A Professional Organizer’s New Construction Recommendations

Blueprint for a kitchen. A professional organizer's new construction recommendations.

Building or renovating a home is a large undertaking. The excitement of having something new and improved is often tempered by the pressure of having to make a lot of decisions. Professionals often can offer valuable information. Realtors know what sells, architects know what flows, and designers know what appeals. From years working with clients, I’ve learned a few things about what functions. Therefore, in no particular order, I’m sharing a professional organizer’s new construction recommendations.

Closet Organizing Systems

Yes, these are expensive, and when you are in the middle of a renovation, it may seem like a luxury that can be postponed. But a closet that has nothing more than a single shelf and a bar across the top means wasted space. If possible, hire a company to consult with you and install a system before you move in. Be aware that builders will often try to convince you to allow them to put in the shelving, but their systems are often made of wood (vulnerable to warping and chipping paint) and tend not to be universally adjustable.

Pull-Out Drawers

Cabinetry is lovely, but if you have to bend down and crawl around to access items, it can be frustrating. Adding glide-out shelving to lower cabinetry, the space under the sink, and the corner cabinet of a kitchen can make a world of difference in your ease of access to (and thus enjoyment of) areas you touch every day. If you want to add this feature but are not undertaking a full renovation, consider calling a company such as Shelf Genie to talk about retrofitting your existing cabinets.

File Drawers and Usable Desk Drawers

I’ve been in many homes where a desk was part of the design, but file drawers were not. Even in this age of “paperless,” most people benefit from having at least one file drawer, preferably more. Also, when you are designing drawers, be sure to make sure they are at least two-three inches deep. Drawers that are only one inch in depth are limited in utility.

Mudroom Space

If possible, include a mudroom space in your home. A few cubbies with hooks and drawers will pay dividends for years to come. Open space beneath a bench is helpful for accommodating the shoes that people tend to kick off. Entryway storage space is so valuable that it may be worth sacrificing square footage elsewhere to ensure you have it. If you can’t carve out space inside your home, get creative to see where else you might be able to allocate space for this function. For instance, storage for shoes and coats in the garage near the entry door can work well.

A Pantry

At some point, pantries unfortunately went out of style. While kitchen cabinetry can certainly accommodate food, there is something so functional about a separate closet that can hold food, appliances, and bulk items. Design in a pantry if you possibly can, and add completely adjustable shelves that can be easily washed. Resist the temptation to put in extra-deep shelves. Most pantry items comfortably fit within a depth of 18 inches. Remember to add structure for smaller items, such as clear bins for loose bags/packets, wire bins for large bags of snacks, can organizers, risers, turntables, etc. I always encourage people to add as many shelves as possible, maximizing the productivity of your vertical space.

If your kitchen won’t allow for a pantry room, consider a pantry cabinet, or even adding storage to existing cabinetry. I’m loving this smart use of space by designer Tom Howley.

Tom Howley Kitchens

Lastly, if you are renovating a kitchen, I’d like to let you know that I offer a kitchen planning service to help you ensure that you have accounted for all your items before you sign off and start construction. This is a virtual service and proves very helpful for avoiding mistakes and making it easy to unpack into your new space.

A Garage Organizing System

If you have a garage, you might as well make it work well. Think about this when you are in the design phase, considering exactly what you need to store in this space (e.g., hockey bags, cars, workbench, tools, lawn mower, snow blower, car-top carrier, etc.). There are options to fit a variety of budgets, including:

Another piece of advice is to design your garage bays with as much space between them as possible. Wider bays are very handy for storing trash and recycle containers between the cars, as well as for accommodating large items like sports nets and wagons.

While everyone’s needs vary, make it a priority to include this expense in your budget and get the structure in place during the construction phase so you can unpack efficiently right from the start.

A Laundry Room

Everyone has laundry, and having a nice space in which to work is a real plus. If you can, make space for a laundry room that is clean and well-lit, has space to store detergent/bleach/fabric softener, an ironing board (one that folds down from the wall is even better!) and a flat surface for folding. It is a bonus if you can establish this room on the same floor as the bedrooms, since there is where people tend to accumulate dirty laundry. [Note: always ensure upstairs laundry facilities are placed on a floor with drainage in the event of a flood.] A stack unit in a closet works if this is all you have space for, but consider where you will keep supplies if you can’t keep them in the laundry room.

If you have ample space, the laundry room also works well as a storage location for household supplies like lightbulbs, batteries, flashlights, and seasonal supplies. If you have a folding surface, it can also double well as a wrapping station, so think about an over-the-door wrapping supply area or bins and drawers underneath the counter.

