Don't let your walls go to waste!“Don’t let your walls go to waste!©

If your living quarters are getting cramped, it’s only natural to look around for new places to stuff your stuff. Live anywhere long enough, and you’ll run out of room; it’s a law of nature. Cars have trunks for the very purpose of making it easy to accumulate appliances, accessories, craft items, décor elements (not yet installed), apparel and any number of sports, entertainment, kid-related, pet-friendly and green essentials. Is it any wonder that people are adding outdoor rooms to their homes and investing in cute baby-barn storage sheds? Before you add a new room to your house, though, take a look up instead of out to see if you can employ some underutilized vertical space for your storage needs and even a few of your design ideas, too.


  1. Stack your Stuff
  2. Add Storage
  3. Decorate with Freestanding Shelving
  4. Add Lofty Furniture
  5. Use Modular Solutions
  6. Plant a Vertical Garden
  7. Embrace Open Shelving
  8. Add Art
  9. Create an Optical Illusion
  10. Reevaluate the Lighting

10: Stack your Stuff

Stackables shouldn’t be a new idea to you. Think of that bunk bed you slept in at camp or in college. The space over your head is going to waste, and filling it by putting useful items on top of one another is a stroke of space-saving genius. The only problem is that getting to the stuff on top and dismantling the pile to get to the stuff on the bottom can be a big pain. This is where good planning comes in. Creating stacked solutions that sit comfortably on one another, or are attached to a supporting frame that makes access easy, offers optimum space utilization with a minimum of inconvenience.

You can buy a stackable washer and dryer. You can even buy platform beds with under-bed storage that effectively stacks your bed on top of your chest of drawers. There are stacking occasional tables with smaller tables nesting underneath taller ones. You can stack shelves, home office file cabinets, CD collections and even electronic components. Evaluate your needs, and then take a look around your local furniture outlet or home improvement store. There are more nifty stackable solutions than you might think.

9: Add Storage

Vertical space is perfect for storage. If your furnishings look drab because you have very few things to draw the eye upward, vertical storage can be a decorative and practical solution. Adding an armoire to your bedroom, an entertainment center to your living room or a baker’s rack to your kitchen are attractive and functional ways to increase the storage in your home by utilizing the vertical space with furnishings that elongate the look of your rooms and use the space more effectively.


Storage is where you find it, and if space is really tight, don’t forget to use the space inside your luggage (well, if you aren’t using it), the area behind the couch, and of course, under the bed.

8: Decorate with Freestanding Shelving

An underused closet is perfect for some freestanding shelves.“An underused closet is perfect for some freestanding shelves.©

Shelves are a natural for vertical storage, and these days there’s a lot to choose from. Collapsible or stackable freestanding bookshelves can make outfitting even an oddly shaped room easier. With prefab shelves available in nearly any height you could imagine, including floor-to-ceiling, your books, magazines and albums will be safe and secure without your having to stow them in the garage, or — horrors — pay for rental storage.

Shelves aren’t just for your wall, either. Think of a linen closet, under a set of stairs or a kitchen pantry, too. The possibilities are endless, especially with all of the custom designs you can dream up.

7: Add Lofty Furniture

The traditional bunk bed arrangement has undergone a transformation in recent years — into a versatile and attractive loft bed. Loft beds keep the top bunk bed, but lose the bottom bunk in favor of an open space that can be converted into a computer workstation, wardrobe or storage area. Loft beds take advantage of every foot of space in your child’s small bedroom and do it with stylish flair. If you have two kids sharing a room, you can now find traditional bunk beds with ladders, and some varieties have the bottom bed rotated 90 degrees from the top bed for an updated treatment that has a tree house look.

There are loft beds for grown-ups, too, and they can make a tiny studio apartment or college dorm a lot roomier and more fun to hang out in.


Before you buy a large furniture piece like a loft bed, armoire or entertainment center, take a look at a few online or software options that will help you plan the perfect layout for your rooms.

6: Use Modular Solutions

Just think of the custom possibilities.“Just think of the custom possibilities.©

Modular storage offers the convenience of prefabricated construction with the flexibility of custom design. Although the most recognizable modular feature in most homes is wire shelving for closets, modular concepts can be employed all over the house. We like modular solutions because they’re easy to install, and when you plan an installation carefully, it can really tailor the space to fit your unique needs. If you want to nestle a hat collection where it’ll be safe until next Easter, stow a canoe or park a 50-pound bag of dog food you want to get up off the floor, you can find modular shelves, bins and dispensers to do it. They work well in the closet, garage, home office, storage shed, mudroom, attic and laundry room. You can find modular solutions that mount to a wall, suspend from a ceiling or hook over a door. They’re an economical way to transform vertical spaces into useful spaces.

