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Spotlight on Storage

Taking the lead from what they’ve learned about kitchen storage, designers have moved their creative talents into the bathroom to solve an array of storage challenges.

authors Kim Berndtson | March 8, 2017

Storage considerations have become top of mind in today’s kitchens, where designers help clients find much-needed space for everything from daily dishware and hard-to-store small appliances to dry goods/canned food, baking supplies, pots/pans and more.

Now it’s time for the bathroom to shine in the storage solution spotlight.

“Many houses built as recently as the early 2000s gave little attention to bathroom storage,” says Heather Alton of New England Design Elements in Londonderry, NH. “They might include a linen closet, but it doesn’t offer great storage because it is often too deep so there’s a lot of wasted space.”

Shannon Boyle, AKBD, of Elements Kitchen+Bath in Seattle, WA, agrees. “Bathroom storage has turned into a bit of a treasure hunt,” she says. “Now, more than ever, storage is essential.”

Designers cite an array of influences that affect storage concerns in today’s bathrooms. Leading the charge is a plethora of styling/beauty products and electrical appliances/gadgets – everything from the traditional electric toothbrushes, razors and hair stylers to more recent inclusions such as TVs, remote controls and even charging stations.

“People simply have more stuff,” says Jean Ehmke, of JeanE Kitchen and Bath Design in Raleigh, NC. “They have more products, more devices, more technology…and we have to find a place to store all of it.”

That abundance is often at odds with the desire to declutter, adds Kimberly Kerl, of Kustom Home Design in Greer, SC. “People want to conceal as much as possible,” she says. “They don’t want to see, for example, a toothbrush charging on the counter. When you walk into a space that is devoid of clutter, it’s very calming.”

For designers Dana King and Nichole Claprood, a trend toward smaller homes makes bathroom storage more challenging.

“Smaller homes mean smaller bathrooms,” says King, of NEXT Project Studio in St. Louis, MO. “People still love big bathrooms when they have the space, but they aren’t always possible. That means we have to get very creative to get the most out of those smaller spaces.”

For Claprood, homes in the Naples and Fort Myers areas she serves are often seasonal, being a second, or even third, residence for her clients. “Homes are much smaller,” says the designer at DESIGNEnvy by Nichole Claprood in Estero, FL. “People tend to live here only part time, so they don’t need quite as much space. My bigger challenges are associated with clients wanting to provide storage in a guest bath for friends and family so they don’t have to transport all of their toiletries when they visit.”

Accommodating an elderly population also challenges storage needs, as cited by both Claprood and King, who often design for clients who want to age in place.

“Items need to be accessible without having to reach too high or bend down too low,” says King.

King notes further challenges that arise when multiple generations live together. “Multigenerational homes mean there is a sharing of space and storage that may have to pull double, or even triple or quadruple duty,” she says. “That means storage has to be much more efficient. It isn’t always about finding more storage. It’s also about finding better ways to use it.”

BENEFITS OF BETTER STORAGE

Providing the right storage solution in a bathroom offers an array of benefits that make the space more usable, as well as more beautiful.

“The right storage can make daily routines easier and more efficient, giving you more time to do other things,” says Boyle. “The right storage also keeps you from overstocking items when you can’t remember where you put them. If everything has a place, and is stored properly, you will likely use everything and be less wasteful.”

Kerl also cites the movement toward providing a place for everything, and putting everything in its place. “It is reassuring to know that when you open a drawer to look for a hair brush, you will find it…you don’t have to rummage through any cabinets,” she says. “Everyone is so busy that it’s nice to have everything in its place so when you need something, you know where it is.”

Designing with this mindset can be more difficult, she admits, because it requires greater attention to detail. “I have to be more aware of what products are available so I can help steer clients to what will work best for them,” Kerl says. “But I enjoy the challenge because it’s another level of design, and it’s more interesting.”

Proper storage can also improve aesthetics, notes Claprood. “A bathroom is such a functional space,” she says. “People need a place for medications, makeup, etc. But not providing storage in an aesthetically pleasing way is really a missed opportunity.”

In particular, her clients enjoy storage that keeps vanity tops free from items used as part of the daily routine. “People love beautiful countertops,” she says. “There are so many choices today, and my clients often invest a lot of money in materials so they really want that clean look.”