Electrical Outlets

There are code requirements for outlet spacing, but these are often insufficient. Plan now for extra outlets while the walls are opened up. For example, most people benefit from double outlets underneath a desk. You might want to consider adding built-in surge suppression to avoid having to hide the large/unattractive aftermarket options. If you are building or renovating a garage space, be sure to include charging for electric vehicles.

Additionally, this is an easy time to put outlets in the back of bathroom drawers. These can be handy for storing things like hairdryers.

The Seana Method

Also, if you like to put electric candles in the windows at Christmas, put an outlet under each windowsill, minimalising the need for extension cords and outlet multipliers.

An IT/Broom/Vacuum Closet

Houses have a lot of electronics these days, everything from routers to printers. Setting aside a closet with a few adjustable shelves can offer a great solution, providing the perfect place in which the household “technology” can rest within easy access. For example, most printers are wireless now, so having one in the this closet can serve the whole household. Make sure to install plenty of electrical outlets here, and be sure to label each piece of equipment so that you can find it easily should there be an issue.

Similarly, most homes typically have a need to store tall/narrow objects such as a vacuum cleaner, electric broom, and/or mop. These items can share space well with electronics since they don’t take up a lot of width. A shelving unit in half of the closet and tall storage on the other half can work quite well.

First Floor “Zoom Room”

Ever since the pandemic, the need for a quiet space from which to do a Zoom™, Teams™, or Facetime™ call has exploded. Generally speaking, these rooms don’t need to be large, and can even be as small as an oversized closet. Important aspects of this space include:

  1. Ability to close a door
  2. Attractive backdrop
  3. Sufficient lighting and/or window in the front
  4. Surface to hold computer/screens
  5. Soundproofing
  6. Electrical outlets

Consider designing one of these off the living room, kitchen, or dining room for quick access when needed.

First Floor Office

If you have the capacity, a first floor office is a plus. In my experience, people can be “slow” to carry office supplies to an upstairs room. Paperwork and the like often end up in piles on the kitchen counter or entry table. An entire room may be a luxury, but in the current work-from-home environment, such a space will certainly improve your home’s value.

If you have this room, be mindful about file and supplies storage, video call setups, lighting, electrical capacity, and cord management. You can see more tips about home offices here.

Built-in Shelving in Remote Locations

Built-in shelving is nothing new. Many people design it into living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms. At the same time, I rarely see it considered when designing remote storage locations, such as an attic or basement. While I understand that each person’s storage needs are different, I find clients frequently need to acquire shelving to improve the storage in these spaces.

If you are building or renovating, why not consider if some large/deep shelving can be added right from the start. For instance, add a bank of shelving under the lower part of a slanted roof in the attic. Or build in shelving along one of the tall wall for storing banker boxes of tax files. This is the time to think about a cedar closet for out of season clothing as well. If you have multiple bins of holiday decorations, section off an area of your remote storage with shelves to accommodate them.

Window Coverings

One of the first things people need in bedrooms and bathrooms is privacy. Admittedly, this can be a design element, with special attention given to color, fabric, and style. However, knowing that you will have the need for privacy right away, consider whether you might want to plan now for shades that can fill the need until the time that you select curtains or drapes. If you have fancy, arched, or elevated windows, be aware that shades can quickly become a line item on your budget.

This is also something to consider in a home office or videoconference location where a bright ray of sunshine might make working difficult. These don’t have to be fancy, but perhaps consistent throughout the renovated space, easily opening and closing as needed.

Heated Floors

This one may just be for me, since I am always cold, but heated floors are wonderful. They have also come down in price significantly in the past couple of decades, so they might be more within reach than you think. You might consider these having to do more with design than organizing, but to me, organizing is about anything that improves the function and enjoyment of a space.

Heated floors are perfect for spaces which tend to run cold, such as a sunroom, room with a lot of windows, room on a concrete slab, and bathrooms. There are even options now for heating outdoor walkways, which would sure be great in a northern climate prone to snow and ice.

Snoring Chamber

This one might make you laugh, but again, focusing on function, I think this one might have merit.

There is an increasing acceptance of the idea that sometimes couples need to sleep separately. Maybe one person is a loud snorer, or perhaps one is quite restless, upsetting the sleep of his/her partner. In these situations, it is increasingly common for one person to walk down the hall to a guest room or to crash on a couch. I’m envisioning an alternative sleep location that is part of the primary bedroom, but can be isolated if needed. This allows both individuals to enjoy the space without bothering one another.

*     *     *  

Renovating or building requires a lot of planning, patience and money. An investment in functionality will ensure that your space functions as well as it looks.

What area or aspect of your home are you most thankful for?

