We know many minimalists, but we don’t know many people who practice the art as elegantly as architect Barbara Chambers. “I am simple and straightforward and no-frills,” says Barbara, who lives in Mill Valley, California.
This time last year, we visited Barbara at the home she designed for herself and her architect/artist husband, Guy Chambers. (Read the story in House Call: An Exercise in Order with Architect Barbara Chambers.) Its airiness belies its relatively modest 2,500 square feet, and Barbara reports that its uncomplicated floor plan and consistency of materials meant that it was not especially expensive to build. But it is superlatively refined, in large part because everything is perfectly put away. Here are Barbara’s top tips for keeping a house looking elegantly ordered.
Photography by Andres Gonzalez for The Organized Home.
1. Tuck the utilities out of the way. Above: “Every house needs this,” Barbara says of the mudroom: “The back entrance the family uses 90 percent of the time, where everyone can disrobe, take their shoes off,” and get rid of the mail, newspaper, and work bags before they clutter up the rest of the house. This room, which Barbara lovingly refers to as “the guts of the house,” should contain plenty of storage options, including coat hooks and cabinets. (It should also have shiplap wall paneling instead of sheet rock, she says, since it’s bound to get beaten up.)2. Make the daily-use stations beautiful. Above: Barbara’s kitchen pantry is tidy and light-filled, with most dry goods decanted into jars.
Chances are good you’ll interact more often with your kitchen pantry than with your formal dining room, but the looks of the former are often neglected for rooms like the latter. “Think about what these spaces should look like instead of just thinking about what you’re going to stuff in them,” Barbara says.
Above: Barbara’s laundry area, part of the mudroom, has Shaker peg hooks, laundry essentials organized in a steel bin, and a wicker and leather-handled laundry bin.3. Embrace a minimal kitchen. Above: Barbara designed her own kitchen to serve as a showroom kitchen of sorts for potential clients. “I wanted to have a house where people could visit and experience what a minimal kitchen feels like,” she says. On paper, clients often resist her kitchen designs, insisting her plan is too small for their needs. “But once they see it in person, they realize it’s plenty big,” she said. “All their needs are met, just not in a standard way.”4. Storage doesn’t have to look like storage. Above: Barbara designed two cabinets to flank the entrance to the stairway. “It’s another version of kitchen cabinets,” she said, without adding bulk to the kitchen or the visual weight of having cabinets hang overhead. 5. Psst: There’s space behind the walls Above: You’ll need to plan for this one during a remodel or new build, says Barbara, but there’s room behind the walls for shelves, hooks, ironing boards, and more. “Just slip in little cabinets inside the stud wall, and all of a sudden you have a lot more space,” she says. Barbara uses one such stud wall cabinet to store laundry and cleaning essentials.6. Pare down (to the extreme). Above: It’s obvious, yes, to get rid of what you don’t need. But as an architect, Barbara takes an atypically hands-on approach to her clients’ storage needs. “When clients tell me they need storage space for their eight sets of china,” she says, “I tell them we’re getting rid of seven.”
In fact, Barbara gives each potential client a copy of organizational guru Marie Kondo‘s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, before they begin working together. If the clients aren’t enthused, “they’re not the clients for me and we’re not going to get along,” says Barbara.
7. Some objects should be hidden. Above: “Books can be visible,” Barbara says. “They’re part of the information of the room.” But no one wants to see a desktop printer. (Nor, we think, a microwave or TV.) Barbara found stealth storage space inside the wall dividing the living room from her office at the back of the house. It’s wired for electricity, so it perfectly fits the printer plus paper, envelopes, and even hard drives for digital storage: the modern correspondence center.8. Plan for flexibility over time. Above: A rolling ladder inside Barbara’s kitchen pantry is not for reaching overflow dry goods; rather, it leads to a guest bedroom that can be accessed both from the pantry and from outside. It’s sited away from the daily circulation paths, but is there when Barbara’s kids and their children come to visit.
“I don’t like hearing ‘When we get to be this age, we’re going to move,'” says Barbara. “I think a house should be very flexible for changing needs.”
Above: Barbara’s husband, Guy Chambers, is an architect and painter. His art studio is a detached building at the back of the property, and the pair planned for it to function as a “hotel suite” for guests, complete with a kitchenette, sink, toilet, and shower (shown, currently filled with Guy’s paintings).
Put Barbara’s principles into practice with further advice from:
Think Like Marie Kondo: 9 Tips from the World’s Top Storage Fanatic Expert Advice: How to Become a Minimalist, by the Author of “Goodbye, Things” Small-Space Living: 6 Tips for Maximizing Storage in the Minimal Bath #KitchenStorage&Organization #Mudrooms #KitchenPantry #Laundry&UtilityRoomOrganization #OfficeStorage