Creating storage that keeps a vanity top clear also makes it easier for those who share a bathroom, adds King. “Having makeup in a pull-out basket, for example, makes it easy to take it out of a drawer, use its contents, then put everything back,” she says. “You don’t have to take out individual pieces that get spread out, then take more actions to put away. With a basket, everything is contained.”

Alton agrees, emphasizing the fact that her clients appreciate individualized storage since people generally don’t like to share. “I have found that people really like their own personal space and storage,” she says. “If a master bath is large enough, that can mean separate his/her vanities. The way a woman gets ready in the morning is completely different than how a man gets ready…and that affects storage. It’s the same for a kids’ bath where I’ll do specialty storage based on who is using it, such as a boy, a girl, a boy and girl, or a single child. When it is a shared bath, I’ll often include a laundry bin for each child so there are no issues. It’s all about understanding who is using the bath and making sure everyone has his/her own space.”

While there are many influences that affect bathroom storage, designers have become very creative with solutions. Following is a sampling of some trending products and ideas.

MEDICINE CABINETS

Medicine cabinets are back in a big way. Some designers recess them into the wall while others leave them surface mounted to vary the aesthetic. Either way, today’s versions are more attractive and more functional than their predecessors. Oftentimes designers will spec them with outlets for electric toothbrushes, razors, etc., and even lighted mirrors.

“Whereas we used to remove them, we are now putting a lot of them back in,” says Claprood. “They still provide storage, but they are larger and more decorative, and stylized, often with frames. They are great for replacing countertop towers that can be deep, making it difficult to grab items that are in the back.”

Kerl sees an increase in client requests for medicine cabinets as well. “They went away for a while, but now I’m seeing them come back because they are a convenient method of storage,” she says, noting she often has them custom made to tie in with the cabinetry.

Ehmke often turns to custom designs, too, so they function as a medicine cabinet but don’t look like one. “I’m a fan of recessed cabinets built into the wall with a mirror and matching cabinetry so it doesn’t look like a medicine cabinet,” says Ehmke. “If there is limited space in the bathroom for small bottles, this is a great option because you can gain about 2.5 to 3 inches of usable space.”

CUSTOM CABINETRY

While custom cabinets are more expensive per piece than semi-custom or stock cabinets, many designers indicate that they provide greater opportunity for efficient and organized storage.

“This is especially true in a small bath…or any bath where you want to maximize storage,” says King. Utilizing custom cabinets, the designer has even found a creative way to conceal the bathroom scale, which at the very least is unattractive, but more importantly can be a tripping hazard.

“It usually sits out and never quite has a home,” she says. “It takes up valuable real estate and it isn’t always pretty. You can put it away after each use, but that adds wear and tear on the scale, or you can slip it under a cabinet with legs to get it out of the sightline. But I prefer to tuck it away in custom toe kick drawers of vanities. You can tap the drawer with your foot to release it, and with heavy-duty, full-extension hardware, you can even stand on it.”

King also likes to use custom cabinetry for trash containment. “So many times a wastebasket ends up near the toilet, which is unsightly,” she says. “Instead, we’ve done trash pull-outs or tip-outs in vanities. Trash is out of sight, but it also gives you the ability to have a larger waste can that doesn’t need to be emptied as often.”

Towel bars can also be incorporated into the door, rather than the side of a vanity, which prevents damage to the finish, she adds.

Claprood relies on custom cabinetry for many of her designs as well, often adding them above toilets and including large drawers so each family member can have their own. “I design a space based on customer needs,” she says. “I have retrofit aftermarket products into semi-custom cabinets, but most of what I do is custom. Since I’m usually dealing with small spaces, the extra cost isn’t that great.”

Custom cabinetry also gives designers the ability to change dimensions from the traditional 21″ deep and 32″ high. “These standard dimensions have been thrown out the window,” says Kerl. “We’re seeing taller, deeper vanities that are closer in size to kitchen cabinets. Now they are 24″ deep and 34″ or 36″ high, depending on the height of the client. While the height is driven by ergonomics, the depth is driven by a desire to gain a few inches of additional storage.”

Claprood often raises vanities, too. “I will maintain one vanity at a lower height so that if at some point someone becomes disabled, they can use the lower vanity and we don’t have to go back in and remodel,” she says.

