Customized Storage Units Maximize Room, Minimize Clutter

Joyce Ruebel planned her California Closets system to accommodate her shoe collection.

When you’re a 20-year-old college student with a tiny budget, and you’re moving into a small house with four girls, space is crucial.

Christa Bernecker has a closet in her future bedroom at Miami University, but, it isn’t quite big enough for her lifestyle. The sophomore from Colerain Township consulted with her grandmother, Joyce Ruebel of Ross, who had installed California Closets systems her own bedrooms. California Closets is a leading seller in the $6.9 billion home organization product business, and it — coincidentally — was founded by a college student trying to maximize space in his dorm room.

“I said (to Christa), well, Grandma can help you with that,” Ruebel recalls. “When my grandchildren come over here, keeping things neat is number one. Before they leave, things have to go back ... Everything in its place.”

Such organization is a nirvana we all crave — the peace and sanity of always knowing where our keys, running shoes and Phillips-head screwdrivers are. Retailers today offer many stylish, practical products for organization.

Take the new Ikea store in West Chester, for example. They offer a room-sized Billy birch-veneer storage system, with tons of space for books, media and collectibles. The cabinets are 31 inches wide and 79 inches tall, stacked side by side. Total display shelving cost: $1,069.

At the 13 Lowe’s stores around Greater Cincinnati, you’ll find Gladiator GarageWorks’ GearWall panels, which are sturdy vertical wall coverings onto which you can attach all kinds of hooks, bins and baskets. The panels are 12 inches high by 96 inches long, and support 50 pounds per square foot, according to the Whirlpool Corp., which manufactures them. About $99 for a two-pack; accessories like tool and bike hooks start at about $6.

The Bed, Bath & Beyond at I-275 and Colerain Avenue is where Christa Bernecker recently shopped for storage units for that new room. One of the handiest closet storage items there is a 29-inch shoe wheel that stores up to 30 pairs of shoes. The clear, Ferris-wheel design lets you see all your shoes as they are secured in expandable pockets. Cost: $70.

But Bernecker was on a different mission: “I needed actual storage units, not plastic bins I could move at will,’’ she says. The clerk directed her to the store’s web site, where, “I found what I was looking for were actually called modular systems, and they were in my budget. Success!”
Get Your Closet Under Control

About 83 percent of all home organization product sales are to do-it-yourselfers, according to 2007 research by The Freedonia Group, an independent market research agency.

If you have a company’s professional do the work in your home, the fee generally ranges from 10 to 20 percent of the total project cost, experts say. And that’s often figured into the estimate.

Sharon Jackson of Kennedy Heights is a DIYer. She was among about 35 people who crowded into a corner at the Organized Living store in Madeira for a “Get Organized in 15 Minutes” workshop. Organized Living is owned Schulte Corp., an 89-year-old private Cincinnati firm that has about 200 employees and annual sales nationwide of $40 million, estimates The Freedonia Group.

“My kids are more organized than I am,” confides Jackson, who calls herself a “spring cleaning” type of person who hoes things out once a year. One of her grown daughters has at least 100 pairs of shoes, each in a box with a Polaroid stuck to the front IDing the shoes within.

Jackson watches as professional organizer Jan Connelly shows stickers for the bottoms of junk drawers that tell what belongs there: paperclips, tape measure, etc. Then Connelly pulls out a 15-inch by 24-inch collapsible canvas closet box, with a see-through panel. No Polaroid needed here to see what’s inside. Jackson smiles. A winner at $21 each.

Schulte has a range of shelving systems, but its best-selling line is freedomRail, a DIYer’s dream. Basically, you install a horizontal rail across the top of your (fill in the blank: bedroom closet, office, pantry, garage), and then hang vertical bars from it that hook together an array of shelves, drawers, shoe racks, clothes rods, etc. The verticals do not need to be screwed into the wall.

Steve McCamley, Organized Living’s vice president of marketing, shows me how the company’s screws and anchors work for the top rail, providing powerful support even without a wall stud.

You can change the whole design whenever you want by reconfiguring those vertical bars, and you can even design your storage system online (Schultestorage. com). Or, go to one of two Organized Living locations to have the design specialists do it on a computer. FreedomRail and other Schulte products are sold nationwide, but locally you also can find them at hardware stores and other venues like Basco in Mason, Hyde Park Lumber and Aurora Do-It Besk Lumber in Indiana, according to Schulte officials.

Ikea’s Modern Finishes Challenge Local Firms

In 2006, metal and wire home organization products accounted for about 35 percent of sales, and Freedonia Group projects the popularity of these versatile products through 2011. Rubbermaid makes a popular coated wire system like Schulte’s freedomRail, and you can find it at home improvement and hardware stores across the region. But Freedonia also projects the growing personalization of storage looks.

You don’t have to look much further than Ikea to see that. Its Pax wardrobe series — which you can design on a computer in the store — comes in everything from a lacquered birch veneer, to melamine foil finish to solid wood. Its Besta storage system offers drawer covers in high gloss red, and there’s an intriguinghorizontal striped cabinet finish called Besta Holmbo. But the accessories are what count, and they are made from a rainbow of materials: Wicker, chrome, canvas, rattan, weaves and wood.

Mike Carson, immediate past president of the National Closet Group trade organization, sees some interesting “green” storage products on the horizon, like no-formaldehyde, light-weight panels to which you add storage components. He mentions a laminate process called thermo-foil that goes over fiberboard and looks just like wood. Some walk-in closets, says Carson, who owns Illinois-based Closet Works, mimic high-end office furnishings and can cost upwards of $80,000, installed.

“We’re not selling wood,” Carson adds, “we’re actually selling piece of mind, and order. People like to have control over their environment.”

