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Ask a Designer: how to make the most of storage for seasonal items

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It's that time of year again, when we pull out the blankets andsweaters and stash the last of the warm-weather items until spring arrives.

Many homes lack the space needed to store everything right where we use it. So seasonal things get shuttled around and sometimes even misplaced.

If the serving dishes you use only at the holidays are stacked way up at the top of your pantry, "you may find yourself running out and buying something you've already got, because you can't remember what you have or you can't get to it," says Atlanta-based interior designer Mallory Mathison.

Many of her clients struggle with insufficient closet space for storing items that are only used for a few months each year.

Here, Mathison and interior designers Brian Patrick Flynn and Molly Luetkemeyer offer advice on creativelystoring off-season itemsin ways that maximize every inch of space and make it easy to retrieve what you need.

FIND DOUBLE-DUTY FURNITURE

All three designers love furniture that offers hidden storage. A bench with storage space inside is perfect for boots, and bins containing scarves, gloves and hats.

Or add a large coffee table/ottoman combination to your living room: "They're an easy way to sneak a bit more seasonal storage into a room, without having to add extra closet space or add pricey, big-ticket furniture pieces," says Flynn, founder of the design website decordemon.com. "You can find a ton of storage-ottoman-coffee tables on websites like overstock.com or hayneedle.com."

For families with pets, Flynn suggests creating a sleeping space for a small dog or cat that doubles as seasonal storage. "To do this, I take a flea-market dresser, usually a highboy with four to six drawers, then remove the bottom two for use as an open lounge space for pets, complete with a removable cushion," he says. Use the remaining drawers above for seasonal items like off-season clothing.

MAXIMIZE UNDER-BED SPACES

Many people use the space under their master bed for seasonal storage. Luetkemeyer suggests doing the same with every bed in the house.

Tuck clear plastic bins under children's beds (and a guest bed, if you have one), labeling each one clearly.

You can rotate items in and out of these bins during the year — one holding swimsuits all winter might hold sweaters in summer. If you know that all under-bed space is designated for seasonal items, it will be easier to track down the once-a-year items you're seeking.

Also, see whether any sofas or other large pieces of furniture might have room underneath for flat storage bins.

TRY CREATIVE CARPENTRY

Mathison suggests having built-in cabinets added along the walls on both sides of your bed. Creating this architectural niche for your bed "is totally cozy, and it also creates great concealed and/or open storage," she says.

Another built-in option: If your kitchen cabinets don't go all the way to the ceiling, add extra closed storage on top for seasonal serving dishes and table linens. Or have a row of very shallow shelves (no more than 3 or 4 inches deep) added to one wall of your kitchen or pantry. You can prop up dishware or serving pieces you rarely use, creatively storing them while adding some beauty to your walls.

Also, search your home for bits of square-footage that aren't being used, such as a crawl space under a staircase. Hire a handyman to add a small door and turn that empty space into a cabinet.

Consider changing your kitchen seating: Swap out chairs for built-in benches with hidden storage, then hide rarely-used items there.

GET HOOKED

"Seasonal things that inspire you should be left out as much as possible," Flynn says. "I use a ton of wall hooks in my spaces, mostly to be able to hang up favourite pieces of clothing which add decorative flair to a room."

In a bedroom, a cluster of favourite flannel shirts can look great on decorative hooks, and the same goes for winter jackets. In summer, hang your favourite T-shirts or swimsuits on those same hooks while the winter items are put away.

This works well in kids' rooms and nurseries, helping ensure that kids wear their cutest pieces before the season ends and they grow out of them.

USE CLOSETS WELL

Maximize closet space by adding shelves up high if there aren't any, then keep a small step-ladder in the closet for accessing high items, Luetkemeyer says. Add inexpensive, battery-powered lights to dim closets, and increase shelf space by adding a row of canvas hanging shelves.

In a guest room closet, if you have one, Mathison suggests using two rows of hanging canvas shelves — one filled with items your guest may need, such as extra towels and soap, and the other left empty so your guest can put out some of the clothes they brought. Then use the rest of the closet for your seasonal things. It will be clear to the guest what space is theirs and what isn't.

If winter items will be hung in a closet, Flynn opts for "thick wooden hangers or sculptural modern aluminum hangers to keep the structural integrity of coats or heavy pants." For lighter summer items, Luetkemeyer recommends slim, foam-covered hangers that take up less space and won't let items like camisoles slip off.

Consider splurging on rebuilding your closets with exactly the shelving and hanging space you want: "This way, every closet in the house can work for all seasons," says Flynn. "We spend a ton of money on our cars and have garages built for them, right? Well, we spend just as much on our wardrobes, so why not invest in a space to store that investment?"

ROLL OUT THE RACKS

Mathison suggests keeping seasonal things like coats in clear plastic garment bags on rolling racks in a basement or attic. They'll stay clean, and when it's time to swap them with the opposite season's items in your main closets, having items grouped in garment bags will make it simpler to transport them quickly back and forth.

Rolling garment racks are easy to find and affordable, but it's important to choose good quality ones so they don't bend under the weight of winter clothing.

Mathison is also a fan of co-ordinated bins or baskets to organize smaller items (gloves, hats, swimsuits, goggles) in closets. It's easy to move these bins out of your main closet into a basement or attic during the off-season.

PARE DOWN

Luetkemeyer points out that the change of season is a great time to identify items you don't use and get rid of them. Consider donating sheets or blankets you rarely use to a charity or shelter. Do the same with bulky winter coats and sweaters. You'll save space for seasonal items, and also embrace the meaning of the holiday season.

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