Monday, August 13, 2012

Intentional Living in a Tiny Residence: Storage in a Log Cabin

Low  bookcase below window, bins below
love seats, storage behind one  
I have long admired the efficient use of space in boats, planes and RVs, so it was a fun challenge to figure out how to make the best use of our 750 square foot log cabin (16 x 24 x 2 stories), of which 584 sq ft is tall enough to stand in). How could I make it comfortable, inviting, and functional? Since so many readers viewed an earlier entry titled, ‘Furnishing a Tiny, Remote Log Cabin,” (Dec. 2011) in which I wrote about what you do see - the furnishings - I thought a companion piece  about storage might be in order. In any home or office, what you do see is only half the use of the space!   I welcome the suggestions of any readers who have made clever use of small spaces. 

Because our cabin is so small, I scrutinized every nook and cranny above, below, behind and between furniture, windows, and doors. It has been like an ongoing game. Any storage that could be hidden earned “bonus points” for problem solving. Extra points accumulated for storage in spaces where nothing else would work. To point out how tiny spaces can have great utility, see underused spaces below from 1 - 12 inches deep or wide. Doing all this yielded much more storage than I expected, and thus, a neater looking, more functional living space.

One inch deep:
Our cabin is on a little bluff, so the front porch is about 4.5 feet off the ground, yielding potential storage space beneath, accessible from two sides. Under the less visible western side, we store BBQ and gardening equipment. What’s the one inch reference? On the easy access lateral support holding up the deck’s floor, we screwed cup hooks and hammered in nails for those long cooking utensils, and farther away, my gardening hand tools, both in a “ready for use” applicable location. I say one inch here because of the space used by the hooks and nails, but since they are under the edge of the floor of the deck, they don’t actually project at all.

Use the space between furniture/appliances.

Three Inches wide:

In the 3” vertical space between the propane oven and the wooden box that covers our 55 gallon water cistern, I store all my flat cooking pans.

Use the space above a door or below a window.
Four Inches deep

• In most homes, the space above the doors (and windows) is unused. But because we live in bear country and my husband is a hunter, above each door is a gun rack projecting 4 inches, holding one rifle or shotgun. Up high, in a dark corner, these are a bit out of visual field but are accessible when wanted.  (Similarly, my father-in-law installed one shelf above his closets and kitchen doors to display collectibles and jars of dry goods)

• Three 4” deep shelves, (ranging in width from 13 – 29”) in an attractive Adirondack twig and birch design, adorn one central wall. They support vases of seasonal flowers and mugs and a birch basket of tea, sugar, and snacks for handy access. (Right now, the vase showcases columbine with mustard and broccoli flowers.)

• A woodstove requires a certain minimum space around it as a safe “hot zone.” In such a small home, that space cried out to be used, particularly during the months when we don’t heat the stove! On the wall above and behind our wood stove hangs a black metal structure intended for drying hats and mittens. It is 4” deep and 24” (top) and 36” (bottom) wide. I use it to hang pots and pot holders below and lids above.

Seven inches high:
The space beneath my bed may be a bit higher, but the bottom of the horizontal supports for the mattress leaves 7” of clearance. Under one side of the bed, I store the following in six canvass and plastic zippered, rectangular bags: his and her “city clothes” that we want to store flat, DVDs, crocheting and art supplies. Under the other side of the bed, my husband stores long gun cases with cleaning supplies inside.

Eight inches wide:
Between the sink and the cistern (both with wooden superstructures) is an 8” gap. Into the wooden frames, we screwed in about 10 cup hooks from which dangle long cooking utensils, sieves, and cooling racks that would take up too much room anywhere else. On the floor below, I store bulky baking pans, like muffins. Above this gap, and along the wall into the corner above to cistern, heavy J hooks are screwed into the log wall to support cotton net bags that dangle 5 pounds each of potatoes, onions, citrus, garlic, etc. (Note: don’t store onions next to potatoes since they "pull: moisture from them and wrinkle them).

Eight inches deep:
We don’t have much counter space on either side of our double sink, and I hated “wasting” one side to hold an unsightly drainage pan for dishes. On line, I bought a plastic one that has extendable “arms”  that straddle most sinks and obscure most of the dishes below the lip of the sink. and when empty, it is unnoticed. I also bought a plastic “saddle” to dangle over the barrier between the two sinks to hold soap and scrubbies/sponges but the one I bought never worked well for me so I just store them in the drain pan.

Use space below a window or along a low wall.
Nine inches deep:

Low, on three walls my husband installed long shelves that are 9” deep and 12-16" off the floor. The one under the front picture window is a book shelf. If you figure that an average book is 1” thick, I can store 50 books here (spine side up for easy review from above). On the floor space below I can tuck a number of items, as well, like a birch wood bin that holds games and a laptop computer.  

On the wall between the kitchen and the loveseat area, partially obscured by a free standing, spruce storage unit, is another 6 foot shelf that supports my spice jars near the kitchen and my paper supplies at the other.  Below, I tuck small appliances, electric and manual, jugs of oils and vinegar, a trash can for paper goods and a garbage can for scraps for the animals.    