5: Plant a Vertical Garden

If you like plants, instead of cluttering your windowsills with pots, install a vertical garden. Lush vertical landscapes grow healthy plants using less real estate. You can also find small hydroponic setups that stack for a wall-mounted column of green — complete with edible herbs and vegetables ready to use in a side salad or stir-fry. If you don’t want to invest in trellises or an expensive hydroponic setup, you can train vines like ivy or pothos (Epipremnum aureum) along hooks tacked to a wall, or grow them in hanging baskets. Houseplants create designer ambience at bargain basement prices. They also help filter the impurities out of indoor air, which makes them a practical as well as an attractive choice. Out on a small patio or deck, a vertical vegetable garden can produce impressive yields in a tiny space with very little work on your part.

Did You Know?

Even if you’ve killed more than your fair share of houseplants in the past, you probably aren’t really toxic to greenery. There are houseplants suited to almost any indoor environment. You just need to find plant varieties that will love hanging out at your house.

4: Embrace Open Shelving

Open shelves will force you to keep things nice and tidy.“Open shelves will force you to keep things nice and tidy.©

We’ve talked about freestanding shelving and modular storage, but these options aren’t the only way people are getting organized by going vertical. Open shelving uses the notion of hiding things in plain sight to transform common objects into decorative collections. It’s easier than it sounds. You probably paid a bundle for your good dishes and serving bowls, but how often do they actually see the light of day? If you keep them on open shelves, they beautify your kitchen or dining area and are still ready for your next dinner party.

Once you start evaluating your stuff as the raw material for an attractive collage or collection, you might see new potential in those leftover skeins of yarn or your spouse’s pile of matchbooks. Open shelves put your stuff out there, and that can be challenging. Anything that’s too unattractive, small or redundant to display can be concealed in a decorative box, basket or bag. Floating shelves, traditional wall shelves and even shadow boxes work well as open shelving. Once you get used to the idea, you’ll find uses for them in lots of places you wouldn’t have considered before, like over a window or door, in the bathroom, in an unused corner or over a chest of drawers. You’ll also start to develop a new appreciation for color, texture and outline as you arrange and rearrange your shelves to meet your changing needs.

3: Add Art

If you’ve ever installed a painting behind your sofa, you know that art is often displayed at eye level or slightly above or below. The idea of putting art in unexpected places, like elevating it to ceiling height or suspending it from the ceiling, is a bit unexpected. Art has the wonderful capacity to surprise and delight us, wherever it’s displayed, so why not go for it? If you have more wall art than spaces to display it, hang it — up. Hanging artwork near the ceiling, leaning it against a floating shelf, or even mounted pieces below waist height can grab the viewer’s attention and make him see the real merit in that modern, traditional or folk art masterpiece. We like the idea of suspending framed stained glass pieces over little used windows and hanging coordinating framed prints in horizontal rows over tall headboards. Bare walls are no fun; give yours some character.

Did You Know?

You don’t have to spend a fortune for wall art. Rugs, quilts, plates, plaques and even eye-catching fabric that’s been stretched over a frame can make attractive, inexpensive artwork.

2: Create an Optical Illusion

When you have more vertical space in your home than you know what to do with, you may want to make all that airiness less noticeable. Large rooms with high ceilings can look elegant, but they can also appear cold and unwelcoming. To create a cozier atmosphere, try painting your ceiling a darker color than your walls. Avoid creating strong vertical lines with window treatments and wallpaper. To downplay the height of the room, think horizontal. Add a chair rail, use shorter window treatments and create strong horizontal influences with shelving and wall art groupings.

1: Reevaluate the Lighting

To maximize your vertical space, be smart with your lighting. Instead of using tabletop task lighting that keeps the light low on the walls, use track lights. Track lighting can update the look of your rooms and make it much easier to change the illumination to make a play room, family room or craft room more flexible and functional. Track lights don’t look like oversized tin cans anymore, and you don’t necessarily need an electrician to connect them, either. You can even find fixtures that plug into your existing outlets for a fast in easy installation.


Need a quick, inexpensive way to make your small space look less cramped? Switch out a table lamp for a floor lamp. The taller lamp will redistribute the light upward, eliminating some bulk. The update will give you more table space, too.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • How to Furnish a Small Space
  • Small Space Design
  • How to Make the Most of a Studio Apartment
  • Decorating and Design
  • 5 Ways to Maximize Bathroom Storage Space


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