TRANSFORMATIONS: Clearing clutter

Our inability to manage our “stuff” is a growing trend; we accumulate without realizing it … and without wanting it.

Great Barrington — Clutter is in our homes, our inboxes and our minds. How to edit what comes into our lives is the challenge of our times. Our inability to manage our “stuff” is a growing trend; we accumulate without realizing it, and usually without wanting to.

Yet finding ways to manage our things is stressful and time consuming. Enter the storage industry; they will whisk away your things before your very eyes and help you deal with that beautiful Oriental rug that you can’t find a place for, but cannot bear to part with, or your children’s bunk beds that they have outgrown. Tada! Your things can disappear into the void of the storage industry for a simple fee of $99 a month.

As a mom, I battle this every day. My kids come home with goodie bags from birthday parties, holiday gift exchanges, or a sale item we just have to stock up on that ends up sitting in our pantry for years to come. But the hardest situation is the loss of a loved one and the items people receive from that loss. These are sentimental items that take people years to go through and edit.

During a home renovation, people are forced to remove all their belongings from one area of the home while the work is being done, and must therefore deal with the clutter that has built up over the years. It’s a daunting experience for my clients, but always such a cleansing and refreshing one. Something else happens as well when we renovate: we often realize that there is plenty of storage in our own homes if we can carefully edit what we own and use the space we have more efficiently.

The kitchen before renovation and reconfiguration of appliances and counters.
The kitchen before renovation and reconfiguration of appliances and counters. Photo: Jess Cooney


Take this recent project: my clients had moved to “The Hill” in Great Barrington with three teenage daughters and three big dogs. The busy working parents of three busy girls jumped straight into their lives with the intention of eventually tackling a kitchen renovation. The house is a beautiful turn of the century home on “The Hill” in Great Barrington, and it suited their needs quite well. Except for the kitchen. The current layout had the refrigerator and dishwasher in a tight hall that led to the back door. You can imagine, with three teenagers and three dogs, what it was like to get out the door in the morning for school and work. This was a potential minefield for accidents.

Then, there was the large armoire that the family had inherited from a deceased family member, placed in the kitchen, and was now being used for part-time storage for lack of a better use. Its large size drove my client crazy, and she was happy to see it go.

Her husband was most concerned about the safety in the kitchen, since the dishwasher door was in a precarious place. My client loves to bake and didn’t have enough counter space or storage for her baking pans. She also wanted enough space for her girls to have friends come for pizza parties and cook together. The kitchen was not conducive to this, and the girls didn’t bring friends over as much as they would’ve liked.

This dark corner of the kitchen afforded inadequate cabinet space and even less counter space. Photo: Jess Cooney
This dark corner of the butler’s pantry afforded inadequate cabinet space and even less counter space. Photo: Jess Cooney


The layout of their kitchen was common for a turn of the century home. In these homes, the actual kitchen was often in the basement and the upstairs area was set up for serving in the dining room. As a result, this area is usually quite undersized for our modern lifestyle, since no actual cooking was done there. The kitchen was small, but with an original butler pantry behind it that leads to a formal dining room.

This nook in the kitchen, dark and ill-designed for a working kitchen, was transformed by removing the wall between this space and the dining room beyond. Photo: Jess Cooney
Under the previous owners, the butler’s pantry was used for the cats rather than as a serving pantry or staging area. Photo: Jess Cooney


But this was an informal family; the dining room was only being used for storage for other items they had recently inherited. That dining room was the key to my plan; I was amazed to see this big bright open space sitting there behind the dark closed-in kitchen, completely underutilized. There was no doubt in my mind that the wall between these two spaces had to come down to relieve some of the pressure on this family.

Also, the pantry was not being used efficiently because the previous owner had used it more for her cats than for storing food.

It soon became clear that getting rid of some of the inherited furnishings, and using all that wonderful space in the dining room and butler pantry area would change everything. It took a little convincing on my part to persuade my client to move the refrigerator into the pantry from the main area. I am a firm believer in getting the refrigerator out of the line of traffic and closer to the eating area. It keeps kids out of the cooking zone, which is important especially when friends are there and dinner is being prepared. Instead of a floating island, we chose to build a peninsula anchored on the wall, extending the work area in that space and creating a large prep and homework area for the kids to sit and hang out while my client cooked.

The butler pantry transformed, with glassed-in cabinets and wider counters. Photo: Gregory Cherin


Living in a home while renovating is no walk in the park. But during that time, my client was able to edit her belongings down to what really mattered. Handmade pottery that her father had made became the focal point of the new kitchen, and a new sitting area and dining space now occupied the old formal dining room. The girls could lounge with friends or sit at the peninsula with their homework to chat with mom while cookies baked in the oven.

The new arrangement of the stove allows ample room for preparation. Photo: Greg Cherin
The new arrangement of the stove allows ample room for preparation. Photo: Greg Cherin


The new, light-filled space has changed the way they live. The husband is happy, and the added counter space and open plan will service many pizza parties and sleepovers to come.

And no one is tripping over the dog or the dishwasher door.


Special thanks to Elisabeth Holmes, interning with The Edge from the John Dewey Academy, for her help in preparing this article for publication.