Garage Storage Concepts: Optimizing Your Garage Layout
At VAULT®, we specialize in helping our clients achieve an optimal garage layout. But what exactly does that mean? And what sort of planning and choices go into such an undertaking?
Optimizing a garage layout means selecting cabinet types that ensure the best possible return on investment while maximizing the available space. A successful optimization takes into account the unique character and shape of the space, and finds the best solutions for balancing a customer’s aesthetic preferences with the customer’s budget.
Here is a closer look some of the factors industry pros and homeowners alike should consider during the planning phase, as well as some helpful tips for achieving a winning garage layout.
Go With the Largest Cabinet Size Possible
Why? First, it’s more practical. Simply put, larger cabinet and drawer dimensions make it easier to find items. Instead of having to open up multiple drawers to fish around for a particular tool or fastener, you open up one drawer. As such, one trend that we’re seeing is very large-width drawers, three and four foot in width. This saves you both time and frustration. The same goes for wider cabinets, with wider doors and larger shelves. If you open up a single door to search a four-foot shelf, it’s a far easier task than opening several smaller doors in order to search several two-foot shelves.
Second, selecting larger cabinets is more budget-friendly. It’s always going to benefit a customer financially to choose a larger cabinet over multiple smaller cabinets to fit the same space. Two cabinets instead of one means twice the parts, twice the labor cost, twice the shipping cost, and twice the installation cost. It’s always going to be beneficial to try to optimize the cabinet layout by ordering the largest cabinet possible.
Embrace the Value and Versatility of Armoires
Armoires reinforce our basic rule of thumb that bigger cabinets are better than smaller cabinets. Armoires are tall vertical storage cabinets, and they are incredible versatile and valuable. They are full-depth and 7 feet tall, but their value really comes into focus when you compare them to their most likely alternative. That would be combination of a full-depth base cabinet and a shallow depth wall cabinet (shallow so you don’t bang your head on it). Compared to the armoire, this combination would give you less depth, a useless void between the two cabinets, and the significantly higher cost of two units (plus the added wall cabinet installation cost).
The armoire, on the other hand, offers unmatched size, value, and flexibility. It’s great for stowing bulky items that are often very difficult to store, things like gardening equipment, sporting goods, children’s toys, Rubbermaid containers, boxes, buckets, paint cans, and even clothes. As such, the armoire’s value translates to a wide range of customers. It’s one cabinet that should absolutely be part every single layout. 24 percent of all the cabinets we build are armoires, and for very good reason – their value simply can’t be beat.
One quick tip if you (smartly) do choose to include armoires to your layout: segment them. Building what’s called a segment into armoires is going to allow you to better organize your contents and maximize the cabinets’ flexibility even further. For example, you could add segments in order to store skis on one side while placing shelves on the other for ski boots, helmet, and goggles. If you’re a motorcyclist or bicyclist, segments can allow you to more easily store riding equipment or clothing. With the versatility of an armoire, the possibilities are endless.
Avoid Corner Cabinets
At VAULT®, we do our best to steer clients away from corner cabinets because they have a very high cost and a very low return on investment. Corner cabinets do have visual merits, as they can allow you to span a countertop from one wall to another without obstruction. However, the lack of functionally is just too much to overcome. Consider a corner kitchen cabinet. Without a Lazy Susan installed, it has very limited practicality. It’s very difficult to reach the back of the cabinet, and the entrance door has to be very small, hindering accessibility even more.
A garage corner cabinet comes with the same drawbacks as a kitchen corner cabinet. You end up with a very deep cabinet, either three or four feet wide on both adjoining walls, and it’s full of dead or hard-to-access space. Instead of cabinets, we most often recommend installing TVs in garage corners. You can read our more in-depth article about garage television placement here.
Understand the Limitations of Wall Cabinets
We’ve already discussed how great armoires are and how impractical corner cabinets are. That said, if we were to rank cabinet types based on overall value and necessity, it would look like this: armoires, drawers, wall cabinets, corner cabinets.
