Smart, Space-Saving Bathroom Storage

Martha Stewart Living, April 2007


When I was growing up, one of my chores was to keep the bathrooms in our home neat and tidy. Rule number one: Find a rightful place for everything. Now, as the home editorial director of this magazine, I know that looks are just as important, even in the most utilitarian areas. The lessons of function and form are evident on these pages, in which I give three bathrooms -- one for a family, one for a couple, and another for guests -- a stylish yet practical makeover. If yours is already perfect, hold tight. I'll do the same for other rooms of the house in upcoming issues.

Family Fare

As you might expect of a bathroom shared by four people, this one can get a little chaotic, especially during the morning rush. Although large by most standards, the space wasn't used efficiently. The sink area was crowded with toothpastes and hair brushes; towels were constantly finding their way onto the floor. The result: It felt more cramped and cluttered than it really was.

Sufficient storage is the most important factor in any bathroom, so my first move was adding a standing cabinet, which I painted white to coordinate with the sink and mirror. Then I focused on the wall-mounted medicine cabinet, eliminating items that don't belong there, such as prescription medicines (which can be affected by humidity and heat). To the right are four more storage solutions, including one for all those pesky towels, which I ended up replacing, since they had suffered a few too many falls to the ground. The new green ones match the walls and the linoleum floor.

Compartmentalize

If you can, choose cabinets that offer separate spaces -- preferably one for each person who uses the bathroom. On this refurbished antique, the bottom drawer contains the kids' bath toys, while the top one holds mom's hair-care essentials, plus a first-aid kit. Lazy Susans make accessing toiletries, stored in pretty clear containers, a snap.

Make Use of Magnets

Sometimes you have to think behind the box. This medicine cabinet became more efficient after I affixed a sheet of precut galvanized steel to its interior with construction adhesive. Magnetic hooks now hold scissors and a mirror, and small plastic cups with magnetic bottoms corral small necessities, such as rubber bands and hair clips.

Think Vertically

The walls and doors in this bathroom were underutilized. I wanted towels and washcloths to be handy for bathers, so I installed a hotel-style multitiered rack on the wall next to the tub. It's also essential to have plenty of places to hang wet towels when a lot of people will be in and out of the shower. I added three towel bars to the back of the bathroom door, replacing a single, inefficient hook.

Bottle It Up

Uniform plastic bottles not only look better than the usual shampoo and soap containers, but they also fit more neatly in storage devices, such as the hanging wire basket I installed in the shower stall. It's always helpful to identify bottles with laminated labels, adding either the names of family members who prefer their own products or else listing the contents of the containers.

His and Hers

Sharing is important in any relationship, but not when it comes to the bathroom. Case in point: the sharp-elbowed nudges caused by an unorganized vanity. The solution was to divvy up the surfaces and compartments. Each partner now sticks to one side of the countertop; trays keep frequently used personal items in place.

Once the vanity was organized, it offered plenty of storage for the room. As a result, I was able to retire the over-the-hill medicine cabinet and mount an antique mirror in its place; its gold frame goes well with the wallpaper. I also added parchment shades to the wall sconces. They provide gently diffused light for grooming and coordinate nicely with the vanity.

Divide and Prosper

Bathroom drawers are second only to junk drawers in their potential for messiness. It's too easy to toss grooming products in there pell-mell. Wooden boxes and trays help categorize the items and are available in various sizes and materials, so they can be mixed and matched to fit any sort of drawer.

Let It Slide

The central cabinets are fitted with roll-out wire trays, the kind used in kitchens. One contains a first-aid kit and miscellaneous toiletries. A pair of hooks fastened to the inside of the doors hold a hair dryer and a flat iron. In the adjacent cabinet, a second sliding track holds the bathroom's trash can.

Keep to Yourself

In the same way that the vanity's countertops are divided evenly, so are its side cabinets. Many of the husband's shaving supplies are kept in a portable basket. His toiletries don't fill up the entire cabinet space, so the bottom shelf is given over to spare bath towels and extra bottles of shampoo.

Guest Services

This bathroom is located next to the spare room in my beach house, which means it gets a lot of traffic from visitors all summer. When I built the room during a recent remodeling project, I tried to keep this fact in mind by ensuring that everything my guests could possibly need during their stay would be at their disposal. The space is situated in an attic, so it's fairly compact, with lots of awkward little angles. Rather than fight those, I used them to incorporate additional storage. For example, I built one cabinet into the wall beneath the roof eaves and another into a crawl space to the left of the sink. The classic subway wall tiles and marble mosaic on the floor create a clean feeling that makes everyone, no matter their own tastes, feel comfortable.

Bulk Up on Supplies

Guest bathrooms require frequent cleanings, so I keep a plastic bin with all the necessary supplies in the largest cabinet, built in under the roof eaves. I also store a season's worth of toilet paper in there, so guests never have to make an awkward request for more.

Construct Cavities

I added a recessed shelf between a pair of wall studs that frame the shower. The cavity is only three inches deep, but that's plenty of space for shampoo, conditioner, and body wash that's been decanted into narrow plastic containers; labels identify which is which.

Hide It in Plain Sight

One item guests seem to forget more than any other is a hair dryer. Rather than make them root around in the cabinet for one, I mounted a streamlined unit to the wall beside the sink. I found this compact device through an online supplier of hotel accessories.

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