How to Design a Storage Room

Michelle Radcliff
storage mud room

Storage rooms often serve as multifunctional spaces that help keep the home from looking cluttered. The best system to incorporate in a storage room depends on what's being stored, what else the room is being used for, and the overall decorating style in your home.

Determine Your Storage Needs

One of the first things you should do when planning a storage room design is make a list of the things you plan to store in the room. Try to organize what comes to mind in groups such as:

  • Items to store behind closed doors - Cleaning supplies, clothes, project materials such as paint or leftover upholstery fabric, poisons such as bug spray
  • Items to store on open shelves - Extra bed or bath linens, ceramic or terra-cotta pots, books or board games
  • Stuff to hang on wall hooks - Could vary by large items such as bicycles or smaller things like tools, coats or hats
  • Small things to put in baskets or drawers - arts and crafts supplies, knitting, sewing or quilting materials, tools, magazine collections, shoes, gloves or stocking caps

Will you be storing a large amount of clothing that needs to be hung and protected from dust behind cabinet doors? Do you want to keep hazardous household chemicals out of sight and out of reach of your children? Are you on a budget and need easy DIY solutions?

Once you've determined the majority of your storage needs, you can move on to choosing the kind of shelving and cabinetry you want.

Let the colors, textures and finishes on walls, flooring and trim in the room guide you in choosing materials and finishes for shelving systems and cabinetry.

Consider Function

cherry cabinet storage

Although the main focus is storage, the room may also be used for activities, such as laundry if it's a utility room or basement, or it may serve as a mud room if connected to a side or back door.

Consider how your storage pieces can help enhance the other functions taking place in the room, such as a built-in bench on a storage cabinet for removing or putting on shoes in a mud room.

Take Good Measurements

Take advantage of as much available space as you can in the room. You'll need to take lots of measurements including height, width and length of available wall space.

Don't forget to include architectural features such as closets or the space underneath the stairs. Measure existing furniture and appliances you may need to work around, such as the washer and dryer.

Cabinetry and Shelving Options

When thinking about cabinetry and shelving options, built-ins and freestanding units each have their own pros and cons to consider.

Built-in Storage

built-in cabinets

One of the biggest advantages of built-in cabinetry and shelving is having everything exactly where you need it and sized perfectly to fit within the available space. Built-in cabinets and shelves are sturdy and very aesthetically pleasing.

On the downside, it can be time consuming and expensive to hire a contractor to come in and design and build custom-made shelving and cabinets or even to do it yourself if you have the tools and woodworking skills. You also can't take it with you if you decide to move and built-ins are pretty much off the table altogether for those who rent their homes.

Freestanding Storage

Freestanding cabinets and shelving systems are readily available at most home improvement and hardware stores and can sometimes be assembled in a matter of a few hours. The storage pieces are often less expensive than built-in storage and many of them are portable with optional casters you can install on the bottom to easily roll the unit where you need it.

The disadvantage of freestanding storage is you're not going to get a perfect fit. It's unlikely that you'll be able to maximize all of your available space. Freestanding units are also less sturdy than built-ins and unless they are small or bolted to the wall, they pose a safety risk to young children who might attempt to stand on or climb the shelves. The whole unit could come toppling down on top of them.

Customize or Combine

Although finishes and color options are more limited on freestanding storage pieces, they can often be customized by repainting and adding nicer hardware. By filling in small gaps with wood trim, stand-alone cabinet and shelving units can also be disguised to look like built-ins.

Design Tips for Different Types of Storage Rooms

Consider some additional ideas for making the most of the space you have to work with and enhancing the functionality of different types of storage rooms.

Utility Rooms

storage and utility room combined

Built-in cabinetry and shelves surrounding the washer and dryer in a laundry room provide convenient storage for the home's cleaning supplies, laundering supplies and extra clean linens.

You could also try a less expensive option by framing in and building a countertop that goes just over the top of a front loading washer and dryer. The extra surface comes in very handy for sorting and folding clothes and creates a built-in look when stand-alone portable storage and shelving units of the same height are positioned next to the machines. Position a taller freestanding shelf and cabinet unit where extra vertical wall space is available.

