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Is It Storage or Art? If It’s Hard to Tell, You’re Doing It Right.

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Is It Storage or Art? If It’s Hard to Tell, You’re Doing It Right.
Is It Storage or Art? If It’s Hard to Tell, You’re Doing It Right.

What to do when you have too much stuff and not enough storage space? Celebrate it. Storing some of that overflow out in the open can be a good solution when you’ve got a small space with few closets.

Well-planned open storage — with wall shelves, pegs, hooks and other accessories — does two important things. “It’s provides functionality,” said Natalie Papier, the founder of Home Ec., an interior design firm in Charlotte, N.C., and a host of the reality TV show “Artfully Designed.” And “it can look like art on your walls.”

Here’s how she and other designers turn what you may think of as clutter — that athletic gear, those personal mementos, your out-of-season coats and boots, old books and records — into something you want to show off.

Think of open storage as an opportunity to express who you are — especially when it comes to unwieldy items like guitars, bicycles and surfboards, which can be hard to stuff into closets.

For a client with multiple guitars, Ms. Papier did the obvious thing: She put them front and center, hanging them on the wall in the living room. “I was like, ‘Why hide those in a closet when they’re so important to you and they make a really unique statement?’” she said.

They’re easy to reach when it’s time to play, she added, “and when someone walks in, they get a sense of who lives there right away.”

For collectors of vinyl records, she has mounted shallow picture rails on the wall, creating a place to display favorite LPs. “Record covers are really art,” she said. “It’s also fun to see what you have and rotate them over time.”

For another project, Ms. Papier hung surfboards above the living room sofa. The boards were painted by Frankie Zombie as permanent artworks, she said, but you could do the same thing with surfboards used on a regular basis.

Baseball caps and other personal accessories can quickly pile up and look like clutter. To corral her son’s collection of caps, Ms. Papier installed an arrangement of evenly spaced wooden hooks on his bedroom wall.

“He can see and pick out his favorite hat,” she said. “But it looks like an art installation when he’s not wearing them.”

Even without anything hanging from them, wall hooks can provide an artful display.

When Hilary Matt, a New York-based designer, was furnishing a pool house in Elizaville, N.Y., she created an asymmetrical arrangement of round hooks in various sizes. The hooks can be used to hold almost anything, including tote bags and wet towels, but when they’re empty they resemble a sculptural installation.

“We thought they looked almost like bubbles,” she said.

A peg wall pushes the idea of wall hooks a little further, creating a larger composition that provides the flexibility to change the position of the hangers over time.

For a bachelor pad in Calgary, Canada, Rebecca St. John, an interior designer, added a floor-to-ceiling peg wall made from plywood in the awkward entrance hall. Now the owner has a place to store his bike, helmet and skis. He also has shelves that serve the same function as an entrance console.

“When designing small spaces, we often look at how we can go vertical,” Ms. St. John said, rather than just putting things on the floor. In this case, she added, “We wanted it to be central to his open-concept space — and we wanted it to be beautiful.”

One wall shelf adds some storage and display space. Many shelves, grouped together, can offer a lot more.

Maryana Grinshpun, a principal of Mammoth, a New York design-build company, used wall shelves to vastly expand the storage space in a compact alcove studio apartment near Union Square, in Manhattan.

Using clear acrylic shelves on custom metal brackets, she designed free-form shelving to create a breakfast-bar area with dish storage in an underused entrance hall. Another grouping of shelves offers a place to stash speakers, books and CDs above a do-it-all media center.

“In smaller spaces, floor-to-ceiling millwork units can feel claustrophobic,” Ms. Grinshpun said. “We were looking to find something a little lighter.”

For another project, she used wall-mounted shelving units from Vitsoe in place of a bedside table and more of the units in the living room, where they neatly contained vintage stereo equipment, lamps and decorative objects.

Like many people, Ghislaine Viñas, a New York-based interior designer, relishes a great vintage find. “I love furniture, and I end up picking up weird little pieces at thrift stores and garage sales,” she said. “It’s just what I do, but I often don’t have homes for them right away.”

Faced with a collection of stools, trunks and side tables she didn’t know what to do with, as well as books that wouldn’t fit on her bookshelves, Ms. Viñas decided to combine it all into a single, artful vignette against one wall. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to display all these books and these different tables and create a sort of collage,’” she said.

The result was a tidy display with horizontal stacks of books on the various tables. Above the composition, she mounted an artwork by a friend, Alessandra Mortola, that sprouts with upturned copper pipes.

“Whenever I found interesting pods or dried flowers, I just popped them in there,” Ms. Viñas said. “So that was storage for nature finds.”

Even those areas we think of as utilitarian storage spaces can become places to enjoy, Ms. Viñas said. Take the garage, for instance: It’s often a dumping ground for yard tools and sports gear, and yet it’s the first room many people see when they come home.

At a house in Aspen, Colo., Ms. Viñas decided to clean up the garage with red laminate storage closets, putting the focus on the family’s skis, poles and helmets, which are displayed on a wall-mounted rack. When people drive in, she said, “it’s this beautiful jewel box, and totally unexpected.”

Dog beds, cat scratching posts and other pet accessories are usually another afterthought: They tend to sit in the corner, cluttering up a room. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

For a home office in Wayne, Pa., that had been adopted by the resident felines as their own, the founders of Kaminski & Pew, an architecture and design firm, searched out wall-mounted cat beds on Etsy.

“We were having a hard time laying out the room in a way that made sense with the furniture, while accommodating one of those big cat condos, which is what the owners previously had,” said Alexis Pew, who runs the firm with her husband, Kevin Kaminski. “We found these wall-mounted ones that avoid the issue — they just become a sculptural thing on the wall.”

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