Multipurpose furniture can help you maximize your small space

As someone with a particular way of doing (and organizing) things, I can appreciate an uncluttered and (almost) object-free space. I tend to like clear surfaces, especially in the kitchen. If it were up to me, there would be no appliances on the counters (well, maybe the coffee maker). I like the look of walls with no paintings or art work mounted. The more of the floor I can see, the more comfortable a room feels to me. I’m not a minimalist, but I certainly have an appreciation for minimalism. If I could push a button and hide my furniture until I needed it, I would.

It turns out that there are people who instead of just dreaming about this style are actually living out the idea “disappearing design” in their homes. Everything, including outlets, light switches, and even exhaust fans are subtly hidden and bleed into the rest of the environment. So much so, that the most of a home’s necessary components are virtually invisible. In fact, architects who design these homes consider anything that protrudes from walls to be an intrusion, a form of clutter.

In a recent New York Times article, disappearing design was described as:

…meant to both maximize one’s ground plan (particularly in small urban apartments) and minimize the “visual noise” created by things like bulky knobs, dust-prone vents and the ancient albatross of many decorators: the wide-screen TV.

How do you make a television vanish? Create one that doubles as a mirror when not in use. Clever, yes? While most of us probably wouldn’t take issue with TVs, we would likely appreciate the ability to increase the functionality of an item that is normally used for just one purpose.

When you live in a small space, having multipurpose furniture (or rooms) can help you get the function you need without sacrificing living space. If you’re having overnight guests, a sofa that turns into as a bunk bed means you can still have company over without needing an extra bedroom. No room for a dining or work table? Flooring with folding panels can be transformed into a table, or almost any kind of furniture you need.

Those are very unique multi-purpose pieces, but there are others that don’t require hydraulics and that you can make yourself. This coffee table from was created with KNUFF magazine holders and a stool. When fully assembled, you’ll get a table and storage for your magazines, books, pens (in the center of the table), or even the remote.

Photo of coffee table taken from IKEAHackers

What about using a bookcase for more than just books? Another great find on IKEAHackers is the Billy bookcase that has been enhanced with compartments and a hinged door for hidden storage. The site suggests using it to store bar and drink accessories, but it could be used for office supplies (or anything that you use often). And, if you like the idea but prefer not to make it yourself, Parts of Sweden (IKEAHackers partner that offers free shipping) can do it for you.

Photo of bookcase taken from IKEAHackers

The Paperpedic Bed profiled by the website Inhabitat is fully recyclable, includes storage, and is very easy to assemble. No tools are required — simply fold the paper panels to create a single, queen, or king-sized bed. This is a great option for small homes and would be easy to pack up for a move.

Photo of bed taken from manufacturer, Karton

When you live in a small home, look for multi-tasking furniture pieces that can help you maximize your space. You’ll need less furniture (which means more room to move about) and keep your home uncluttered.

Ask Unclutterer: Suggestions for easily eliminating messes

Reader Barbara submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I’m organized and like things to be put away, except it doesn’t always happen. (I’m swamped, just like everyone is these days.) I want to know what I can do to step-up my game. Easy things with big impact, without much effort. I’m single and live in a 1BR apartment.

You say you’re already organized and that picking up is your biggest concern, so these three simple suggestions are tailored toward alleviating messes (not uncluttering) your small space.

  1. Five minute pick up. If you watch television, use the first commercial break of the evening to do a general clean up around the apartment. Race the commercials to see how much you can get done before your show returns. If you don’t watch television, each night before making dinner set the timer on your microwave for five minutes and race the clock. If your space were larger or there were more people living in your place, I’d suggest using two or three commercial breaks or setting the microwave timer for 15 minutes. A little work each night goes a long way toward keeping your place mess-free.
  2. Shift your mindset. For reasons unknown, most of us think of doing something and putting stuff away afterward as two activities. For instance, we think about “dinner” as making dinner and eating dinner, but we think of cleaning up the dining room and kitchen afterward as another thing to do, “cleaning up after dinner.” If you stop thinking of cleaning up afterward as a separate activity, but rather as part of the activity itself, you’ll get better at putting things away after you use them. Wrapping a gift for a friend doesn’t stop when you put the bow on the package, but is complete when all the wrapping supplies have been returned to storage. You aren’t finished playing a board game with your friends when someone claims victory, but rather after the game is boxed up and returned to its shelf. This also means you don’t ever randomly set stuff down. The act of handling the mail each day includes retrieving it, reviewing it, and processing it (shredding, recycling, filing, etc.). If you set the mail down on the table without processing it, you didn’t complete the project of handling the mail.
  3. Get ready for bed at least an hour before bedtime. I’ve written this nugget of advice numerous times, but I do so because it has such a strong impact on the state of one’s home. Since you’re not overly tired an hour before bedtime, your dirty clothes make it into the hamper and your shoes and accessories get returned to their storage spaces. You have energy to wash your face and brush your teeth and then put away related supplies. You also signal your brain that you need to start winding down, which can make it easier to fall asleep when you eventually go to bed. Your memory is better then, too, so you can set out all the things you’ll need to take with you in the morning without forgetting anything important. The only thing left on your to-do list in the hour before bed should be crawling under the covers and turning out the bedroom light.

