Design & DIY

These cottages maximize every square inch with built-in storage

Part of the charm of a cottage lies in its prized collections: retro VHS tapes, classic board games, or warm blankets. But finding room for these treasures—not to mention more practical considerations such as extra towels for guests—is no easy feat.

This is a lesson that Todd McMillan of Burlington-based Ben Homes took to heart while working with his wife, Kristen, to envision their family’s shipping container cottage on the Muskoka River. “Especially if you live in a small space, you want to keep it tidy—and that takes storage,” he says. “It’s about maximizing every square inch.”

His advice? “Figure out what you’ll need space for, then plan around that.” Sure enough, the shelving and drawers that he and Kristen integrated into their cabin’s ingenious bunk bed setup include dedicated areas for all their essentials. “Linens, my keys, our kids’ German animal figurines—they all have a place,” McMillan says.

Jeremy Spurgin, the founder of Portland studio Outside Architecture, aspired to similar efficiency when he designed a family’s compact Oregon retreat. In the living room, he worked with Portland casework builder Spacecraft to develop built-ins that conceal AV clutter while highlighting favourite books and curios.

After finding out that one of the cabin’s owners works as a librarian, Spurgin installed a rolling ladder that grants access to an upstairs storage loft and two rows of vintage lockers mounted above the doorway. “We had originally planned a custom wood cabinet for that space,” he says. “But our client found those lockers for $500 on Craigslist as we were working through the design, and they’re just a much cooler solution. When he went to buy them, he had to sort through them to get ones that were in better condition, so the numbers are all random and not in order.” Framed in plywood, they now sit tucked into the eaves, supported by the massive header beam below. In true librarian fashion, the owners carefully catalogue each locker’s contents in a corresponding binder.

The Douglas fir wall system that architect Marc Boutin designed for his family’s cottage on Vancouver Island is another well-ordered marvel, incorporating overhead cabinets, pull-out drawers, and fold-down beds. Proof that handsome built-ins can be their own showpiece, “it’s almost a nod to boat architecture, where there’s a level of pragmatism to the storage, but it’s just one clean surface,” he says.

Boutin does have one point of caution for anyone exploring adding built-ins to their cottage: “The more storage you have, the more you’ll fill it.”

Eric Mutrie is a senior editor at Azure magazine, where he writes about architecture and design.

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