While not necessarily custom, Boyle makes sure cabinetry in her designs includes plenty of drawers. “I’m obsessed with them,” she says. “I try to incorporate as many drawers into a bath design as possible. Drawer storage is the wave of the future since it is ergonomic and efficient.”

OPEN STORAGE

Open storage via shelves or display niches offers functional as well as aesthetic benefits.

“Showing off crisp, fluffy towels can give a spa feel to the bath,” says King. “Towels are also easy to grab, and rather than having a lot of cabinetry that closes in the space, open shelves can make the room feel larger and more luxurious.”

Open storage is one of Alton’s favorite solutions, especially for small bathrooms. “One of my favorite, and easiest, things to do is create an open area in the vanity to use for towel storage,” she says. “If you don’t have room for a linen closet, you need somewhere to store towels. It looks great, too!”

Kerl often adds baskets to open niches and shelves, especially those in linen areas. “It provides easy access,” she says. “It can also dress up a space.”

Recessing niches, or even cabinetry, into a wall can be a valuable source of newfound storage space, adds Alton.

“The thickness of walls is huge in a bath,” she says. “I like to steal it any second I can get.”

The designer also isn’t afraid to add niches in areas one might not initially think about. “You want to store items where you use them,” she says. “That can mean putting niches in unusual places.”

For example, the designer has included them in toilet rooms, making them especially handy for storing toilet paper.

SPECIALIZED STORAGE

Vast open expanses behind cabinet doors and deep drawers where all but the largest of items can get lost are long gone. These days, specialized storage has taken over.

“I’ve noticed a trend in the last three to five years that storage has become so much more specialized,” says Kerl. “You used to have open storage beneath a sink behind doors. Now, all of the baths I design have specialized storage such as salon-style pull-outs and jewelry drawers.”

It’s all about how to store items efficiently, without losing out on the overall design, adds Boyle. “Hidden roll-outs inside drawers for small item storage, U-shaped drawers around plumbing inside sink bases and pull-out cabinets with built-in storage for hair dryers and other accessories are just a few examples,” she says. “Built-in laundry baskets are the most popular requests I have been seeing from clients.”

Specialized storage in the bath is often taking a lead from what can be found in the kitchen.

“There has been a lot of development in kitchen storage with pull-outs,” says Ehmke. “Now that is making its way into the bathroom.”

Claprood agrees, often adding pull-outs, similar to kitchen spice racks, on each side of a vanity. “There are a lot of kitchen storage design elements we can use in a bathroom environment,” she says. “Since I design for a lot of elderly clients, these pull-outs can be used to store items like medications. Outfitting them with electrical outlets also makes them useful for electric toothbrushes, water picks, etc.”

Technology has played a huge role in the changes to bathroom storage, Boyle adds. “I have found my clients are looking for new ways to store everything out of sight, as well as wanting to make it easier and more efficient to use the products they store in their bathrooms,” she says. “For example, electrical outlets in drawers, medicine cabinets and the interiors of cabinets for items that require electricity are out of sight but still incredibly accessible for daily use.”

Kerl and King routinely add concealed power as well. “Outlets integrated into drawers, towers and medicine cabinets can provide cord control so you don’t have to use counter space for those products,” says King.

In fact, salon-style pull-outs in a base cabinet are Kerl’s favorite storage solution. “I have an image on Houzz of a bathroom with a salon-style pull-out,” she says. “It is my most saved image, with thousands of saves, so it isn’t only popular with me, it’s popular with a lot of people.”

SHOWER ORGANIZATION

With increased prominence being placed on showers, storage solutions within their walls have gained attention. “At KBIS this year, I noticed several manufacturers have introduced new lines of specialized storage products for showers, in particular niches that are full, tall columns instead of small squares,” says Kerl. She indicates that many of her clients are moving away from tubs and toward large showers. Some clients will include benches that can offer storage, but for those who don’t want a bench, Kerl makes sure to, at the minimum, include a shelf for shaving. “Sometimes it’s these small changes we do with a design that will make a big difference,” she says.

For Alton, recessed niches are a must. “Hidden ones – those that are adjacent to shower plumbing – are even better,” she says. “I also like to add multiple shelves for razors, soaps, etc. because even a shower can get cluttered.” ▪

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