Divide and Conquer

Martha Stewart Living, September 2007

With cooler weather on the way, now is the perfect time to get your chest of drawers in order.

The first step with any bureau makeover is often the hardest -- editing out items you no longer use. If you haven't worn a cardigan or a pair of pumps in two seasons, add it to your giveaway pile. Next, sort what remains by category and assign everything to a drawer. Most bureaus have little in the way of built-in compartments, but you can create custom divisions using the strategies here.

Why not plan the project around the seasonal wardrobe swap? You'll save time, plus your favorite sweater will be at hand that first chilly fall morning.

Bureaus traditionally have shallow drawers on top and deeper drawers on bottom. Small items, naturally, belong in more compact drawers, although frequency of use is also a factor (our off-season apparel is stashed in the lowest, hardest-to-reach drawer). All drawers should be lined with acid-free paper or mat board to protect garments from snags.

Loose Accessories

How It Works

Cafe-curtain rods mounted inside this drawer provide a track for a tray to slide along, doubling the storage space.

Storage Tip

For jewelry and other delicate items, line boxes with soft felt.


How It Works

These fabric-covered boxes in assorted sizes fit into the drawer, creating six cubbies for socks and underwear.

Storage Tip

To help socks keep their elasticity, store them folded, not in balls.

Shirts and Tops

How It Works

A custom fold-up divider trisects the drawer; mat board lines the wooden bottom.

Storage Tip

Fold laundered clothes when they're still warm from the dryer to minimize wrinkles.

Seasonal Apparel

How It Works

Cedar-plank liners repel moths; shelf brackets create topple-free compartments in which to put off-season apparel.

Storage Tip

Always clean garments before storing for the season to prevent stains from setting.

Small Bureaus

Small, streamlined bureaus can be overwhelmed by full wardrobes, but they're suitable for shoes, handbags, and other accessories. If you don't have the luxury or a second bureau, you can adapt any of the strategies demonstrated here to a top drawer in the chest drawers you have.

Loose Articles

How It Works

Placing four rectangular boxes in the corners of the drawer results in seven cubbies.

Storage Tip

Empty coins into a small dish each night so they don't clutter the top of the bureau.


How It Works

A handmade fold-up divider results in three separate compartments for purses.

Storage Tip

Stuff handbags with acid-free tissue to protect their leather and help retain their form.


How It Works

The same fold-up divider used above is paired with fragrant cedar planks.

Storage Tip

Place shoes in cotton-flannel bags, toe to heel, to prevent crushing and scuff marks.

Sliding Tray

You'll need 2 utensil trays sized to fit your drawer, a flexible tape measure, felt, scissors, curtain-rod brackets, screws, a screwdriver, and 2 concealed-mount cafe-curtain rods. If you decide to refinish the utensil trays, you'll also need spray paint.

1. Measure each compartment in the utensil trays with the flexible tape measure, and cut pieces of felt with scissors to fit inside.

2. Place 1 of the utensil trays on the bottom of the drawer.

3. Install curtain-rod brackets on one side of the drawer, about 1 inch above the top of the utensil tray. Repeat with second set of brackets on opposite side. Insert rods into the brackets.

4. Place the second utensil tray on top of the curtain rods.

Shelf Separators

You'll need a flexible tape measure, a pencil, a pair of wooden shelf brackets sized to fit your drawer, screws, and a screwdriver.

1. Measure the width of your drawer and divide by 3. Mark the 2 points of the trisected drawer.

2. Place brackets in drawer, lining them up with the marks.

3. Fasten by screwing through the back of the drawer into each bracket.

Fold-Up Divider

You'll need a flexible tape measure, foam board, a self-healing mat, a ruler, a craft knife, book cloth, a pencil, a straightedge, acid-free glue, a putty knife, and a bone folder.

1. Measure width, depth, and height of the drawer. Cut 5 pieces of foam board: 2 that are the size of the depth by the height, and 3 that are one-third of the width by the height.

2. Trim 1/2 inch from a short side of each piece. Lay pieces end to end in alternating lengths on book cloth, with 1/4 inch between each piece; mark edges with pencil. Cut cloth so it's 1 inch larger than foam board on all sides. Trim corners at a 45-degree angle.

3. Apply adhesive to book cloth with putty knife. Place foam board back on book cloth, according to markings. Wrap cloth over foam board. Cut a piece of cloth to cover the bare sides of the foam board; glue down.

4. Fold divider into shape with bone folder.


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