Room dividers originated as a desperate effort to divide and conquer the space constraints of our shrinking homes. Now these vertical separators have become design elements in their own right.

The dividing systems combine storage for books, dishes or folded clothes. The market offers so many systems that almost any combination of style, size or capacity is available. Many ideas have been custom-designed to fill spaces where stock systems may not answer the need or style preferences of the owners.

In most situations, I prefer to use manufactured parts, largely because with the enormous number of divider systems available, a manufactured component can usually be made more cheaply and efficiently than a one-of-a-kind custom design.

In a bedroom I designed recently, a wall betwwen adjoining bedrooms was removed to enlarge the master bedroom. This addition provided a great deal more floor space. The real need of the owners was to build a study space within the new room with storage for books, as well as extra storage for the clothes the original closet could not contain.

The meet these requirement and yet to maintain a low profile at the window end of the added space, I designed a 2-foot-deep step-down divider. The divider is tall enough and deep enough to accommodate 5 feet of rod for hanging clothes.

The second and third "steps" are lower and shorter, with ample storage-space for books, television and other extras. Because the divider was 2 feet deep overall, I divided the lower steps into front and back space.

In the higher step, about 4 1/2 feet above the floor, a television occupies the entire depth of the divider; it can either face the bed where a pair of doors swing to close it off from view, or it can revolve on its own turntable to open on the reverse side in the study area.

The last step is level at 28 inches above the floor. It's 3 1/2-feet long and open at the back, and provides a perfect work surface for an at-home writer with a clearly defined need for a typing surface.