Spare Room

These days, it's a common conundrum. A couple of emptynesters decide to move from their now-oversized suburban family home into a sophisticated, urban condominium. They're excited about the easy, low-maintenance lifestyle and the ready access to theaters and restaurants. But there's just one problem: Where do they store the possessions they just can't leave behind?

Lisa Peck, principal of the Minneapolis interior design firm LiLu Interiors, has been asked to tackle this problem many times. As baby boomers begin to make the big move into cozier quarters, they're asking for innovative-yet-attractive solutions for stashing essential possessions.

"We're not talking about storing stuff or junk," Peck explains. "We're mostly talking about hobbies, memories, baby photos, keepsakes."

New downtown condominiums may be big on location, but they're often short on storage space, Peck says. "Part of what makes these new condos so attractive to my clients is the fact they are spare and modern, very different from the homes they are leaving," she says. But spare and modern often means fewer closets.

A case in point: Not so long ago, Peck was hired by a couple who had put expanded storage space on the top of their to-do list. Peck's clients - a long-married pair nearing retirement who had launched their children and were ready for a simpler life - had first been attracted to their new two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the Carlyle building in downtown Minneapolis because of its compact size.


"They knew they had less space to work with," Peck says. "Their old place was three times the size.They were happy with that.They wanted to downsize and start over. But they didn't think they should have to sacrifice storage for simplicity."

Before she began drawing up plans for her clients' Carlyle condo, Peck asked to take a look at their old house. "I wanted to get a sense of just how much stuff they needed to build storage for," she says. "I also wanted to get a sense of their personal style."

While the furnishings in their family home were quite traditional - Windsor chairs, floral fabrics - they insisted they wanted to make a change in their new residence, to adopt cleaner, modern lines. And they wanted their built-in storage units to fit this new sensibility.

After a thorough assessment, Peck discovered her clients' storage needs were pretty typical. The husband, an audiophile, wanted space to tuck away his collection of stereo equipment. The wife was a quilter, and she needed a place to stash her rapidly growing fabric supply.Then, there were also linens, family photos, games, books and tons of office files.


The new condo was basically "an empty space," Peck recalls. "The kitchen was there. The wood floor was there. But that was pretty much it." Because interior designers relish the opportunity to work with a blank slate, she was excited to begin the project.

"When we are creating the storage space ourselves, we can custom design it to meet the clients' specific needs," Peck says. Because the storage units are tailor-made, an impressive amount of belongings can fit into a seemingly compact space. "It's a great opportunity to really get creative."

Peck designed large custom storage units for both bedrooms, the home office and the great room.While each piece looks related, the finished effect isn't formal or matchymatchy. The unit has a casual, welcoming air. "My clients wanted their new place to feel very comfortable," Peck says. "They wanted guests to feel like they could stay for a long time." The built-ins, which blend rich wood grains with high-quality craftsmanship, are deceptively spacious.They don't overwhelm the rooms, but they hold everything that's needed - and more.

"Lisa's built-ins made it possible for me to bring in everything I chose to keep from my old house," says Peck's client. "After everything was put away, I even had empty drawers. It's amazing."