The stuff of life
By Stacee Sledge
Whatcom Magazine, February 2007

Creative storage solutions house clothing and collections

“People are desperate for ideas to organize their stuff,” says professional organizer Julie Clarke. “We have more stuff today than ever. We want to accumulate more and more, and yet, even in a large space, it’s difficult to organize what we have.”

Clarke has helped Bellingham-area homeowners cut their clutter for 17 years. You can find organizational inspiration from some of her clients and a Whatcom County couple with a dream closet.

‘It just works’

Dean and Joyce Shintaffer built their home on Lake Whatcom four years ago, in the same spot where Dean, owner of a beer and wine wholesaler, grew up. But the house that stands there today is a far cry from the one his parents bought in 1952.

The couple, both 61, razed that small home and replaced it with a 5,000-square-foot structure with a bright walk-out lower level, a main floor of sky-high ceilings framed in beams and a wall of glass reflected on warm wood floors, topped by a cozy loft. Think cabin style, kicked up several notches.

Wood was salvaged from a massive fir tree that had to make way for the new construction. The couple used its remnants throughout the new home, as fireplace mantels, vertical grain paneling, and as a custom-made dining room table.

Although comparable in size to their former home — the couple raised three boys on a small farm in Ferndale — the new house has something the other did not: closet space.

“Dress shirts would get so wrinkled, being jammed together,” says Joyce of their previous petite master bedroom closet. “Now you can just see everything right there. I can see that there are my white blouses, and there are my t-shirts. You can see what you have, rather than pulling things apart.”

Joyce designed the space, and then hired Custom Closets of Ferndale to install rods, shelving, and a built-in dresser.

The closet is designed with efficiency in mind, rather than aesthetics. “It’s absolutely nothing fancy,” says Joyce. “It just works.”

The C-shaped space has two doors: one from the master bedroom and one from its adjoining master bath. Tucked into the nook of the C is the water closet, entered from the bath.

“The design works great,” says Joyce. “It’s big enough that we can both be in there, but then I can go out one door and he can go out the other. Neither one of us has to move to the side.”

Her favorite feature? The built-in drawers in the closet mean no need for dressers in the bedroom. “I love that the bedroom is uncluttered.”

‘The two of us’

A place for everything, and everything in its place. Jerry and Anita Wiseman’s master closet — an unexpected combo of bathroom and clothes-keeper meshed into one space — embodies just that storage spirit.

Jerry, 57, is chief financial officer and part-owner of Snelson Companies, Inc., a construction-based company in Sedro-Woolley. Anita, also 57, retired from a marketing position in the grocery industry two years ago.

Hovering high above South Hill’s Forest Street, the home’s location made for a project that required creative thinking and an atypical design solution. City building codes combined with the usual cliff-clinging construction complications made creating the new space a challenge.

Enter Charlie Hudson of Hudson Remodeling. “It was just a little warren of walls and rooms down there before,” says Hudson of the lower bedroom level of the home. “We couldn’t go any wider, we could only go out toward the street.” 

Charlie devised a 7-foot-deep addition running across the length of the home, perched on posts 18 feet above grade. The new closet takes up one side of the new space, while a cozy reading nook complete with a spectacular water view fills the other, an extension of the master bedroom.

Throwing one more wrench in the design, a large deck above the proposed addition expanded off the main floor living room above the master bedroom. Code required a 7-foot ceiling height for the new spaces below, but the deck made that impossible. So Hudson added two steps down, dividing the master bedroom from the sitting area, and the bath from the wardrobe space.

“Some people might say it doesn’t give enough privacy, but it’s just the two of us,” says Anita. “It absolutely works for us.”

The built-in maple cabinetry had to be custom made. “Because of the way our stairs turn coming down here,” says Anita, “they had to build them and then take them apart and put them back together” to install them.

Crown molding frames the built-ins and continues down into the hanging clothes and shoe rack area. It’s a tricky installation with the lowered, sloped ceiling but worth the trouble, as it visually ties the two areas together.

“Anita and I worked out how all the space would be used,” says Hudson. “We went over every inch to make sure she’d have enough shoe space, full hang-wear space, and so on.”

The closet offers up shoe storage galore, plus a bounty of hanging rods at just the right height for Jerry and Anita’s clothes. Folded items are tucked away atop a plethora of built-in drawers. A larger, sliding pull-out drawer houses a dirty clothes hamper. There’s even an area devoted to gift wrapping supplies. All of it is tucked away behind warm maple cabinets complemented by heated travertine floors and plush taupe carpet.

“We love it,” says Anita. “I’d live in the closet!”

‘All of a sudden you’ve got 200’

For Keith and Cindy VanderGriend the need for closet organization wasn’t as pressing as devising a way to display the collections that reflect their vibrant personalities in their 1,800-square-foot home. 

High school sweethearts who met at Lynden Christian High School, Keith, a 39-year-old surgeon, and Cindy, a teacher who is currently a stay-at-home mom, 38, have lived in the home with their sons Sam, 10, and Jack, 8, for seven years.

When they first considered buying the lakeside house, Cindy needed convincing. “Keith is the visionary,” she says. “When we drove by, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to look at it.”

One of the biggest challenges of the basement-less home was finding places to stash their stuff. “I kept thinking, This is a house without storage. How are we going to make it work?” says Cindy.

To start, they built a handsome, shingled outbuilding, kept ultra-orderly by recycled doors from the RE Store. Suspended along a steel track, they slide open and closed to hide tools, outdoor gear and sundry sporting equipment.

Inside the home, the same melding of function and fun rules. Order is king, but the three-bedroom house retains a comfortable, cozy atmosphere.

“I don’t like to see the TV; I’ve always wanted it hidden,” says Cindy. So the family’s only television is housed in the guestroom, tucked into a standard closet.

Keith built an IKEA unit inside the tight closet — it wouldn’t have fit any other way. It’s now home to the television, DVDs and other entertainment trappings.

Collections of all kinds are displayed throughout the house, some in unexpected ways.

“Keith is the collector,” says Cindy with a laugh, “but I’m the one who needs order to the collections.”

Built-in shelving in the hallway is lined with rows of antique and medical supply jars that hold Keith’s collections, filled like colorful confetti with agates, beach glass, shells, sand, marbles and bottle caps.

“There was a gentleman I knew growing up who collected agates,” says Keith. “I was always fascinated with how many he had. I’ve been collecting things ever since.”

Keith also collects butterflies and other large flying insects, which he mounts and displays. “We mostly catch those on vacation in Montana. We pass 20 little nets out to all the nephews and go out to the field and scare them up and catch them.”

A slew of old license plates took on new life in the home’s utility room, where the colorful metal plates, from all across the country, play off the galvanized steel used throughout the house.

“You’ve got two license plates and you go, ‘Hey, it’d kind of be fun to have more,’” says Keith. “You just start saving them. And then all of a sudden you realize you’ve got 200. I just thought it would be a fun thing to wallpaper with.”

Each of these resourceful Whatcom County homeowners came up with fitting solutions to their personal storage issues. Yet each project proves that being organized can bring a sense of calm to any home, no matter what the design dilemma.

Stacee Sledge is a Bellingham freelance writer.


Home | Resume | Clients & Projects | Writings | Contact

© 2007 Whatcom Magazine
All rights reserved