Sunday 4 December 2016

Interiors: Winning the storage wars

CH4 designer tells us how to hoard in style

Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30

Visible storage solutions by Ikea
Visible storage solutions by Ikea
Smart Storage's under stair unit
Melanie Cantor storage solutions
Melanie Cantor
Visible storage from Ikea

My friend Dorothy has a penchant for porcelain. Open any cupboard in her tiny house and you're liable to meet a wobbling tower of china. More than once, the delicate pile has come cascading to the ground.

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She says breakages are the best way to control her china habit, but I think losing a few pieces just gives her an excuse to buy more.

Her boyfriend has no time for fancy china, but he's got a shed neatly stacked with box-fresh hardware from the middle aisle of Lidl and Aldi. He doesn't actually unpack any of them. He just likes to know they're there.

There's nothing wrong with a few excess possessions. Dorothy loves her pretty porcelain and her boyfriend says his shed full of hardware makes him happy but, for some people, hoarding can become a problem.

According to recent research, 38pc of Irish adults consider themselves to be hoarders. That is, they accumulate stuff they don't actually need. As part of the same survey, more than a third of Irish adults admitted that their hoarding habits, or those of their partner, were causing relationship problems. And a further 22pc consider their mum to be a hoarder.

More importantly, over half the respondents said they found it difficult to get rid of their possessions. The research was conducted by Empathy Research and commissioned by the self-storage company Nesta (formerly Need More Space).

"Using self-storage can give you enough time to detach from the items and decide if you really want to keep them," says Melanie Cantor, interior designer and former presenter of the Channel 4's Making Space. "It can be a stepping stone. People don't want to leave their stuff there forever because it's costing them money."

Typically, the people who use the Nesta facility do so for about 12 months and the average spend is about €100 per month. Storage units range from 9 sq ft to 150 sq ft, which would contain the entire contents of a house.

Self storage comes into its own around life events like bereavement, when people may have to deal with a lifetime's accumulation of possessions at a time when they're emotionally unable to deal with the clear out. It's a way of buying time until you're feeling strong enough to sort through the belongings of the departed. If you're nervous of getting rid of excess stuff too quickly, Cantor recommends you deal with one box every week.

"There are different types of hoarder," she says. "I'm a magpie type. I like accumulating shiny things. Then there are hoarders who can't resist a bargain; squirrels who stock up on provisions for a rainy day; and ostrich types who are frightened to let go of anything."

They just stick their heads in the sand while piles of stuff build up around them.

"When you live with clutter too long you become unable to see it," Cantor explains. "I once worked with a client who had to climb over boxes of stuff to get into bed. She just didn't see it any more.

"I asked her if the stuff meant anything to her. It turned out she stored empty toothpaste tubes that had no resonance for her at all.

"I think that you can have stuff, but it needs to be displayed in a way that makes it accessible. I'm a big one for being able to see what you have. Your things should live around you. You shouldn't have to live around them."

Her own tiny apartment in London's swishy Mayfair district is full of shiny things, selectively displayed, with all the clutter kept out of sight. "I have a very hard-working wardrobe that accommodates the washer-dryer and all the bedding from the sofa bed." Smaller items, like magazines and papers, are kept in vintage-style storage boxes.

Once you've got rid of the stuff that you don't want, there are options for organising the things that you do want to keep.

Ikea has a big selection of solutions for displaying and hanging household oddments in places where they won't get in your way.

Irish company Smart Storage has come up with a clever design for using the wasted space underneath the staircase. "I found myself in a semi-d with a wife, two daughters and a growing shoe crisis," says Paul Jacob of Smart Storage.

"We had a little cubbyhole under the stairs and one day I banged my head crawling out of it. I thought - there's got to be a better way! That's when I designed our first under-stair storage unit."

Their most popular three-drawer unit fits under the stairs of a typical semi-d, even where there is an under stairs toilet in situ.

It costs €399 as a flatpack (if you're handy at DIY) or €499 including fitting and installation anywhere in Ireland (that's €100 well spent in my opinion).

The three-drawer unit would accommodate the vacuum cleaner, shoes and schoolbags - all the things that typically get dumped in the hall.

"Every home with a staircase has a void underneath it," says Jacob. "The drawers turn it into useable space for items you need on a day to day level, plus you're using the volume of the space rather than just the floor."

Smart Storage was one of the success stories of Dragon's Den in 2012. "More recently we've had a bit of publicity from the Irish rugby team. Luke Fitzgerald's mum had a unit installed and she talked him into getting one for his kitbag.

"Now several of the other players have them too and Brian O'Driscoll has been tweeting about it."

I reckon the kudos goes to Luke Fitzgerald's mum.

For more info on the products mentioned here, see www.nesta.ie; www.smartstorage.ie.

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