After armoires, drawers come in second because they are a necessity for storing power tools and hand tools. Wall cabinets, on the other hand, are not a necessity. While there is a potential benefit of having wall cabinets over a work station – for storing things like aerosol cans, cleaning supplies, or car care equipment – there are also some significant limitations. Because a wall cabinet has to be recessed 12 inches from base cabinets (so you don’t bang your head on them), their shallow depth really does limit what can be stored in them.
While they might not be a necessity, wall cabinets certainly do look attractive if your budget allows for their inclusion in your layout. But the most import thing, as always, is to examine your space, budget, and needs and determine which combination of cabinets is going to be of most value to you. And the limited depth of wall cabinets, in our opinion, hurts their versatility and overall value. Therefore, at VAULT® we guide our clients to focus on the most important cabinets first: armoires and base cabinets. And if the client has the budget to include wall cabinets over a work surface, that’s certainly an option as an added feature to the base layout.
Opt for Doors and Drawers
The reason why a well-designed garage looks really organized is because everything’s behind a door or a drawer. When things are out in the open – on open shelving, on hooks, in baskets – the space as a whole will often look cluttered and disorganized as a result. Using a combination of armoires, base cabinets, and wall cabinets instead of open storage will allow you to stow items and present a more organized space, overall.
The other drawback of leaving items out in the open is that they will quickly collect dust and dirt, especially in a garage. So for these two reasons – organization and item upkeep – we generally steer clients away from open storage. It’s the same thinking that goes into kitchen storage, where items out in the open – utensils, plates, baking pans – would collect dust while creating a “cluttered” feel. This is why you generally won’t find baskets of soccer balls or baseball bats or rakes or shovels in higher end garages. Those spaces tend to conceal such items out of plain view, creating a more organized and pleasant environment in the process.
Consider Your Countertops
Countertops may seem like an afterthought and mainly a function of the cabinet choices you’ve made. But it’s important to make conscious choices about countertop size and placement. Overall, we find that countertops that are 72 inches (6 feet) in width or smaller just don’t serve clients very well. One of the places you can possibly get away with a four-foot countertop is as a resting place before you’re entering the home, where you’re maybe setting groceries down. But that’s a rare exception, and in almost any other situation – especially in a workspace – six feet or larger is ideal. At VAULT®, we make countertops in any sizes up to as wide as 144 inches (12 feet) in length, which is a massive countertop.
Complete a Thorough Mental Inventory of Your Storage Needs
We encourage our clients to complete a thorough mental inventory of everything that will need to be stored in their cabinets, and then we help them fit those needs to the different cabinet types. Our goal at VAULT® is to guide customers to selecting the fewest number of cabinets that they absolutely need to meet their storage needs. Then, if after storing items and filling their cabinets they still find they have things out in the open – items still in boxes, a garage still in disarray – then they can always order more cabinets. So we really encourage clients to visualize their storage needs and layout beforehand, and we guide them through this as much as needed. Here’s an article and video we’ve put together about laying out cabinet placement with painters tape to help you understand your storage needs and the possible solutions.
Assess Your Need For Drawers (Which Cost More than Doors)
Once you complete your mental inventory and understand what needs to be stored, the next step is determining which cabinets your items will be stored in. At this phase, it’s important to grasp that different cabinets have a different cost. Cabinets with doors are going to be the least expensive cabinet to buy. By comparison, cabinets with drawers are more expensive, and it’s for a pretty obvious reason. Simply put, there are a lot more parts that go into making drawers, as a drawer body is inherently one of the most challenging cabinet parts to manufacture. That’s because a single drawer body includes two sides, a front, a back, the drawer handle, and two drawer slides. An eight-drawer cabinet, then, has 8 drawer bodies, which means 16 drawer slides, 8 drawer faces, 8 handles, and so on. And whenever you have a lot of parts you have a lot of costs and a lot of assembly time.