Basements

Not all homes have them but these subterranean spaces make an ideal spot for a storage room, as the surrounding earth helps to insulate the area and keep it cool. Basement storage rooms are good for:

freestanding basement shelves
  • Seldomly used items such as seasonal decorations
  • Extra food stored in cans, bottles, and jars (disaster preparedness or zombie apocalypse)
  • Camping gear, construction tools, or leftover home improvement materials
  • Household chemicals that need cool dry storage away from heat or direct sunlight

Here you can take a more utilitarian approach to storage if the room is unfinished or sparsely decorated with painted concrete walls and flooring. In the example pictured, painted freestanding metal shelves match the color of the floor while providing ample space for vertical storage. Two freestanding units would only take up a corner of the room or if needed, the shelves could outline the perimeter of the room, where ever wall space allows.

Both the shelving system and heavy duty plastic bins can survive an unexpected leak from any plumbing pipes running through the room or ceiling. The opaque bins eliminate the need for closed storage and keep the contents inside dry and safe from dust, mold and mildew.

Under the Stairs

under stairs storage

Whether it's part of a larger basement storage room or just unused space near the foyer or living room, you can create a mini storage room under the stairs and help maximize your home's storing capabilities.

Since the space is small and awkwardly shaped, it's an ideal area for built-in shelves and cabinets or hidden storage behind cleverly designed doors. In the basement, custom installed shelves bring to life a perfect little wine cellar.

Create a trendy bookcase with individual cubbies filled with colorful books or a collection of your favorite knickknacks. A mix of decorative items, books and the items you need to store makes the space look less like storage and more like a deliberate design feature.

Attics

According to Bob Vila's website, a full attic is not completely safe for long-term storage until it is properly insulated and ventilated, which helps avoid a buildup of heat and humidity.

Prepare the Room

To ventilate the room naturally, install vents near the eaves to allow cool air to enter the room. Vents installed in the roof allow hot air to escape through convection. If electric fans are installed to assist with airflow, make sure they have a firestat or safety sensor that will shut them down in the event of a fire.

Insulation installed between the floor joists helps slow down the transfer of heat between the second story living area and the attic. While most homes with attics should already have insulation here, additional insulation is recommended for long-term storage. Installation techniques that include vapor barriers, venting and airspace can help control humidity build-up in areas where it's a problem.

Built-in Ideas

built-in storage under the eaves

The unusual architecture of an attic room makes it a fun space for designing storage solutions. The steep pitch of the roof often leaves little or no wall space running the length of the room. A four foot knee wall built a few feet out from the exterior wall along each side of the room creates under eave storage for boxes, trunks, suitcases and other low profile items. Doors hung on sliding tracks make clever and efficient use of floor space.

The tall end walls in an attic can be filled with custom-built shelving to hold an endless collection of books, antiques, bottles or whatever fuels your passion. For an even easier solution, install floating shelves in varying lengths, staggering them up the wall.

Garages

To free up floor space in your garage, utilize as much wall space for storage as possible.

Unfinished Walls

Wooden slats, about 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick, nailed between the studs of unfinished garage walls can hold sporting equipment like fishing poles, kayak or boat oars, hockey sticks and baseball bats. Cut the slats to length to fit over two wall studs and nail them at varying heights. This could also work for shovels, rakes, brooms, long pole fishing nets, or any other tall, slender tools.

Flip some of the slats sideways and trim them to fit snuggly between two wall studs to create little shelves for small items such as toys, containers of hardware, small plant pots, work gloves, etc.

Finished Walls

garage wall storage

A heavy duty adjustable wall mount shelving system is an excellent option for finished garage walls. Steel standard rails and brackets mounted securely to the wall make it sturdier than a freestanding shelving unit.

Use a stud finder to mark the location of wall studs and then hang a series of metal standards, screwing each one into a stud for secure strength. Metal brackets which hold the shelves in place can be inserted at regular intervals along the vertical metal rails. Increase the spacing between shelves to store larger items and bins.

One of the simplest and most affordable ways to store bicycles is with a steel hook wall mount. The hooks come in numerous styles designed to hold a single bike or as many as six, up on the wall and out of the way.

Allow Room for Growth if Possible

Don't think you have to fill every square foot of space in a storage room. Empty space is a real bonus, it allows room for future treasures, new hobbies, or items you just don't know how to part with.

How to Design a Storage Room