Thank you, Barbara, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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.

Workspace of the Week: Effortlessly efficient tiny home office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Geek in the Garden’s marvelously simple home office:

To create an office at home, you don’t need a lot of stuff. No large desk with built-in drawers is required to be able to get work done. This week’s selection is a wonderful example of how a basic table and chair can be all you need to check email, pay bills online, and read Unclutterer. This specific desk is adjustable in height, so it can be a side table when not being used as a desk. The curtains hung with pressure rods on the storage unit are wonderful for keeping unattractive components out-of-sight when not being used. And the colorful bins make the shelving fun, but vastly more useful. Thank you, Geek in the Garden, for sharing your tiny and uncluttered office with us.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Small spaces: Custom closet using Ikea bookshelves

One of my favorite places for small living inspiration is Ikea Hackers. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a collection of reader-submitted modifications to pieces of furniture from Ikea. The hacks range from relatively small (like adding paint to a Lack table) to extremely involved (like turning a Spar butcher block into an electric guitar). The site has been around since 2006 and is teeming with ways to personalize Ikea furniture.

Earlier this month, the site featured Regina’s amazing closet for her itty bitty Swedish apartment. Under what I think is her lofted bed, she has five modified Expedit bookcases (in the 2×2 configuration) that she added a piece of wood to the base and then attached four casters to the bottom of the piece of wood. In the U.S., these Expedit shelving units are just $40 a piece and the Besta casters are $10 for two, so the whole system probably cost less than $350 to create, which isn’t bad for a custom closet that could easily cost four times this price. Visuals from the article:

The rolling bookcases not only hold her clothes, but also her hobby supplies (such as the sewing machine and fabric stash pictured above) and other necessities for her apartment. I like that she can roll the sewing Expedit directly to her sewing table, and then roll it all back into the closet when she’s done. The storage system is ideal for this small space, and I think could easily be utilized in other homes — small or large.

Note: There are casters that are specifically made to hold the Expedit bookcase, but they stick out beyond the base of the bookshelf, so you can’t nest the shelves directly next to each other. They’re also $5 more for two casters, which adds $50 to the cost of casters, but gets rid of the need to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of each bookcase. If you don’t need the items to nest next to each other, the Expedit casters might be a good alternative for you.

If you are unfamiliar with Ikea Hackers, spend some time perusing it for even more ideas. Most of the hacks are inexpensive and easy to do.

Images by Regina as posted to IkeaHackers, and thanks to reader Shalin for bringing this closet to our attention.

Space-saving solutions for small homes

Although I grew up spending weekends on our family farms shucking corn and talking to Bessie the Cow (all the cows had the same name, it was easier that way), I am a big-city girl at heart. I long to be in a city with a coffee shop right around the corner and pavement under my feet. And for most people, myself included, city living is synonymous with small-space living.

Even though I’m currently living in Suburbia, I’m looking forward to our next home that will hopefully be in a more metropolitan location. As a result, I am constantly on the lookout for space-saving solutions to use in our next big-city dwelling. The following are some of the terrific ideas that have recently caught my attention:

The website Apartment Therapy featured D.C. residents’ Josh and Lauren’s dining table artwork. It’s a table that hangs on the wall when not in use —

The now-defunct magazine Ready Made included a formica countertop on wheels in its article “Southern Comfort.” The countertop rolls into the kitchen for food preparation space and then rolls out into the remainder of the room to create a dining table —

Continuing with dining solutions, back in 2010, Dwell showcased a wall hiding a bookshelf that folded down to create a table set atop a rolling island —

Short walls are also called pony walls or knee walls and Better Homes and Garden suggests cutting into them to create untapped storage space in their article “26 Great Bathroom Storage Ideas” —

Have you spotted any small-space fixes recently? Share links to more space-saving ideas in the comments. I’m always searching for uncluttered and efficient solutions.

‘A nice little home out of a garbage can’

California-based artist Gregory Kloehn likes to recycle used metal into sculptures of familiar objects, people, and animals. His work is usually quite whimsical, with a dash of social commentary.

Recently, Kloehn spoke with video blogger Kim Aronson about his decision to study housing and what constitutes a home. Beyond providing basic shelter from the elements, Kloehn concluded a home also includes a place to cook a meal, a bathroom, and a safe place to sleep. Once he narrowed down the qualities, he sought to find something metal he could recycle to make a bare-necessities home.