So this is another reason for clients to really put some time and thought into that mental inventory before selecting cabinets. It’s really crucial to understand what has to be stored in drawers (and what doesn’t) in order to minimize the number of drawers that will be specified for storage of things like socket sets, wrenches, screwdrivers, fasteners, etc. – anything that you’re going to put in a drawer. This includes power tools, too, and anything you’re that going to plug into an air hose, that is battery operated, or that is going to be plugged it into a wall socket. Those items will also typically be stored in drawers, not on shelves.
Bottom line, make mental inventories of things you’re going to store and ask, is this going to be placed on a shelf? Is it going to be placed over my head? Or is it going to be placed in a drawer below a countertop where I can quickly access it? Those questions will help you accurately assess your need for drawers, and will help you better keep on budget by avoiding drawers you don’t need.
Understand the Benefits of a Symmetrical Layout
At VAULT®, we’re often asked, What are the most common layouts used in a typical garage? The simple answer is, we try to place everything where it belongs. One simple fact is that most people are going to find it most convenient to work at the dead center of a work surface. And so it makes the most sense to flank the center of the work surface with drawers on the left and drawers on the right – that way, when someone is working at that countertop and they need to find a tool, they can open up a drawer without having to step aside to do so.
As such, many of the layouts we put together for clients are built with that kind of symmetry in mind. Symmetry makes sense from a convenience standpoint, but it is also a central factor in creating an aesthetically pleasing layout. We’ll also often place armoires at the ends of a layout to further enhance that symmetry. This creates a nice bookend effect where this substantial cabinet is anchoring the left and the right side of a layout, with base cabinets in between and wall cabinets above. Whenever you have that picture frame effect of left matching right, top matching bottom, that symmetry is really pleasing to the eye.
But this symmetry also places everything where it makes sense to place it. If you need car carry equipment or cleaning supplies you just reach above your head and they’re right where you need them. And aerosol cans and cleaning supplies and parking equipment fit perfectly in a wall cabinet, so having those overhead makes sense, as well. And farther off to either side, you’ve got bulkier items that you need less-frequent access to – Rubbermaid containers, paint cans, sporting goods, etc. – stowed in the armoires. So having bulky storage off to the left and right side of your work area, and then having drawers within this work area, simply makes the most sense.
Understand How Symmetry Can Affect Your Budget
An average cabinet layout in a garage is going to be anywhere from 15 to 20 feet in overall length. That’s a perfect width for the back wall of a garage, which is typically where most garage cabinetry is located. Extended layouts obviously mean you have more options in terms of mixing and matching cabinets. While total end-to-end symmetry is usually an option, breaking with symmetry can help you stay on budget – especially when you keep in mind that in many cases two smaller cabinets can swapped out for one larger one. Let’s look at an example of how we might approach a layout in order to balance budget and symmetry while maximizing value.
Let’s say a client comes to VAULT® and says, I want 10 feet of armoire storage. This client has perfect symmetry in mind, envisioning 24-inch and 36-inch cabinets on the left and matching 24-inch and 36-inch cabinets on the right. But the client is also concerned about budget. In this particular case, we’d suggest optimizing by replacing the pair of 24-inch cabinets in the center with one 48-inch cabinet. It’s a different look, but it has more value because the layout is composed of three cabinets instead of four.
But, of course, these are just two possible configurations out of many. Ultimately, clients have to ask themselves what they want to accomplish. Do they want to achieve total symmetry and the aesthetics that come with it? Or is their overarching goal functionality and getting the best return on investment? Or is it a certain degree of both? Whatever the answer, it should be weighed with all the other factors discussed above in order to plan out an optimized, customized, perfect garage.
Contact VAULT® for Your Free Garage Design Consultation
We hope these tips have helped set you up for success. An optimized garage takes thoughtful planning, and it also takes a seasoned eye – one that’s seen it all, as far as garage design is concerned. Luckily, VAULT® is here to help you or your clients craft the perfect garage.
For over a decade we’ve been designing America’s finest garages, combining layout, lighting, flooring, doors, and furnishings into custom-built spaces that leave our clients (and their neighbors) in awe.
Best of luck on all your current or future projects. If we can be of any help in your garage design endeavors, we’d love to hear from you at (310) 622-4477.