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12 Ingenious Storage Lessons from the Shakers

Laundry Baskets at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little

When it comes to organization, there are no better experts than the Shakers. Though their knack for orderliness bordered on fanatical, their clever inventions and storage solutions are still brilliant today, so many years after their heyday. We thought we’d seen it all (peg rails, small-space drying racks), until we visited the Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire and found unexpected solutions around every corner. Here are a few lessons from our visit:

Photography by Erin Little for Remodelista.

1. No corner is too small for storage.

Drying Rack in Window at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: You don’t need a massive space to lead a well-organized life. Instead, think creatively: Here, a swiveling clothes-drying rack is tucked into a tiny, unused window alcove, where the rails can be pulled out to dry laundry in fresh air and sun—and drawn back flush against the wall when not in use.

2. The underside is often under-utilized.

Hooks in Closet at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: A simple idea to steal—line the undersides of shelves, which would otherwise be an unused surface—with hooks. In the kitchen, they can hold mugs and kitchen tools; in the utility closet, as shown here, they can be used to dramatic effect to hang brooms and brushes.

3. If there’s a wall, there’s a storage opportunity.

Cabinetry at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: The Shakers built inventive sets of drawers and cabinets into nearly every room, for nearly every purpose. Here, a built-in china cabinet divides two rooms—and conveniently opens from both sides.

4. There’s a place for everything.

Matchbox on Wall at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Sometimes it’s the small things that stand in the way of feeling truly organized. Where to keep batteries, loose mail, and rubber bands? The Shakers created designated solutions for even the tiniest of things. Here, they hung a small tin box on the wall near a wood stove for keeping matches at hand.

5. Essentials can be built in.

Kitchen Cabinets at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Why buy (and store) something when you could build it in? This hutch in the kitchen of the Shaker’s “dwelling house” has three cutting boards that can be slid neatly into place when no longer in use.

6. Murphy beds aren’t the only collapsible furniture.

Folding Table at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: A tip that’s particularly useful for the small-space or apartment dweller: Don’t overlook collapsible furniture. Here, a pop-up table takes up almost no space when not in use.

7. Less mess means less cleanup.

Yellow Cabinetry at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Famous for coming up with ways to minimize cleaning (a strategy we can get behind), the Shakers installed bins for wood storage right next to their wood stoves, minimizing space for shavings and dirt to fall. If you have a working fireplace, consider sourcing a storage box that will keep wood—and the mess—out of sight.

8. It’s okay when things disappear.

Above: Think beyond front-facing cabinets. A top-opening cabinet in a Shaker bedroom, shown here, stores a mirror and washbasin and opens to become a simple vanity, but transforms into useable surface when closed.

9. Storage boxes don’t need to be unsightly.

Sewing Box and Pin Cushion at Canterbury Shaker VIllage, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Though they rejected ornament, the Shakers realized that form could marry with function. An iconic example: their trademark wooden boxes, which they used to store everything from kitchen essentials to sewing supplies. (Looking for something similar? See High/Low: Oval Shaker Nesting Boxes.)

10. Labels are your friends.

Clothes Storage at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Because they lived communally, in homes of sometimes a few hundred, the Shakers needed to impose rules and systems to keep things running smoothly. One strategy that applies to single-family households as well: Label everything, from cabinets and drawers to baskets and bins. Here, in a room used for storing off-season clothing, every drawer is labeled with a number, to minimize mix-ups.

11. Accidental storage opportunities can be the best.

Bakers Kitchen at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Sometimes, the solution is right in front of you, like this exposed pipe in a kitchen that’s just right for hanging ladles and spoons.

12. There’s no such thing as too many peg rails.

Hanging Brooms at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Among the most famous and versatile of the Shakers’ inventions—the peg rail. These hooks are found in most Shaker rooms and were used to corral everything from brooms to clothing to chairs—and looked artful at the same time.
Chair on Peg Rail at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Use peg rails as a cleaning aid, too. Here, chairs are stored on the wall for easy sweeping, then put back once the floor is clean.
Closet with Peg Rails at Canterbury Shaker Village, Photo by Erin Little
Above: Or, for the maximalist, line a closet in rows of peg rails, for ample storage.

For more lessons from the Shakers, indoors and out, see:

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