The Tambour Table: A work space with a simple design and hidden storage

Furniture that can do more than one thing usually is a great find, especially when the features help you to get on with the business of being productive. The Tambour Table by Michael Bambino is such a find. On the surface, it looks like a regular table, but when you push aside the tabletop, you’ll find a hidden area for storing pens, your notebook, tablet, cables, or the important things you need to have at your fingertips.

The Tambour also hides an outlet and a USB hub. The simplicity of the design makes it very easy to use.

The table in action:

Thanks to Swiss-Miss for giving us a head’s up about this table.

Ask Unclutterer: Designing a new space that prevents clutter and reduces cleaning time

Reader Howard submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Do you have any tips for remodeling or building a house that would help prevent clutter or reduce cleaning maintenance in the design of the space?

This is a really fun question, Howard, and I’m so glad you asked it. You have a terrific opportunity in front of you to build a space that can help you achieve and maintain an uncluttered lifestyle.

First things first, thoroughly unclutter your existing possessions so your new space is free of things you don’t want in it. Check out “Start a full-room organizing project with a blank canvas” for tips on uncluttering in this style, but apply it to your entire home.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, I highly recommend designing the space with ample storage that can easily be reconfigured. Use elfa shelving (or the competing product from Rubbermaid) in closets and pantries so shelf heights can be adjusted or clothing rods installed or drawers can be added as necessary. Your needs for storage change over time, and your storage solutions should be able to adapt. If they can’t adapt, at some point they will cease to be helpful.

Also, when it comes to storage, think outside the closet. Have drawers set into the risers of your stairs, recess shelving between the studs of your walls, have window seats double as storage cubes, furnish with ottomans that have interior storage, or whatever fits your design style. The idea here is be creative with the elements you use in the space to improve storage instead of hinder it.

Beyond having ample, reconfigurable and creative storage, there are numerous cosmetic things you can do to help with cleaning and preventing clutter. None of these is a perfect solution, but they’re certainly things I do in my homes when I’m not renting:

Paint the walls with washable flat latex interior paint that contains ceramic microspheres. (You can find these in the washable paint section at most home improvement stores. Check the ingredients on the paint cans. The ceramic microspheres are usually in the higher-end washable paints.) Even if you don’t have pets or young children, it’s still very easy to get marks on your walls. With washable paint that has ceramic microspheres mixed into it, these stray marks come off like you’re washing tile instead of your painted walls.

Lay hardwood floors and use throw rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially if you have pets. Cleaning and maintaining hardwood floors is exponentially easier, and it’s much less expensive to replace a throw rug than an entire room of carpeting.

If money is no object, install smart glass windows. You’ll never have to clean blinds again. (But, I guess if you can afford smart glass windows, you could probably also afford a cleaning crew to wash you blinds …)

Finally, I’ve never had one, but I’ve always thought a central home vacuum system would speed up cleaning time. Some of the systems have horizontal intakes (I think they’re technically called “sweep inlets”) so in addition to using the vacuum hose, you can also sweep directly into the suction area and not have to use a dustpan.

Thank you, Howard, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. And, like I mentioned earlier, be sure to check the comments for suggestions from our readers on designing spaces to prevent clutter and reduce cleaning time.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

Return of the console television

This week, Ikea announced that it will be selling a new television with an attached cabinet that has DVD and BlueRay players and stereo speakers built into it. It’s called the Uppleva:

The purpose of the Uppleva is to get rid of the cable mess and lack of visual uniformity that often comes with televisions and components today. The cabinet also can be configured to include additional space for more components, like a digital cable box. And, it comes with a universal remote.

The new television has been referred to as “groundbreaking” and an “amazing all-in-one television” since the announcement, but I’m going to shy away from both of those phrases. To me, it’s simply the reintroduction of the console television with modern components. It’s attractive and effectively hides all the cable mess and visual distractions. It’s certainly an uncluttered entertainment center and it’s nice to see companies creating streamlined products.

According to Reuters, the system will be “in five European cities in June, throughout seven European countries this autumn, and in its remaining markets [such as the USA] in the summer of 2013.” The electronics were designed specifically for Ikea by China’s TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings (they create the brands TCL, ROWA, Thomson, and RCA). Prices for the Uppleva system have not yet been announced.

What do you think of the Uppleva?

