Sooner or later, almost every homebuyer or homeowner is involved in a collision that has nothing to do with driving a car. It happens when their idea of the perfect house runs headlong into the numbers in their budget. Often this reality-check impact occurs with stubborn facts, such as the high price tags associated with great views, fashionable neighborhoods or other location issues.
But sometimes the house itself is where the dream gap happens, and in those cases there are often dozens of ways to turn untapped potential into real solutions without crashing through your spending limits. This is especially true when aiming for functional assets such as storage space.
As it turns out, most homes have pockets of idle space behind wall surfaces, under stairwells or floorboards, and in overhead areas of almost every room. These are the “hidden assets” targeted in a new book by Karl Champley (a homebuilder, do-it-yourself coach, and host of the television program Wasted Spaces and writer Karen Kelly.
Champley asserts that many homeowners consider their house short on space but most haven’t used much of its potential. To remedy that, the book features 50 projects of varying scales and complexity, but it opens first with a strategy to make the most of any improvements. Planning, not surprisingly, ranks first and foremost, and Champley recommends keeping goals focused and modest to ensure success. Here’s a sampling of the process he champions:
• First, clean up and clear out. De-cluttering a house may not solve every storage problem, but it’s an essential first step. Working room by room, sort items into five categories — Keep, Sell, Donate, Recycle and Toss. This methodical approach will help you figure out what’s really important and what you can do without.
The Keep pile can then be sorted further according to frequency of use: daily, weekly, monthly, occasionally and so on. Some little-used items will have personal value, of course, so don’t feel compelled to jettison everything just because you don’t get it out much. This part of the process merely helps establish priority of access so that the items you use frequently will be easier to find and to reach.
• Dream big, then edit. After you’ve culled unnecessary items, take an inventory of the things that still don’t have a good storage solution. Then compile a wish list of the features you’d like to have in a particular space or room. It might include something as simple as a recessed wall niche or as ambitious as a walk-in closet or a wine cellar.
Room by room, stand in the center of each space and rotate 360 degrees, all the while noting blank wall areas, irregular pockets of space, or any other potential storage sites. Using this information, sketch floor plans of the rooms to show where furnishings and other items might go and where there are opportunities for storage features.
• Create a game plan. Start with a budget, and be sure to include all materials that will be required, any tools you’ll need to buy or rent for the projects, and any outside contractors you’ll need to hire for work you won’t be doing yourself. Then list the rooms in order of priority: Are you overdue for a home office? Is a cramped kitchen taking its toll on your time and energy? Decide which spaces get attention first, and then identify specific projects appropriate for each.
In this introductory section, the book devotes a chapter to each room and features several projects to improve storage. The kitchen, for example, can benefit from a set of small upper cabinets or modular shelf boxes that sit atop the wall cabinets, in the often-idle space just under the ceiling. Shallow drawers can be retrofitted into cabinet toe-kick spaces or other pockets, and a simple metal or wood rack hung on the inside face of a pantry door can house small items.
Bathrooms can benefit from in-shower wall niches, an extra-deep medicine cabinet, or a sliding pocket door to replace a conventional hinged door that needs room to pivot. If bedroom storage is your target, you can try a closet makeover with adjustable and multilevel shelves, re purposed dresser drawers that slide under the bed, or “floating” nightstands that mount to the bedside wall.
Champley also provides project ideas for entryways, hallways, stairwells, attics, basements, garages and even outdoor areas. A few are obvious solutions (a cubby-and-shelf unit for a mudroom), and others may be a stretch (converting a garden shed into a backyard guesthouse), but most homeowners will find some workable ideas they can explore.
There’s plenty of strategy and inspiration here, but for detailed instructions, most readers will have to look elsewhere. Each project does feature a tool list and a page or two of how-to information, but graphics are limited to a single color concept illustration of the completed project and perhaps one or two line drawings showing some assembly information. It’s all useful, but not terribly comprehensive, so less-experienced do-it-yourselfers should plan on getting technical assistance from other sources. Also, there’s little discussion of the potential behind-the-wall surprises or other obstacles encountered involved in renovation work, so bringing in a professional contractor or a local building inspector may be required for some projects.