Chaos, Contained

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Local professionals share their tips to make the most of your square footage and transform functional storage into a thing of beauty


WHETHER YOU ARE A MAXIMALIST or a minimalist, we all agree you can never have too much storage or be too organized — just ask the fans of Marie Kondo and The Home Edit. Everything in its place and a place for everything is an aspirational goal, but executing a plan of action can be overwhelming. If your New Year’s resolution is to corral your clutter, we’ve found some great resources to streamline your life with swoon-worthy results. 

a stairwell with a wire bannister and built-in storage shelves below
Photo by Jason Manchester / Courtesy American Craftsman Renovations


A beer tap in a wet bar with bottles on shelves and funky wallpaper
Photo by Elevated Coastal Productions / Courtesy Bert John

Get creative to find untapped potential. Clever options include space under a stairwell, over and around door frames or inside a closet. An alcove can house a bar, a child’s secret play area or a cozy den for the dog. Think outside the box, as Kevin Norris of American Craftsman Renovations did to build a display case under the stairs for a homeowner. 

Interior designer Bert John converted a bifold closet into a hip bar sporting a kegerator and funky wallpaper. In the same home, he opened up an entryway with handsome, slim-profile cabinetry to include a coat closet and a drop spot for mail and keys. 

Leah Bailey of Leah Bailey Interiors maximized space in a guest room, recessing the bed within cabinetry. Built-in niches eliminate the need for freestanding nightstands. “Use every square inch for storage,” Bailey says. The result is “super chic and custom looking.”

dark blue floor-to-ceiling mud room storage cubbies
Photo by Jason Manchester / Courtesy American Craftsman Renovations
Designer kitchen with light natural wood floors and white floor-to-ceiling cabinets
Photo by Kelli Boyd Photography / Courtesy Leah Bailey Interiors


If you live in an older or historic home, you already know that space is at a premium and closets are practically nonexistent. Still, even new builds often need more storage. 

Norris recommends extending cabinetry to the ceiling, as he did in a mudroom with bright blue cubbies for backpacks, coats and shoes. The look is streamlined, eliminating the “dust collecting” cabinet top or bulky soffit, notes Norris. 

Bookcases and kitchen cabinetry benefit from the same principle of “going up.” Bailey agrees, taking advantage of the high ceilings in an all-white kitchen. “Take your cabinets all the way to the ceiling for maximum storage potential,” she says. “No wasted space here.” The upper cabinets are perfect for storing little-used or seasonal items.

Huge bedroom closet with rows upon rows of women's shoes on shelves and behind glass cabinet doors
Courtesy Closets by Design


Utilitarian doesn’t have to equal ugly. Thoughtful and organic materials elevate storage in high-traffic areas. Choose a lively paint color or a kicky wallpaper in a pantry or laundry room. Dressing up a workroom will make spending time there more enjoyable.

John keeps his designs interesting and elevated in hard-working spaces with “contrast, scale, repetition and pattern.” To create continuity, he maintains the same quality finishes throughout the home. In the laundry/mudroom of a remodeled residence, he specified natural cane inserts on cabinetry door panels and layered in warm woods and practical porcelain tile flooring in a herringbone pattern. 

Textured storage cabinets in a hallway with a gray herringbone tile floor
Photo by Elevated Coastal Productions / Courtesy Bert John

The room was long and narrow (as these spaces typically are), so to avoid “a bowling alley” look, John painted the cabinets on one side of the room one color and the opposite side in another color and layered in textural elements and distinctive details. 

Bailey applied mirrors to built-ins in an inviting bedroom to give the illusion of more space. To break up the expanse of millwork, she varied the cabinet depths. “Use every inch of the bedroom by incorporating mirrors into built-ins for multipurpose and gorgeous storage,” Bailey says.

For a glamorous closet/dressing room, Closets by Design installed luxurious glass cabinets with LED lighting, mirrors and — for even more opulence — a chandelier overhead. Designated storage for shoes, handbags and hanging clothes keeps everything organized, and velvet-lined drawers display ready-to-wear jewelry. 

Small dining table in front of built in shelves and closed Murphy bed
Dog sitting on open Murphy bed flanked by built-in shelves


If space is tight, repurpose an under-used room or consider giving a space more than one function. A dining room can be lined with built-ins to house a library or home office.

Closets by Design added a pull-down bed in an eating area to serve as extra sleeping quarters when guests visit. Flanking the bed, bookcase storage becomes a showcase for decorative collectibles and books.

Built-in bookshelves next to a fireplace
Photo by Kelli Boyd Photography / Courtesy Leah Bailey Interiors


Add oomph to bookshelves by lining the interior with a patterned wallpaper, grasscloth or a fresh coat of colorful paint. 

“Built-ins should be clean and simple, but use layering to help them feel complete and stylish. Mix family heirlooms with new books and decor to give it that timeless look,” says Bailey. 

Home organizer, Marge Von Lehmden of House of Von lives by the William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” 

Whicker storage trunk under a table
Photo by Kelli Boyd Photography / Courtesy Leah Bailey Interiors


“Baskets of all shapes and sizes can be the perfect place to store things. They are unassuming and simple while serving many duties in any room,” Bailey says. 

Von Lehmden agrees and uses baskets throughout the house. She also recommends clear containers, roll-out drawers, drawer dividers, turntables and Lazy Susans for organizing — and don’t forget to label everything.

Look for multi-purpose furniture, too. “Benches, trunks and coffee tables with storage are perfect for items like shoes, towels, toys and blankets,” says Von Lehmden. Floating vanities and consoles appear to take up less space in a room while still providing plenty of storage. She is a fan of rolling carts because they can be moved around from room to room or wheeled out of sight when necessary.

Jewelry organized in small dishes inside a dresser drawer
Photo by Josh Morehouse / Courtesy House of Vaughn

To wrangle up collectibles, Von Lehmden finds inventive receptacles like vintage ashtrays, boxes and trays to store jewelry and smaller items. 

For the finishing touch, keep it brilliant. Lighting is essential but also creates ambiance in a space. Decorative lighting dresses up bookshelves, closets, mudrooms and laundry rooms. 

After all, once your space is in order, you’ll want to see it shine.

Chair and plant in front of white built-in shelves
Photo by Josh Morehouse / Courtesy House of Vaughn

House of Von rules for styling a bookcase

  • Photograph and review. Snap a before photo of your bookcase and take a good look. What do you like? What isn’t working? 
  • Start fresh. Take everything off the shelves and sort into piles. Set aside and bag or box up items you want to give away, sell, donate or throw out. Put similar items together, such as books, framed photographs and personal items. (Try to work with what you already own before you think about buying anything new.)
  • Review and edit. If you can’t part with something but don’t want to display it now, put it away. You can rotate books or photos seasonally. Display a mix of photos, books and personal touches.
  • Rebuild and relocate. Start with eye-level items and gradually add pieces back onto the shelves. Avoid clutter. Periodically step back to review the overall look, making sure each shelf is balanced.

This story and much more in the January/February issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today!