A sleek and streamlined multipurpose piano

For as long as we have been married, I’ve told my husband I want a piano. We haven’t purchased one because pianos take up a lot of space, and when you live a relatively minimalist lifestyle, space is limited. Pianos also require professional movers to transport, have to be tuned annually (or more often, based on the model), upset your neighbors when you practice if you share a wall/floor/ceiling, and they don’t fit through all doorways. Even though I regularly said I wanted a piano, I didn’t really want one — at least not a traditional piano.

Then came along our tenth wedding anniversary and my amazing husband found the perfect gift for a minimalist who constantly said she wanted a piano.

This is the Roland DP-990. It is a digital piano with 88 full-size, weighted keys that folds up to be a narrow (less than 14″ deep) side table.

These pictures do not properly illustrate how inconspicuous this piano is. It isn’t obvious it is a piano when it is closed up and used as a side table. In addition to its powers of transformation, it doesn’t require professional movers to relocate. My husband and I easily carried it into the house and assembled it. Since it is digital, it doesn’t have to be tuned. You can turn down the volume or plug headphones into its jack so that no one else can hear you while you practice. It even comes with clips on the back of the unit that hide the two cables so it’s not obvious it is a digital piano. It’s sleek, practical, beautiful, and so much more convenient than a regular piano.

My husband purchased an adjustable piano bench that folds flat for storing in our coat closet when we want the piano to be used as a table. This makes the piano even more small-space friendly (and kid friendly, since my son and I are significantly different heights). The lid that covers the keys also has a slow-drop mechanism, perfect for not squashing a toddler’s fingers.

If you’ve been looking for a piano to work with your streamlined and/or uncluttered lifestyle, I recommend considering a piano like the Roland DP-990. I really like the way it sounds and the way it fits into our home and lifestyle. I’m also thankful to my husband for being such a conscientious anniversary gift giver and finding exactly the right gift for this Unclutterer. (He also got it on sale through one of our local piano stores because there is a newer model than this one now available — the DP-990F — so be sure to check for discounts and special offers.)

All of the images are from Roland. The ones I took in our house didn’t come out well at all.

Searching for inspiration for a multipurpose guest room

Our new house has a guest room, which is something completely alien to us. Not really knowing what to do with the space, my husband and I bought a bed and nightstand, hung some artwork, and then closed the door to keep out the cat. (The image at right is the catalog staging of the bed and nightstand we have. Obviously, if our guest room already looked this amazing, I wouldn’t be writing this post.)

Since we moved in March, the room has only been used by guests a few times. The Karen Bussen-inspired entertainer in me loves this idea of having a relaxing room just for guests — make the room like a $400 a night resort hotel room where visitors can truly feel as if they are on a rejuvenating vacation. Conversely, the practical part of me thinks the room should have more utility than a place for visitors to sleep once every couple months.

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching ways to satisfy both of my desires for the space. I’m looking for ways to make it a fabulous guest room and a practical hobby room in one. The solution will have to include storage for the hobby supplies that can be completely closed up when guests are present and using it for their retreat. And, I want it to be extremely practical as a hobby room when guests aren’t visiting.

Here are some of the images I’ve been using as inspiration for what to do with this room:

Have you seen a beautiful guest room that serves more than one purpose? Share a link or describe a solution you’ve seen in the comments. How did someone create a space that effectively met both needs?

Strategies for keeping clutter off your dining table

If your home functions anything like mine, your dining table isn’t used just for eating. In addition to providing a dining space, our table is used for meal preparation, my son’s coloring surface, an alternate work station if my husband or I need a change of pace from our desks, a hang out spot to sit and read, and dozens of other purposes. Keeping clutter off the table so it’s ready for eating or whatever chore we want to throw at it can be a challenge, and these are some of the strategies we use to keep it clear:

