Creating Structure with Structure

When it comes to gardens structures, creating structure is possible if you can understand and apply the basic rules for staying organized and efficient — thus my intentional play on the word “structure.”

Years ago when I built my then garage, I did what most people do with any open space: I filled it with junk. Boxes from the attic, old paint cans, undesirable furniture, and let’s not forget all those extra gardening tools and that dusty treadmill. Junk, junk, and more junk”_and this was to be my garage? I had no room to use the space, and I avoided the need to ever go in there.

It wasn’t until a year later when I added some back shelves and created some much-needed order that I was able to really use the treadmill, but days later my neighbors complained about the noise: they heard me singing show tunes. (What, don’t people like show tunes anymore?) Needless to say, the treadmill was out and my singing days were over. Truth be told, I took this time to consider what space should have in order to make it really useful. More windows, for one thing, an interesting floor, and better, decorative shelving were just part of what it needed to make this garage space a place to work and relax away from the main house. The transformation began, and soon my one car garage became know as the garden studio. I gave structure to a structure and got organized along the way.

Today this space offers many ways to enjoy it: as a location for filming and photo shoots, as a workstation to create fabulous floral arrangements and craft projects and even the perfect backdrop for a walk-in bar for my garden parties.

Then came time to turn my attention to my “Mar” shed, housing my gritty garden tools, trash and recycling bins. Here I can keep my gardening and home essentials hidden from the public and perfectly tucked away. And in true Mar fashion, this space has a purpose but also high function and style. Don’t let its stylish look fool you, as once you enter you will find my trash — really! The difference is that it is in a classic galvanized bin. The fact remains, there are order and many creative ways that I maximized this small space.

Large or small, the concepts for creating structure within the structure will be the same regardless of size — size does not matter. Let’s begin with the central concept for these projects: Everything has to have a place, either displayed or stored. A place with a purpose, and a purpose for a place. How to expand on this? Here are my favorite tricks:

Go up, up and up. Let me explain. With a handy ladder already housed inside the shed, I decided to be inspired by the inside of the pitched roof as a way to get things up and away. This was done simply by adding heavy duty hooks to the 2×4 beams. I predrilled the holes to make it easier to install them and in moments my garden baskets, coolers, and buckets had a place to be. All out of the way in an interesting — and practical–solution to get space-hogging things off the ground. 

Use the unexpected. Old, extra shutters became the perfect place to hang and show off my tool collection. They were drilled straight to the wall; I then added small wire garden stakes that I manipulated and twisted into hooks to slide into the louvers. Years ago I had these shutters in my studio, but once I installed the larger windows the shutters needed to find a home. I kept them for years, and this project made use of them moments after the shed was built.

How about a window box, inside under a window? I love this idea as it offers yet another place to put those essential items that are often hard to find; the window box shape means it can hold various sizes of things — handily below eye level and right in the light, making it easy to see to the bottom of the potentially shady window box, meaning I can even easily find items that might slip down flat and are lying on the bottom.

A set of French doors were saved from the dumpster and then stored in my neighbor’s garage for five years while I waited for the right project to repurpose them. (No, I’m not a hoarder! I think of storing these shutters and windows more like “building investments” because they pay off over time!) My shed had no windows, so I decided to turn the French doors on their side, thus becoming new windows that gracefully open out. Even my handyman Felix said, “Now that’s clever idea.”

Location, location, location. Julia Child’s kitchen (now on display at the Smithsonian) was my inspiration for this idea. While viewing it I realized she hooked her kitchen utensils, pots and pans to the wall, then perfectly outlined each with a marker. Clearly, she (and everyone else) then knew exactly where to put back the tool when they used it. This same concept is repeated in my shed. Now everyone knows without a doubt where to put back the staple gun and the mallet. Only one person thus far has made the mistake and returned the staple gun back in the wrong place. He claimed he did not know the rules — I think he was just being creative. (Square pegs in round holes, etc.) Fair enough, Chris.

Out of sight = out of mind. One of the biggest storage mistakes people make, usually because they want these types of areas to look neat and tidy. But it is not the best way to know what you have. Therefore I created an insightful place to put all my extra stuff. You know the stuff I am talking about: nails, screws and other building/fixing necessities. Clear Mason jar containers work perfectly. Drill the tops to the bottom of shelves, allowing plenty of space to access the jar from side to side and below. Fill jars with the common junk that many times is homeless but now and again can be just what you need. Simply screw the jar into the lid, and you’ve got simple storage.

Modern uses for traditional items. Take my use of the old fashioned galvanized trash cans. Yes, they are still available! Much stronger and longer lasting than any other outdoor canister. They stand up to the most severe weather conditions in any environment. Use them for trash or use them to store mulch, potting soil and fertilizer. Available in a variety of sizes to fit your space and needs. Take the extra step and personalize them with a stencil monogram or house number.

No dumping. Now that you have bought into creating a structured space you’ll need to make sure to not use it as a dumping ground. You’ll need some help from your family (or in my case my neighbors) so make sure you announce your “no dumping” policy and ask them to buy in. If everything has a place then there will be no questions as to where it should go once it is returned.

Truth be told, with all these creative ideas you can transform or build any space into a fully functional and decorative place that has multi purposes. I can’t wait to hear what you do with these ideas. We all need order in our life, let’s just be sMARt about it.

And there you have it.