Seana's signature

26 thoughts on “A Professional Organizer’s New Construction Recommendations”

  1. This is exactly what new home builders need to ask their contractor at the beginning of the project. This detail includes all the areas that in retrospect homeowners wish for in the home. Thank you for consolidating this and I know this will be a functional, well-used resource.

    One other area that I recommend is a home office. It could be combined with the zoom room if needed. Homeowners need one spot to work on administrative paper work, defined for this specific work.

  2. I haven’t been involved in many reno projects, but I once had the opportunity to design my own kitchen (sadly, I only got to enjoy it for a couple of years), and I arranged for a built-in desk with two file drawers, and I was very proud of thinking of it – as well as a pantry.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Free Keyword Research ToolsMy Profile

    1. Sad that you didn’t get to enjoy it for long. I had the same experience! We renovated a kitchen and sold the house not long after. I figured at least I had left a nice setup for the next person, right?

  3. Great advice! Thanks for sharing, Seana!

    Our biggest construction project in recent years was the remodeling of our kitchen. It required a complete plan, including meal arrangements. During the process, I also discovered that having a small cabinet with a pull-out drawer was useful for storing excess papers that may be needed for future events or activities. The cabinet is only 18 inches wide, but it helps keep the kitchen free of paper clutter.

  4. Well-thought out and fabulous suggestions, Seana. Your kitchen suggestions really resonated with me. I can’t tell you how many kitchens I’ve been in where the corner cupboard is absolutely wasted space. I recommend Shelf Genie all the time to retrofit those spaces.

    I also love your advice about the mudroom. So often people forget they need a place for the bags, coats, umbrellas, and shoes they come inside with and let’s not forget the dog and their leash, etc.

    1. Ah, great reminder about having space for dog/pet supplies! That’s a terrific addition to the leash. Every “family member” needs storage space near the door. 🙂

  5. What an excellent group of suggestions! I love them all. And a “snoring room?” I never heard that term, but I understand what you referred to.

    The Shelf Genie has a great product line for retrofitting cabinets. The pullouts make excellent use of the space and improve accessibility. I have a few cabinets in our kitchen, and I’d love to add those. It’s not a top priority, but maybe one day. 🙂

    Heated floors or radiant heat are the best! We live in a 1950’s house. It’s a one-story house built on a slab. All floors, except for the main bathroom (because it was added later,) have radiant heat. It’s an even heat, which feels great on your feet.

    1. Having radiant heat when your house is on a slab makes all the difference! It really ends up saving on heat because it is so efficient, and right near your body where you need it. How wonderful!

  6. Oh my goodness, Seana, this is wonderful. So many people do the equivalent of buying “off the rack” plans for their homes and don’t consider what additions could be useful for them. I agree with everything you suggest and particularly love the outlets at the back of drawers for hair dryers, the “Zoom room,” and the pull-out drawers. My parents designed their home (based on the architecture of our friends’ home in the new neighborhood) in 1970/71, and it was very modern for that era. Although this was before “glide out” shelves, she had them install lower wooden shelving that pulled out easily; she also had them install a 5-foot, 6-shelf metal Lazy Susan in a cabinet area about the size of a phone booth, and it acts as the primary pantry. In the corner of the kitchen where two cabinet spaces come together, there’s another two-shelf metal Lazy Susan that makes more pantry space that would otherwise have gone unused.

    Three spaces/concepts I’d like to recommend you add:

    1) a front coat closet — I’ve been shocked since I moved to the south 30 years ago to see how many homes, particularly post-1990 builds, that have no “guest closets” in which to hang family and guest coats. A mud room is fine for those who enter through the garage, but a formal front-hall closet is a must for cold-weather climates, and I can’t fathom why they’ve been discontinued.

    2) a laundry chute — We had one in the house where I lived as a child; my sister’s second-floor window had what looked like a cubby, a cut-out in the wall about the size that one person could sit and read, but the seat lifted up and it was a hidden laundry chute to the basement, so no laundry had to be carried from the second floor to the basement laundry room.

    3) a dumbwaiter — A small number of my clients have had their homes built with elevators, making it easier to age in place, and the cost has certainly come down over the years. But even installing a small dumbwaiter can save so much effort in terms of carrying laundry, meal trays, and just general clutter up and down flights of stairs, making the home safer and more efficient.

    I’m going to save this post for all of my clients looking to do a new construction or even a remodel. Great post!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Blending Libraries: How To Organize Books with Your SweetheartMy Profile

    1. My grandmother had a laundry chute in her home. It did make the laundry process easier. I spent many years (when my kids were little) carrying all the laundry down two flights of stairs and around tight corners. It was hard. So hard, that when we renovated our current home, we moved the laundry upstairs. It is hard to say how much more pleasant the laundry function is now. So easy to just pop down the hall and toss a load in!!