  • Have a mail processing station by the main entrance. First and foremost, the dining table is not a place for mail. Create a mail processing station by your main entrance where you can sort, shred, trash, recycle, and properly handle all of your mail.
  • Install hooks for coats and bags by the main entrance. Similar to the previous point, the dining table is not a place for coats, hats, bags, and briefcases. Hang hooks for coats and bags near your main entrance so these items don’t end up on the table.
  • Keep a trash can near your dining table. If you have a formal dining room, you likely don’t have a trash can in this space. Find a way to hide one in a buffet or side table, or keep one very close by in another room that you can easily pick up and move into this space. You’ll be amazed by how useful a simple trash can will be for keeping clutter off your table. Earn an additional point if you can hide a recycling bin in the room, too.
  • Organize your buffet or sideboard to meet the needs of the space. So often sideboards and buffets are full of china that is rarely used or silver service you pull out just once a year. If you want these special event items, store them someplace more remote (the high shelves of kitchen cupboards are usually good locations) and use your sideboard or buffet for things you actually use in your dining room. In addition to storing place mats and napkins, our sideboard holds crayons and coloring books, a pair of scissors, an extra set of my reading glasses, table cleaning supplies, a few pens and pencils, a spare power cable that works with all the laptops in the house, an extension cord, and a radio.
  • Set the table as the first step of meal preparation. If you don’t plan to use the table while you’re making the meal, set it with plates, cups, silverware, etc., as your first meal preparation step. This way, when housemates come through the dining room, they won’t deposit items not related to the meal on the table. Setting the table is also a wonderful chore for any child three or older.
  • Don’t pick up and drop stuff someplace else. Although it is incredibly easy to just scoop up what is on the table and set it on another surface, try your best to properly sort through items when you remove them. Throw out the trash, put toys away, shred the credit card applications, and file papers that need to be filed. The top of the sideboard or buffet is as bad a location to hold this clutter as the table was.
  • Wipe down the table and sweep the floor after every meal. To keep from getting ants, this step is imperative with a toddler in the house. However, it might not be such an obvious step if the people dining at your table aren’t in the habit of dropping half their food on the floor. Completely cleaning off the table after every meal makes it a welcoming space for the next meal or whatever other use you need. This is also a great thing to do after every alternate use, too.
  • Avoid having a catch-all container that lives on the table. In some homes the catch-all container is a circular rotating tray, in others it might be a decorative plate or bamboo platter. Devices that are made to hold salt, pepper, sugar, napkins, and condiments are great for containing small items — but they’ll end up holding other non-meal related small items if the tray isn’t removed from the table after every meal. Have a place in the kitchen for this service to live in between meal times.

What steps do you take to keep clutter off the table? Share your additional strategies in the comments.

Super storage closets

A well-organized storage closet can be a beneficial attribute in any home or office. You can easily find what you need, when you need it, and have an exact space to return an object when you’re finished. On the other hand, a disorganized closet will end up wasting your time and energy when looking for items, and make putting things back after you use them even more difficult.

In our previous home and workspace, we outfitted an existing closet with Elfa shelving to create an ideal storage space. I usually referred to it as our “Mary Poppins Closet” since it held so many things:

It took us one weekend to tear out the old wood shelf and clothing rod, paint the walls and ceiling, install the Elfa shelving system, and put objects into the closet. A week later, we rearranged some items and added a few storage bins (such as the crate holding the records in the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph). We ended up spending a few hundred dollars on the makeover, but for six years it improved the quality of our living and working experience.

Our new office doesn’t have a closet as makeover-friendly as the Mary Poppins Closet. For starters, it only has a coat closet that measures a mere 22″ x 36″. Additionally, since we’re renting the new space, we can’t rip out the existing shelf and rod and replace them with Elfa shelving. To create a storage closet that will still meet our needs, we had to make some adjustments:

  1. Got rid of clutter. I had already purged the vast majority of my yarn collection before the move, but we still had to let go of a number of things. The board games were significantly culled, we decided to store the record albums in another room, and we gave away most of the print photographs since we had them all professionally scanned.
  2. Used steel shelving that sits on the floor of the closet and doesn’t need to affix to the walls. It’s not as pretty as the Elfa shelving, but it’s sturdy and does its job well. Plus, we can take the shelving with us when we move.
  3. Labeled the lips of shelves since different types of objects are co-mingled on the shelves. With the help of my trusty label maker, I created category labels to make finding and returning objects easier (media clips, payroll records, etc.).

If you’re looking to create a storage closet that helps instead of hinders your life, try a similar method — get rid of the clutter, have a storage system in place that works best for your needs, and make it as easy as possible to retrieve and return objects. Also, don’t forget to store the objects you use the most often on shelves that are between your knees and shoulders. Heavier objects should be stored on shelves at waist height or lower, and lighter objects should be stored on the shelves above waist height.

Do you have a storage closet that needs organizing? If so, what steps can you take to get rid of the chaos?

Finally, I apologize for not having a picture of the new closet. I have yet to unpack the camera or the cables that make it possible to transfer the images to my computer. When we do a post with a final reveal of the new office, I’ll be sure to have a picture of the new closet at that time.

When whimsy and utility collide

As a child, I loved to go to story time at the public library. The storyteller would come in costume — typically a supporting character from that week’s story — and a few dozen children and I would gather and intently listen to the tale. I looked forward to story time each week with the same fervor modern children might anticipate a trip to Disney World or meeting Justin Bieber.

