If you live within a few miles of a Metro stop, chances are you’re short on storage space, especially for your clothes. We’ve written about creative ways to expand your closet with garment racks and slim wardrobes. But dressers, which are often the catch-all for socks, pajamas and off-duty garb such as jeans and T-shirts, are just as important as hanging storage.
Unfortunately, they’re also notoriously bulky, heavy and expensive, so folks who are squeezed into tiny apartments and condos may have a tough time finding a narrow, affordable piece. David Benton, an architect with Rill Architects in Bethesda, suggests renters “think outside the box.”
“Really, it doesn’t even have to be an actual dresser,” Benton says. “It could be a sideboard if you want something low and wide, or a chest that’s intended for a dining room. Don’t feel like you have to shop in the bedroom department. It can be limiting.”
Benton knows what it’s like to live in cramped quarters. Before moving to the Palisades, he lived in a 230-square-foot studio in Dupont Circle. It was a lesson in prioritizing, he says. “Small spaces teach you how to utilize every square inch.”
They also force you to get creative. While it’s true that modern retailers such as West Elm and CB2 now offer handy items such as storage beds and stackable bins, dressers are typically still too large for rooms that barely fit the bed. “What these spaces need is what people used to call a lingerie chest,” says Bethesda interior designer Kelley Proxmire, referring to the tall, slim chests that were once popular for storing linen and women’s undergarments. “They should resurrect those.”
Lingerie dressers are harder to find today, but some stores carry modern variations, such as Pier 1’s Ashworth Lingerie Chest ($500, www.pier1.com). An alternative might be a bookshelf to stack shoes, or a taller nightstand with multiple drawers. “Even if it’s just where you keep your socks, it will help,” Benton says.
Jessica Parker Wachtel, an interior designer at GTM Architects in Bethesda, says she stumbled into her own dresser conundrum when she was trying to find storage furniture for her 750-square-foot condo in Woodley Park. After hitting every major furniture retailer in the area looking for dressers about 36 inches wide, she finally found the perfect piece: a cream-colored, three-drawer French Hall Chest probably designed for a traditional foyer or entrance hall ($939, www.bassettfurniture.com). In Wachtel’s apartment, though, it holds a decent amount of clothing and doubles as a stand for her TV.
“You’d never know it wasn’t intended to be a dresser because it fits perfectly in my space,” she says. “I just had to get creative.”
Another trick Benton suggests is looking for vintage or secondhand pieces with a mid-century aesthetic, because they’re typically smaller-scale than furniture designed for newer homes. “The homes of the ’50s were not the homes of today,” he says. His go-to vintage stores are Miss Pixie’s on 14th Street NW and GoodWood on U Street NW in the District, and the Mount Vernon Antique Center.
Wachtel suggests checking children’s sections of major retailers for pieces that are essentially smaller versions of a main-line piece. PB Teen’s Chelsea Tower Dresser ($849, www.pbteen.com) is a “perfectly sophisticated,” small-footprint dresser that would fit nicely in most apartments, she says.
Open-shelf pieces aren’t ideal for storing pants and sweaters, but they can be handy for baskets and shoes. West Elm’s Nook Tower ($699,www.westelm.com) is only 18 inches wide and has three drawers on the bottom, giving you flexibility for both open and closed storage. “Pieces like this are particularly versatile,” Wachtel says, “because if you do move into a large space, they can easily translate into the media area.”
If you’ve done all the necessary digging and you’re still striking out, try tweaking something already in your home to make it the perfect piece. Wachtel recommends buying a simple piece, such as one of Ikea’s five- or six-drawer Hemnes chests ($149-$179, www.ikea.com), and replacing the hardware with something more personal.