I’ll Take it To Go, with a Handyman

Coleen A. Armstrong is a self-described “organization junkie.” She lives in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in Forest Park that includes a home office. Armstrong has redone all five closets and her garage with Schulte Corp. storage systems.

“When you’re living in 900 square feet, you can’t afford to waste even a smidgen of space,” says Armstrong, 61. In her home office, she can lay her hands on any project she’s ever worked on in a second — it’s all stored in two closets, mostly in milk crate containers. But she also likes everything to be behind closed doors. So into the closet go the fax machine, CD player, photo albums, gift wrap and more.

Armstrong hired a handyman to install her storage systems. But for her most recent project — her garage — she hired Organized Living’s installers to putdual cabinets on the wall. They had them up in 25 minutes, she reports, and they now hide all those nasties like antifreeze, rags, fireplace tools and automotive toys.

“It ruins your day ... to see all that stuff piled on the shelf,” Armstrong says. “Now, I get a little tingle when I pull in my garage.”

Bear Tullis, an attorney with Keating Muething & Klekamp, was not after a tingling feeling as he paced the storage equipment aisles of Lowe’s in Columbia Township in April. Stacks of boxes full of bridal shower gifts for Tullis and his fiancee were crowding the kitchen of their new Hyde Park house.

Problem: They have no shelves in the basement. Tullis had been sent to the store on a mission, shall we say. He eyes a set of Real Organized brand five-tier, snap-together plastic storage units for the basement or garage. These suckers are 24 inches deep, 36 inches wide and 73 inches tall. They look tough and are ventilated. Cost? $54.66. Tullis hoists two of the large boxes onto a cart.

Going the Custom Storage Route

Cincinnati area homes built in the 1800s and early 1900s often had custom built-in storage, thanks to immigrant craftsmen from Germany, Ireland and Italy. But today, even high-end homes don’t include much in the way of built-ins.

The builder-owners of exclusive Inman Custom Homes, for example, say no client has ever asked for custom storage systems — new homeowners want to do that themselves. This is where Bruce Long and other specialized carpenters come in. Long owns Sawdust Therapy, which does custom woodworking — such as shelves, entertainment systems, fireplace surrounds and decorative mantels — for residences. He’s on Angie’s List, and works through Servicemaster.

Business is steady, Long says, and he’s grown from a two-person operation last year to six this year. A recent project was a dual office work station and entertainment system for a couple in a small condo, he says. He used oak plywood and surrounds, staining the whole unit. Projects like that range from $3,000-$5,000, Long says. A smaller unit using paint-grade wood might be less than $1,000.

In the seven years he’s been in business, Long’s come to realize he’s providing more than just a service. He says, “People want to personalize their homes, and enjoy what they’ve got ... Off-the-shelf items look like a piece of furniture, but my clients want things to look like they belong.” n

Closet Planning Tips

A conventional 6-by-8-foot walk-in closet has, on average, 20 linear feet of hanging space. A double hanging closet system can expand that 40 linear feet, and adding shelves and drawers makes even better use of precious space, according to the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals.
Their tips for reinventing your closet space:

• Take everything out of the closet and evaluate what to keep

• Get rid of clothes that do not fit or are out of style

• Find other storage areas for stuff like sports gear and knickknacks

• Weed out unused hangers to create more space

Now you are ready to plan the space for the remaining clothes and accessories:

• Measure the length of hanging clothes; shirts, skirts and other short items can be hung on double rods

• Count sweaters and shoes to plan adequate cubbies and shelving

• Use hooks to store robes, night gowns and “around the house” clothing

• Put folded items on shelves where they can be seen

Good sources of storage planning info:

• The Association of Closet and Storage Professionals: www.

• The “How Stuff Works” web site has reader-friendly planning tips and step-by-step instructions for installing a modular closet system:

• Schulte Storage of Cincinnati’s website has galleries of photos showing its DIY freedomRail storage systems and step-by-step guides to installing them.

Upgrade your Garage Floor

The Cossmans of Greater Cincinnati were thrilled with this new garage floor, installed by American Sealing Experts. Professionally sealed floors protect concrete from harmful chemicals and make cleaning and organizing easier.

Personal Style

Conservative or bold ... exercise your creative freedom to choose products that suit your personal style, like this garage from Garage Storage and More, I want to organize my garage, but it’s hard to get motivated when the space is so dirty and ugly. Any suggestions?

Professional floor coatings protect your garage’s concrete and create a beautiful atmosphere that makes you want to keep it clean and organized. Gone are the days of dark, dirty garages. A good quality floor coating will seal and dust-proof the concrete, creating a surface that is very easy to clean. Oil, salt and dirt will sit on top of the coating until it is cleaned off.

What are the best options in changing my garage floor to make the garage an inviting place?

From do-it-yourself epoxy kits to professionally installed polyurea coatings, garage floor coatings are the most popular option. Another option is interlocking tiles, which are easily installed and long-lasting. However, they do not effectively seal the floor and can allow harmful liquids to penetrate the concrete. Other options include acid staining, stone and aggregate overlays, and garage floor mats.

I used an epoxy floor paint on my garage floor last year. Now it is chipping everywhere and my car’s tires even pull it off. What did I do wrong?

The most common problem with do-it-yourself kits and coatings is improper floor preparation. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. On a steel-troweled surface such as a garage floor, the pores are closed off and must be opened to allow a coating to adhere. The best way to open them is removing the top layer of concrete with grinders with diamond blades or shot-blasters, which the average homeowner can’t properly do on his or her own. Proper surface preparation is absolutely key in prolonging the life of a coating. It will allow for great adhesion and prevent hot-tire-pickup and chipping.