      Good idea on the guest closet. You are right that many new homes lack this space. I have added a few free-standing coat racks for clients because they have been missing this space.

      A dumbwaiter is so fun. What a great idea to think of putting that in when the walls are opened up. It could make a big difference for anyone with mobility challenges!

      Thanks for sharing these great additions. 🙂

  7. Loving all of these ideas! In my last house I had to redo the kitchen because of a leak that rotted part of the floor – then as they were working on that they realized my flooring had asbestos! Now the whole floor was taken out.
    I got used to my refrigerator in my living room for over a month. But this was my chance to make this tiny kitchen my own. I had the huge old square water heater replaced with a tankless heater. I lifted all my cabinets onto legs so I could clean under them (think IKEA) and raise the level. I put in a large double sink. And even more wonderful ideas.
    When this was finished, I started returning items to the kitchen as I used them. After a month, I saw what was not returned and got rid of quite a lot of excess. Loved that little kitchen after that.

    1. Sorry for the asbestos complication. I had a client who had to redo basically her whole first floor and basement because the ice maker broke and flooded the first floor and basement. What a hassle!

      I’m short, so when we did our kitchen, I minimized upper cabinetry (because I can’t reach most of it LOL).

      I love how you slowly returned items to your kitchen. Such a smart way to figure out what you truly use, and what you could let go of. And how wonderful to end up with a kitchen that you love – that’s the best!

    1. Thanks, Hazel. My husband and I “agreed” that a snoring chamber would be nice. I hate him sleeping in another room, but then again, I love being able to sleep LOL! The Zoom room idea appeals to me because you can store your stuff anywhere, but it is handy to have a space designed specifically to work well on these calls. As long as you can hook up or access your content, these could be a great solution, right? I wish I had one!

    1. If you have the option, I think it is worth the effort. Getting that charging setup configured can be an issue when it comes to buying your next vehicle, so great to have that ready to go, right?

  8. It amazes me some of the setups (or lack thereof) that I’ve found in new construction. I’ve gone into buildings that call themselves “luxury condos” that only have a single hanging bar and cheap wire shelving that will collapse if you put too much weight on it. I’m not sure what their definition of luxury is, but in my opinion, it should at least include an adjustable closet system. These days you can get one for every budget!

    Many also offer tiny kitchen areas, a dedicated pantry is unheard of in some of the places I organize. But it sure would be nice if they would be added in, even just a thin cupboard. Another addition to think about…adding shelves that can hold smaller appliances like mixers, instant pots, and air fryers.

    I saw Julie above mention dumbwaiters and now my head is spinning on where I can add one of those in the home I just moved into. We went from everything being on one floor, to having two floors. And of course the laundry is on a separate floor from our bedroom. So of course stuff stays in the dryer longer than we’d like.

    This is quite the thoughtful list. Some homes may be smaller and not able to accommodate all the special areas (like a separate Zoom room), but thinking about these needs can help think of designs that will allow the space to serve multiple functions.

    1. I definitely know that not everyone has the space to accommodate all of these ideas, but when you are building or renovating is the time to consider these, right? I agree that so many luxury apartments and condos have tiny kitchens, no pantries, and lackluster closets. These are the things we touch every day, and I think they are so important!

  9. This is a very useful post and love all the different suggestions you mentioned. If you have a small closet and you are a handy person, you can buy a closet system from Home Depot and install it ourself, it will save you money for sure.
    What a wonderful post, thanks for sharing all these ideas. I always believe if people can have things added when building a house, it will still be cheaper from trying to add it later.

    1. Not only cheaper than having to do it later, but also so much more convenient, right? When you move in, you want to start unpacking and enjoying, not having to go back and retrofit storage. 🙂

  10. Love these ideas! I have some of them in our current home and we did hire a closet company to maximize the space. We added much needed storage cabinets in the garage which accommodate our tax records, back up storage for those trips to Costco, a place for entertainment items we use only occasionally, and numerous other items such as Christmas decorations. It has been wonderful to have such easy access to those things. We also don’t have a mud room but had the closet people put in an area where we can hang coats, place boots , and a shelf for bins for gloves, hats etc. just outside the door from the garage to the house. All those things you mentioned have such value that we don’t think about when building or remodeling. I have always been puzzled by the fact that most homes make no arrangement for a place to put a vacuum cleaner or dust mops. Many homes don’t have basements where cleaning supplies can be stored. In our last home we kept the vacuum in the coat closet in the entry. Not a good solution. I think just about everybody could use some of you ideas sometime in their lives. Thanks for putting this out there.

    1. I can’t tell you how many people keep their vacuum cleaner in the entry/coat closet – so common! It’s one of the few places with sufficient vertical space!

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