I enjoyed the books shared during story time, spending time with other kids, and seeing the storytellers dress up in costume. My favorite part of story time, however, were the stools on wheels.

I now know these stools are called Kik-Steps and they are in many homes and businesses, but at the time I thought they were the most amazing and rare toys found only in my hometown’s public library. As it is with many desirable things, there weren’t enough stools on wheels for every child at story time. You had to get there early to get one. I would dream about them, tell everyone I met about them, and would cry if there weren’t any available by the time we got to story time. You could sit, stand, or push them around — they were magical!

I bought my first Kik-Step when I was 30, and seeing it in my home takes me back to wonderful childhood memories of story time. Even though I bought it for nostalgic reasons, it has surprisingly turned out to be one of the most useful objects in our home.

I use it a few times daily in the kitchen, to reach high shelves. I use it when I need to change light bulbs, dust, and put things away in closets. I’m 5’9″ barefoot and have an arm span of close to 5’11”, so I am genuinely surprised by how often I use it. It also provides a place to sit, if needed. As its name implies, the best thing about the Kik-Step is if your arms are full, you can simply kick it into place and then step right up on it. You don’t have to unfold it or carry it.

I don’t have a lot of things in my home that I purchased on a whim that turned out to be extremely useful. Usually, sentimental purchases fall into the knick knack category and are eventually passed along to someone else to enjoy for a few years. Have you ever made an impulse or sentimental purchase that turned out to have high utility? I’m interested in reading your stories of surprise in the comments.

February resolution wrap up, and introduction of March resolution

In 2011, I’m trying out small, monthly resolutions instead of large, annual New Year’s resolutions. My public resolution for January was to be more organized in the kitchen, and create and use more nutritious meal plans for my family. In February, my public resolution was to go through everything — absolutely everything — in my office.

Within days of declaring my February resolution, I had abandoned it. My aunt passed away and I ended up traveling to Kansas and tending to family responsibilities for awhile. Uncluttering my office wasn’t a priority on my list of things to do, and I wasn’t even physically near it had I wanted to organize. After returning to the east coast in the second half of the month, my immediate family then decided to sell our house and move. Without intentionally doing so, I ended up sorting through everything in my office after all.

February came to a close and everything in my office had been sorted, dusted, and packed in a box, dropped off at a charity, sold, recycled, or thrown in the trash. Even the Elfa shelving system was disassembled and sold, as we purchased new office furniture for the new place. Packing the office was similar to packing the rest of the house, but with some notable exceptions:

  • Sensitive data. My corporate clients almost always have me sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, I have to transport their files personally and can’t let a professional mover or friend tend to them. If you’re in a corporate or government setting, you might have similar restrictions when moving offices. I recommend color coding all of these sensitive boxes with bright orange or red stickers and numbering them (Box 2 of 7) to help keep track of them. Then, personally move the boxes last out of the old place and set them up first in the new space. Don’t leave these boxes in your car overnight if you are making a multiple-day move — your job and/or client relationship depend on it.
  • Knick knacks. I realized I had a ridiculous number of personal knick knacks in my office. For example, I had four pictures of my husband on my desk … and he works seven feet away from me. It’s nice to personalize a space (it sends a cue to your boss that you are not planning on leaving), but not let the personal items become a distraction to you or others. In the new office I’m going to try to limit knick knacks to one per every two or three feet of desk space, which will be about three knick knacks total.
  • Cable control. With the help of a label maker, I labeled both ends of every cable before packing it (external hard drive, scanner, stereo speakers). This will speed up the unpacking process and make things easily identifiable the next time I have to crawl under my desk to unplug a device.
  • Office supplies. Painter’s tape is great for keeping cables with electronics, lids on small containers, and little objects grouped together. Don’t use Scotch tape, masking tape, or packing tape for these objects, as you will waste too much time removing the adhesive once you’re in the new office. You can also write on the painter’s tape to identify objects.
  • Scan and recycle. Paper is extremely heavy, and you will want to move as little of it as possible. Use the move as an excuse to sort through all of your paper files and purge anything you don’t need in physical form. Scan the data you want, and then recycle the paper. Also, don’t move any “to be filed” piles — file before you pack to avoid moving something you don’t really need.

It should be no surprise that my public resolution for the month of March will be to completely unpack and organize our new home and office. In fact, my husband’s family is coming to visit in mid-March and my goal is to have almost everything unpacked before they arrive. I’m trying to think of it like an adventure instead of a chore. Wish me luck!

Do you have resolutions? What are you doing to achieving them? Can you do something today to get one step closer to your goal?