What resulted was his creation of a house inside a trash dumpster. From Aronson’s video interview:

Kloehn doesn’t live in this house, but he thinks it may be able to provide a place for someone who either doesn’t want the burden of a more traditional dwelling or someone in great need of shelter. I think it could work as a meditation cabin, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live in it full time.

Is a house nothing more than shelter from the elements, a place to cook a meal, a bathroom and a safe place to sleep? I don’t know if I agree with Kloehn’s conclusions — a house to me also includes a place to entertain friends and family — but I’m also not certain I completely disagree with him. A home doesn’t have to be gigantic to be a good (safe, sanitary) place to live. Maybe if the item he chose to recycle wasn’t a trash dumpster I would have less of an issue with the structure? I don’t know. He has certainly given us all something to ponder.

You can find more fine art from Gregory Kloehn on his website. (via Good)

A small, slim space

According to the NPR piece, “Living Very, Very Narrowly,” writer Etgar Keret is making a new home in a 133 centimeter (4.36 feet) space between two buildings in downtown Warsaw, Poland. His home will fit here:

Image and rendering below are by the home’s architect, Jakub Szczęsny

The house will be named “Ermitage” and will be as much a workplace and studio for visiting guests as a place for Keret to live when he is in Warsaw. From descriptions on the architect and Keret’s websites, they imply that Keret will not live full-time in this space, and that his primary residence is in Israel. As a second home, I think the size constraints are manageable, like a cabin:

The thin home has a bathroom, kitchenette, dining area, bed, and office space. There also appears to be some storage in the “attic” at the top of the home. It is, most certainly, a novel project and I look forward to seeing its final fabrication. The home is scheduled to be completed and occupied by February 2012.

A family of 3 in 320 square feet

Small living comes with many benefits, and Debra, Gary and their son explain how it works for them in this video of their 320 square foot home:

Their home was made by Slab Town Custom Homes in Mountain View, Arkansas.

Big living in a small space

We continue to be fascinated with people who live big in incredibly small spaces. Thanks to reader Leah, we now know about Christian Schallert in Barcelona, Spain, who has fashioned a beautiful home in a mere 258 square feet.

Check out “Lego-style apartment transforms into infinite spaces” to see the adorable Schallert and his “Lego” home in action:

Personally, I love the shower storage areas as well as the bed being stored under the balcony. I never would have thought to use such non-traditional storage solutions. I also enjoyed in the video when he admitted his tiny space forces him “not to be chaotic” and every time he comes home “it’s nice and organized.”

Ultra-small living in downtown Tokyo

Fuyuhito Moriya purchased a parking space in Tokyo, and then had an ultra-small three-story home built on the 30 square meter lot (about 323 square feet) for approximately $500,000, according to the CNN article “Ultra-small is beautiful for Japanese homeowner.”

Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video that accompanies the article, so I strongly suggest you go to see the video on CNN for a tour of the property. It truly is a phenomenal space.

Thanks to reader Ann for introducing us to Moriya’s ultra-small home.

Image by Studio Noa.

Range-oven-dishwasher: A perfect unit for a small space

The post “Space Saving Appliances in Paris” on Apartment Therapy has been taking up room in my thoughts for the past month. Specifically, I can’t stop thinking about the range-oven-dishwasher unit pictured in the article.

Unfortunately, the post didn’t include any links to such a device, so I finally broke down and took to relentless searching on the internet. As far as I can tell, hours later, there is not a company selling these space-saving devices in the U.S. market. Some older RVs and yachts are outfitted with a Modern Maid brand range-oven-dishwasher, but since Modern Maid was acquired in the 1970s, the units went out of production (if you have one, Maytag is the current owner and provides repair parts).

The most popular unit sold in Europe appears to be the Candy Trio 501X:

It is an impressively small 86.3 cm x 59.7 cm x 60.0 cm three-purpose unit, and is perfect for a London flat. If Candy could switch up the voltage requirements, I think it also would be perfect for a studio apartment in the States.

Does anyone know of a similar unit I’ve overlooked being sold in the U.S.? If so, please share. I know our small-space dwellers would appreciate a link.

Really small spaces: Portland coop

We’ve written about very small living spaces before, but this 16-square-foot contemporary chicken coop wins the all-time prize in the category.

The three hens who live in this modernist dwelling must have very refined aesthetic sensibilities. I can easily imagine them inside the coop perched atop tiny Eames shell rockers discussing the exhibition of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel collection at the Portland Art Museum.

I’ll freely admit that the coop is a thing of beauty, but not everything with a clean and uncluttered design makes your life easier. Call me crazy, but I’m actually glad I can acquire eggs without engaging in small-scale urban subsistence poultry farming. Division of labor means I can make an omelet without the concomitant obligation of having to clean up chicken droppings.

I love Dwell, but I can’t wait for the guy who runs Unhappy Hipsters to have a little fun with this.