Secret Storage

A bit of imagination can give you a whole lot of extra space. YOU CAN never have enough storage, as they say. Luckily, there are any number of ideas out there for maximising storage space around your home. Products such as baskets, boxes, storage racks, bins, shelving systems and containers are all good, but the type of storage space I have been thinking about recently is a little less obvious; it’s the hidden spaces we have all around us: inside the walls, above the ceiling and under the floor. They are unused “secret” spaces; it is just a matter of knowing how to unlock them. Above the ceiling Why not capitalise on the dead space above your ceiling? A quick survey of my converted loft space reveals items from almost every room in the house sitting quietly out of the way until we need them again.

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Professional companies that specialise in this type of work should do full loft conversions. They will be able to assess each individual roof space for strength and a suitable access point, then provide flooring, lining, lighting and a drop-down ladder. But if a full conversion is not within your budget, some extra storage can still be opened up in the meantime with the installation of an extra manhole or two. Cutting a hole in your plasterboard ceiling and installing a manhole is not a difficult job. A basic metal manhole frame with a pop-out MDF hatch can be bought from plastering suppliers such as Boral, CSR or PlastaMasta. They come in various sizes, so select one that will fit between your ceiling joists. To install the frame, first choose an appropriate spot. Towards the centre of the house is good. Allow good headroom over the opening and don’t put it directly over beds or hard-to-move furniture. Next you will need to locate the edge of a ceiling joist. Check out the stud finder reviews to find out the best for you or make a simple choice with an inexpensive stud finder such as a Black & Decker Bullseye (www.blackanddecker.com.au) that will make your work easier. A quick scan with one of these will also alert you to any electrical cables overhead. Using a keyhole saw, make your first cut along the edge of the joist. Place the frame up against your first cut and then mark around the outside of it before completing the cutting around the line. The frame is made from a T-shaped metal extrusion that can be pushed up into the hole next the joist. The top of the “T” faces down, forming a lip that covers the cut edge of the plasterboard on the outside and a second lip to support the hatch panel on the inside. The leg of the “T” should be screwed to the joist. Extra timbers can be run between the joists, along the other edges of the frame to strengthen and support it. While you’re working up in a new access hole spread some timber panels out over the joists around the access hole and screw them down to create a secure platform for your stored items. Paint your hatch cover and the frame to match the colour of your ceiling.

Finally, just lift and drop the cover into place. A note of caution: when working in a roof space beware of dust that may contain hazardous substances, wear a mask and consider having the roof professionally vacuumed out. Under the floor Under the house seems like a good place to stash things away but who wants to head outside, fight through the spiders’ webs to reach the access door and then crawl under there in the dirt to retrieve them? Under-house space can be reached through your floor instead. I created a lift-up trapdoor in a section of floor in my lounge room and then built a couple of timber boxes secured between the floor joists. When the hatch is lifted it reveals the inside of the boxes, a bit like the spare wheel bay in the back of a car. When the hatch is closed the rug goes over the top and then the coffee table, completing the illusion. To cut away the section of floorboards I used my circular saw fitted with a thin kerf blade and made a plunge cut to get each side started, finishing into the corners with a handsaw. The pieces of floorboard removed were flipped over and joined back together with the aid of some cross-timber cleats.

Once the storage boxes were installed they also supported the hatch when it was returned to position. To lift the hatch I installed a flush-finish ring-pull handle, normally used for boat deck hatches, bought from a ship’s chandler. You can even install a lock to make it extra secure. The sneaky kickboard One other secret storage spot I wanted to tell you about is one I believe is great for stashing important documents and small precious items when you go away on holiday. Even the cleverest of thieves, if there is such a thing, will have trouble finding this one. Although I’ll be out of luck if they read this article! Many modern kitchen cabinets are installed on plastic adjustable legs, and once the kitchen is completed the kickboard is simply clipped onto these. By drilling a small finger hole through your kickboard, up high where it is difficult to spot, you can simply pull the kickboard free to reveal the wasted space under the cabinets. If you do use this space, place your items in a vermin-proof container before stashing them.

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