office is quite affordable. Purchase an inexpensive cabinet, add some applied molding, a few pull-out shelves, and an antique paint finish, and you’ve created a country-looking hutch at a fraction of the cost.
We tend to furnish from the floor up to the middle of a room, but hardly consider the overhead space from the waist to the ceiling. Consider it! Using this space will give your rooms proper scale, and that's a distinguishing mark of a designer room. A few oversized pieces will add scale and balance, drawing the eye to the amount of furniture in a room rather than its size. I’ve seen rooms in which a tall bookcase and an armoire are placed on the same wall, while opposite walls are left bare. There's nothing on this wall to pull the focus up and into the midrange and beyond. When this happens the room seems haphazard and undefined. Who feels comfortable in a room with this kind of energy? Not me!
Every wall should have at least one focal point. If you have a bookcase on one wall, place the armoire on the opposite wall. Now you have two tall focal points on opposite walls, and you’ve got balance.
Text and images excerpted from the book Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Design, © 2000 by Discovery Communications, Inc. Used with permission.