Get Organized On the Cheap!

here's the story of how I created my absolute dream design studio... 
using reclaimed + thrifted items + what I already had, without spending much! 
In winter of 2011, I moved into my dream house,
and enjoyed the opportunity to design a whole new studio/office for myself
I undertook this project exactly as I would one for a client: 

start with what you have and look at it in a fresh way.

My designs of retail spaces and vintage-style products 
entail having many resource materials at hand in my studio:
There are books, magazines, tear sheets, color fans, and paint charts. 
There are files of completed projects and ‘in process’ designs. 
There are design boards from huge to small. 

Keeping it all under control is a daily challenge! 
I use a lot of creative storage techniques
because although I can handle a certain amount of ‘creative clutter’, 
I do NOT like it when I can’t find what I am looking for.
and of course it all had to have vintage style in my trademark neutral palette...
First, I painted the room soft tan and the trim all gloss white.
[I can't share the color because it isn't something you can buy.
 we made our own paint color - 'Camano Sand' - by mixing many cans and buckets of brown, tan, gray, yellow, and white paint  from Craigslist and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.]

Instantly, the room was welcoming instead of cold, clinical white - 
and the soft neutral color won’t interfere with my design work.
I also took down the ceiling fan, and replaced it with a three-light ceiling fixture
Combined with the existing can lights,
this room is very well lit for working at two in the morning…  
important in the Pacific Northwest, where it is very gray most of the time.
 Beginning with the large furnishings & fixtures that I already had on hand 
(ALL of them second hand or recycled), 
I figured out how to fit them into this new space efficiently for the way I work - 
Using the location of lighting to place my work surfaces, for example, 
and knowing how I move around when I am working on projects. 
 Next, I needed storage containers on those fixtures to hold smaller items.
I use wire locker baskets, wire plate racks, metal boxes & lunch pails, 
wire sliding drawers, vintage metal bread pans, large clear vases and magazine sleeves. 
Since all of these elements are seen, I wanted them to have vintage style and visual appeal.

Some of the ‘hidden storage’ in the studio is in the low shelf units 
They are very deep, intended to be closet storage units.
By laying them down, I gain double-depth space PLUS the top work surface.
[remember to think outside the box about HOW to use the pieces you already have...]
Behind the visible rows of white cardboard magazine sleeves (IKEA), 
there are stacks of books, more sleeves full of tear sheets and catalogs, 
DVD’s, portfolios, magazines that have published my writings, and client project archive files. 
These are things I don’t need to access often, 
so having them located behind the magazines works for me. 
Small labels on the shelf front tell me what’s behind. 
The magazines in front are arranged by name, month & season. 
On top, two units of small drawers (IKEA) hold biz cards and other regular office supplies.

The tall cube bookcase unit (IKEA) holds all of the books that I access regularly, sorted by subjects.
Behind what you see is another six inches of space, holding books I don’t use very often. 
I kept the books on the lower two shelves 
and placed the more visually interesting things to be up high, in the line of sight. 
That’s where the baskets & boxes come in! 
Various materials are stored AND displayed in all of them. 
Even the white shopping bags on top of this unit hold project materials – 
but what you see is crisp, clean, and simple.

Tucked back in the corner is a plastic drawer unit – 
it holds all of my vintage papers and office supplies. 
You can’t see it, it fills in a dead corner, and each drawer can be pulled out when I need something.
The wire unit in front of it holds large-sized vintage papers and paper cutters - 
I place the tools near the supplies I need with them. 
A clear vase, wire basket, and boxes on top hold rolls of paper and small vintage paper elements.
 Every business has a file cabinet.
and usually, they are hideously ugly!
I could have painted mine white, but decided instead to cover it with vintage dictionary pages. 
Lots of glue & paper were involved, but not a lot of time & effort. 
It sits right out in the open and looks fabulous! 

Inside the lower drawer, I keep my printer/scanner, already plugged in (cord goes out the back). 
I simply hook up my laptop cord to use them.
My worktable/desk is bar-height, because I work a lot while standing.
[Think about HOW you work as you plan the layout and choose furnishings....]
Under it, I can store empty wire baskets  - 
they will fill up with product supplies or small items to be priced. 

