Finding enough room for all your worldly possessions is probably one of the most difficult challenges of living in small spaces. For those who live in apartments, there's never enough space. For those who live in older houses, the closets seem to have been made for Munchkins, or at least people who must have taken a vow of poverty. There are few houses where the problem of somebody's stuff getting in the way of someone else's doesn't at some point become a major contention. It at best seems rare that two neat people marry one another.
To a certain extent, one can get some help from functional furniture. Storage walls, for example, are one way of coping, but not all of us have possessions suitable to wall display, or a large enough wall to accommodate the storage unit we would buy if only we had the money or the cleared wall on which to put it. For many years, people used armoires in lieu of closets. They were big clumsy pieces of furniture that were essentially free-standing closets with a drawer or two built in. As elegant as those period closets are, they often don't fit in homes with eight-foot ceilings.
Aside from changing your entire personality and becoming obsessively neat, the inevitable solution is to either move to a bigger place, with more nooks and crannies for dumping those things you simply can't live without, or figure out how to use the space you have more efficiently.
There are a number of businesses specializing in helping people with lots of possessions better organize themselves. Almost every major department store and hardware store has an area devoted to organizing the things in your closet for easy access. If all else fails, and the solution is a difficult one, consultation with a designer or an architect may be in the order.
In remodeling a Capitol Hill kitchen, architect Anne McCutcheon Lewis solved a numer of small space problems. Using windows to open up the back wall, Lewis fixed a storage problem common to most kitchens by building in a pantry wall -- about one can deep and the full length of the kitchen. Each narrow closet is painted a different color inside to help one remember where to put things and to add color to the room when the doors are open. A multitude of goods can be stored on these narrow shelves.
The spice rack in the kitchen belonging to Robert Staples and Barbara Charles is neatly squirreled into a space at the end of a cabinet near the sink. The door opens to reveal spices within easy reach of the cook.
What Staples and Charles did in a small way in their kitchen has been taken another step further by the architectural firm of Wiebenson Associates. tIn one tiny bathroom they added floor-to-ceiling cabinets on either side of a a 3-foot by 5-foot room. The cabinets step out from the wall so that those up high, nearest the ceiling, just into the room dramatically and the lower cabinets diminish in depth as they get closer to the floor. Mirrors are used on both sides at medicine chest height to add a feeling of depth to the tiny room.
An equally clever solution is the house closet built by architect Mark McInturf for his Bethesda home. McInturff removed the ceiling, leaving only the joists that span the width of the room. In the end of the newly enlarged room McInturff built a three-level storage space designed to appear as a small house. Atop the first story of his house is a shelf that extends for visible storage the full width of the room. Above that is a less accessible set of doors for hidden storage, and above that, an alcove in which he stores a piece of sculpture. The effect is stunning and unusual.
If you feel your storage needs are going to change, and you don't have the money or the talent to build in your own spaces, try using a system that will adapt. Lee Walters, a former interior designer who now owns Bogart's in Georgetown, adapted restaurant shelving to residential storage needs with impressive results. Walter's condominium advertised a tiny alcove off the master bedroom as a sitting area or study. Recognizing this closet-sized space for what it was, Walters made the 6-foot by 8-foot room into a wonderful dressing room and walk-in closet. The Metro shelving sold by restaurant supply houses and major department stores gave him efficiently designed racks for his clothing for an investment of $245.
When he moves, Walters can take down his closet in about 15 minutes and set it up in yet another configuration in a new home.