Our upstairs is built with 3.5 foot pony walls along the sides, above which the roof inclines
toward a center beam. This means that standing room for adults is limited to a central swath about 10 feet wide. How could I neatly organize 24 feet of short walls?  Along one, starting near the head of the bed, is the third long, low shelf: 9“ wide x 12 feet long and 18" off the floor. This height was chosen to partially obscure five RubberMaid bins that store dry goods, toiletries, and linens (as another house might store in pantries, linen closets, beneath a bathroom sink, or in a basement). Books line the top of the shelf with plenty of room to spare.  (We commissioned spruce dressers and cabinets to fit the other side). 

Outside, we attached a 9“ deep metal rack for drying boots (or waders) on the lateral beam that supports our elevated front deck’s floorboards. It is hidden from view by the projecting deck flooring. When not in use for boots (most of the time), we hang large BBQ racks there.

Nine inches high:
The clearance beneath the two love seats is 9”. Under the one closest to the front door is a plastic mat for storing our “inside” shoes, since we always leave our muddy or snowy boots outside on the deck. Also, under each piece is a 6 high x 15 deep x 30 wide” clear, plastic bin with a lid, small enough, given the dimensions of the love seats (about 5 ft x 3 ft), to be inconspicuous. In one I store snack foods and the herbs and spices I want nearby but don’t use every week. The other bin is awaiting a decision, but at least I know that it fits there and is unobtrusive, for whatever purpose comes to mind.

Pull furniture away from the wall to utilize space behind it.
Twelve inches deep:
• My food prep counter, which is 15 inches wide, is perpendicular to the side wall (and sink). It serves as a visual divider between the kitchen and sitting areas, and, by positioning it 12” away from the wall, it partially hides the shelf of kitchen goods described above.  From three cup hooks on the wall end of the cabinet dangle baking tools: measuring cups and spoons, a sifter, a pastry cutter, and a spatula. A wrought iron ring hang on the visible end of the sink and food prep cabinets, with kitchen and face/hand towels. (Since we don’t have an indoor bathroom, we use the kitchen sink for ablutions.) 

Twelve inches in a corner can be useful, too, for a lamp or small side table.  We brew our own beer and make wine, so we use the corner to store a carboy of whatever we are fermenting at the moment (wine or beer). It is out of the way but we can keep an eye on clarity and yeast accumulation at the bottom.  Someone else might store a hamper of children's toys or hobby supplies. 

I dangle cotton net bags full of apples and oranges over the back posts of my love seats. Someone else might store TV remotes or coasters this way. 

• Because the roof inclines above 3.5 ft high pony walls, our dressers (taller than 3.5 feet) obscure a hidden storage space behind them. This space is twelve inch deep (narrowing at the top) times the height and width of each dresser. We store a great deal there: suitcases (storing within them backpacks, duffel bags and smaller suitcases), yoga mats, bins of 25 lb bags of dry goods, and even an extra office printer. Since the dressers are 18 inches deep, we leave a cubby hole in between them and between them and the corners. In these we store our hampers, chamber pot, portable heater and propane, and a tall stack of bins holding bulky winter clothes, extra linens, and 124 lbs of freeze dried food!


• I rarely use our largest baking and broiling pans, but when I do, it is usually for a big brisket or rack of ribs cooked in the propane smoker. So I store those pans inside that appliance.

• In many homes, under stairs storage is great.  But we have a fully visible spiral staircase. How could I use that space? I bought willow creels, to function in ways that other houses would use medicine cabinets and desk or kitchen drawers for odds and ends. The creels dangle from their leather straps wrapped around the rungs of lower stairs. Similar creels sit on the front porch (carrying bug spray, binoculars, and sunglasses) and on top of each of our dressers for small personal items.

• Since floor space is at a premium, my bedroom “trash can” is actually a lidded pewter pot, on top of my dresser.

• We bought a nice big marine cooler that has been very useful in every season. In the winter, my husband stores groceries in it that we don’t want to freeze on the three hour snow machine commute from the nearest town to our cabin. Once here, we put the cooler on the back porch for frozen food accessible to us but not to hungry ravens. In the summer, we keep it in a shed to store boxes and jars of condiments and dry goods we want to keep from voles. 

Conclusions: I wonder if consumers often buy new things as a way out of other decision making, like "do I really wear/read/use the things I already own and store? Can I actually find the item I seek amidst all the crapola around it?"

A lot of satisfaction can come, for me at least, from fewer, well chosen items, like three really good kitchen knives instead of a block of poor ones, or one favorite mug that fits my hand well, or a comfortable chair or bed. Realizing this enabled me to shed quite a lot of stuff before moving out to our little cabin, and creative storage helped me enjoy a soothing rather than chaotic setting once settled in. I can look at the woods and the lake outside, and the soft sheen of the log walls and muted colors of the braided rugs inside, while making bread in my little kitchen. Nice.

Whether one lives in a large or small home, being intentional about furnishings, decorations, and storage will likely make the space more functional for you and more inviting for your visitors.

I welcome any of your clever ideas! Send them through the comment field below this entry. Thanks. –Laura Emerson

1 comment:

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