The paper recycling container is an old wood pull-out laundry bin. 
A rolling wire cart holds large pieces of fabric, and can be relocated easily.  
Or emptied if I am hitting a flea market! ;0)
Because they are easily changeable and helpful in my processes, 
I use many ‘Inspiration Boards’. 
One is a fabulous vintage door, where a bulletin board replaces the former window. 
Behind this door, I store oversized style boards for projects. 
A chalkboard door will be placed on the opposite side of the sideboard cabinet….

Smaller pin boards across the room are simply made:
squares of rigid foam insulation panels, cut down and covered with fabrics. 
Each project I work on gets one of these pin boards while in-process, 
until I am ready to glue it all to a style board permanently.
The final details...
Having beautiful inspiration around me is essential in my design process, 
so I included pieces that simply make me smile. 
Mannequins dressed in vintage finery and jewelry, products I’ve designed, 
and gifts from friends all have a special place here, 
as do a floral chandelier and two favorite hemp chairs for clients.
(Rachel Ashwell called them ‘lovely’ when she saw them in my booth at an antique show, btw!)

By starting with the storage needs, I was able to make pretty quick work of this - 
from beginning to (almost) end, this room came together in just one week.

What did I buy for this room?
Paint. From the Habitat ReStore and Craigslist. (we mix our own custom colors, using recycled paint)
The three-spot ceiling light. Thrift store, five bucks. Can of white spray paint, four bucks.

Everything else? Items that I had on hand already -
Some came from a former guest room, the laundry room, garage, and kitchen.
I re-purposed my own stuff!

As I tell my clients, you really don’t have to spend money to redecorate - 
re-imagine and re-design instead!

When designing an office space, think about the function needed for your specific work processes. 
Move around as if you were working, and decide what storage & work surfaces are necessary - and where.  
Remember that the ‘work triangle’ concept of kitchen design applies to offices & studios, too!

* Starting with the largest furnishings, assign each a place and use - considering light sources, access, and traffic flow. 
* 'Shop your house' and garage for pieces that can be used in fresh new ways to add style - think outside the box!
* Get creative with the colors, furnishings and details you select to express YOUR style and brand with every choice.

Soon, you’ll have a space that works as hard as you do!

Do you need help making YOUR creative space better?

I create beautiful, effective, inspiring spaces where your creativity will THRIVE!
Click to learn more about my Artful Makeover Services!

this article/post, images, and text copyright Debi Ward Kennedy 2011
original content by dwk appeared on Vintage Indie Magazine blog 2011; hwF in 2013

* Psssssssst! *
I've added another post with MORE office organization ideas!

THANK YOU  ladies of Share It One More Time link party
for Featuring this post in 2016! <3


2016: Shabbyfufu | Share It One More Time Party 

nifty thrifty tuesday / coastal charm


  1. That is amazing and beautiful! I needed to read this! Thanks. You've inspired me. I always see these beautiful rooms but you have to spend a fortune to get it. The Dollar Tree and Target are do-able...you are a great designer, I feel like I'm a client.:)

  2. Great ideas. What a transformation and I love how it all looks. GREAT photos, too. xoDiana

  3. I love re-purposing vintage items to use for storage.It makes such a statement! Great ideas...all so beautiful!

  4. I just have to offer a very heartfelt THANK YOU to every person who has come to HOMEWARDfound to view this post - you are tearin' up my stats!!!

    It is great to see that this content is so helpful and inspiring to so many people :0)

  5. Could you please just come and do mine ??!! Wonderful !!

  6. Awesome, I love this! I'm beginning the process of purging and reorganizing my craft studio so this was very helpful. I think my room is smaller than yours and right now it feels very chaotic. I'm planning to put up long shelves on one wall and getting rid of a few of the random furniture pieces.


    1. Tania, the visual chaos of all of my craft/art supplies was what prompted me to come up with a serene color palette and design scheme! Lots of boxes, baskets, bins, cabinets, and containers to hide the stuff that can really overwhelm a room. I may make a mess when I am creating, but I can't create in a messy environment ;) I was really blessed to have had that large room (originally designed as a den/office) as my creative space. Good luck with your studio - I hope you will share your project on your blog because I'd love to see what you do! ~ Deb