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Designer creates clutter-free organizational hubs

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By Melissa Rayworth
Associated Press
  • Mallory Mathison designed this office "corner" in a family kitchen.

    Mallory Mathison / Flip Flop Photography

    Mallory Mathison designed this office "corner" in a family kitchen.

  • AFTER: Brian Patrick Flynn turned the room into a clean and colorful creative space.

    Brian Patrick Flynn / Sarah Dorio

    AFTER: Brian Patrick Flynn turned the room into a clean and colorful creative space.

  • BEFORE: This catch-all room was a disorganized nightmare of clutter.

    Brian Patrick Flynn / Sarah Dorio

    BEFORE: This catch-all room was a disorganized nightmare of clutter.

Getting a family organized requires more than a few well-chosen New Year's resolutions.
Increasingly, homeowners are carving out a physical space -- anything from a single kitchen cabinet to an entire spare room -- that can function as a family information center and workstation.
In an effort to battle clutter and keep track of schedules, designer Brian Patrick Flynn helps clients kick the habit of spreading out items around their homes.
"These days, it's pretty much a given that families use their kitchen islands, dining tables and/or coffee tables as prime real estate for laptops, school papers, iPhones and mail," said Flynn, founder and editor of
"When I'm designing entire homes, especially ones for young families, the first thing I focus on is locating a seldom-used corner, section or nook somewhere easily accessible to create a creative and organizational hub.
"This usually follows my tirade of, 'No more using the dining table or breakfast nook as a clutter station!'"
Flynn and two interior designers offer these tips on creating the perfect headquarters to wrangle homework assignments, invitations, permission slips, calendars and more.
What's needed
  • A calendar (paper, digital or both) that the whole family can access.
  • Accessible storage space for incoming mail, invitations and permission slips where things won't be forgotten.
  • A message board (dry-erase white boards and/or corkboards are popular) where family members can post and share information.
  • A labeled bin or section of corkboard space assigned to each family member.
  • A power strip for charging electronic devices, with shelf or desk space to keep those items while charging.

Ideally, the space will include a work surface where kids can do homework and parents can handle tasks like filling out permission slips.
Many families include a laptop or desktop computer for homework or checking e-mail. If you have a computer handy, you're more likely to enter information digitally and eliminate paper clutter.
Where to put it
Flynn suggests using the "bonus room" that many newer homes have.
Atlanta designer Mallory Mathison has converted pantries or small closets into organizational hubs.
She removes the doors to open up the space, adds a deep shelf as a desktop. and puts shelves and a message board and calendar on the back wall.
HGTV designer Cortney Novogratz suggests families in smaller homes could choose one corner of the kitchen, since it's a room the entire family uses daily, and designate a single kitchen cabinet as the hub.
Line the cabinet door with the calendar and corkboard or dry-erase board and add small bins on the shelves for each family member.
A small laptop can be kept inside the cabinet and taken out for use at the kitchen table.
For additional storage, she suggests buying a rolling cart with labeled drawers where each child in the family can keep things like pending work or art supplies. This can be wheeled around the kitchen or other rooms as needed.
Furniture needed
In lieu of custom built-ins, Flynn suggests buying two kitchen cabinets from a big-box home improvement store, and two prefab bookcases. Stack the bookcases on top of the base cabinets. Mount them to the wall and add some basic molding to the front edges, creating "the look of custom built-ins, but for only a few hundred bucks."
He also suggests plundering the rest of your home in search of old furniture. In one home, he placed two old dressers next to each other, using their surfaces as a place to collect mail and pending paperwork.
He outfitted the dresser drawers with a hanging file system, then brought in an old table and chairs from a child's playroom.
And paint goes a long way in coordinating the pieces.
For limited spaces Mathison suggests searching estate sales (or your own attic) for one large piece of furniture like a wooden secretary, which has a desktop and a mix of open and closed storage.
Refinish it with several coats of glossy paint and, if necessary, drill holes in the back for power cords.
Make it work
Even the best system won't work unless you use it. Flynn says beautiful, bright colors can help draw you to your organizational space.
Kids will be proud to have their projects and tests posted alongside their artwork for added inspiration.
Plan the space carefully based on your needs: Do older kids need extra space for doing homework? Are you juggling lots of appointments and need to make your calendar the centerpiece?
Novogratz suggests hanging a family calendar and business calendar together so you can mark things on both, and kids can see when you'll be busy with work commitments.
If scheduling is key, post pending items like permission slips and invitations in a prominent spot or keep them in an in-box that you'll check regularly.
Story tags » Home ImprovementInterior decorating

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