Shelve it away?

Lack of storage space is considered the single most objectionable flaw for a dwelling, an unexpected finding revealed by a study conducted by Association Qualitel. It’s worse than being too small and worse than lacking a desk for remote work or an outdoor area. Admittedly, not being able to keep essential everyday objects close by can become highly constraining and lead to feeling overwhelmed by possessions, which become oppressive. In fact, almost half of French people claim they lack storage space. Faced with these facts, how are architects responding?

◀︎  Back

Étagère de Cuisine, Henri Cadiou, 1963. Cover illustration for the book Les Choses, Georges Perec, 1965.

Achille Bourdon
Syvil architectures

Lucie Jouannard
Syvil architectures

October 1st, 2022
14 min.

A Sensitive Topic

In an urban space, the issue of managing, moving, and storing physical goods is a taboo. The drive towards invisibility and the relegation of warehouses far from the city center testify to this. Our societies attempt to conceal the most functional dimensions of our lifestyles, as they are considered less noble, and struggle to acknowledge the material footprint, as well as the social contingencies that are nevertheless inextricably associated with them. Concerning housing, our relationship to objects is also a forbidden topic, as it is considered too personal. We need only imagine rummaging through the cupboards of a relative, a very unwelcome gesture, to take the measure of this. Our belongings reveal our relationship to consumerism and relate to our past, our memories, our tastes; they flatter us, but also betray us. Either taboo or too intimate, is the topic of home storage impossible to grasp by architects?
Incited to neutrality, have architects chosen, either consciously or not, to stand aside in a posture of reservation? Can we hazard the guess that storage is rarely addressed by architects because it questions their current practice too strongly and confronts it with its limits? If that is indeed the case, what would then be these positions that architects cannot assume?

The Specter of Functionalism

Confronted with the problem of compact housing, contemporary architects might consider drawing inspiration from their forebears of the Modern Movement, and from their explorations into the “minimum house” in particular. A lot of time and effort was expended on the question of furniture and storage, primarily from a critical stance vis-à-vis bourgeois housing and its interiors saturated with decorations of all kinds, perceived as suffocating. Its furnishings were denounced for their ostentatious luxury, and even more so for their overcrowding of space, which was very much unsuited to the small spaces these architects worked with.
In a desire to “tak[e] out furniture,” the Modern Movement advocated the removal of fixed furniture, for example wardrobes, and replacing them with built-in cabinets that formed part of the architecture. The rest of the furniture had to be mobile and movable, as proposed by Le Corbusier’s workshop in his 1929 Salon d’Automne installation on the “interior equipment of the house” consisting solely of three types of furniture—tables, chairs and storage units—which “were intended to respond to all storage needs in the dwelling.”[3]

Modern architects have very critical the saturation of bourgeois interiors to which they oppose the disappearance of fixed furniture, too cumbersome, in favor of storage integrated into the architecture. Photographs "Parisian interiors, early twentieth century: artistic, picturesque and bourgeois" by Eugene Atget, 1910 Program "Interior equipment of the home", Salon d'Automne 1929, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret

Strongly criticized for being too prescriptive, the ghost of functionalism is still haunting the practice of architects today, as it runs against this approach to a large extent. The relevance of an “engaged” attitude over defining dwellings on the scale of furniture is now coming up against the growing diversity of practices and ways of inhabiting spaces. The nuclear family model on which the moderns based their designs is no longer representative and cannot, as a result, form a standard. Single-parent families, blended families, flat shares, intergenerational cohabitation, singles, seniors—this great diversity of profiles makes any ambition of a standard layout obsolete. A reflection at the user level now seems impossible. An active disavowal of thinking has taken over, under the guise of neutrality. Furniture indeed no longer has a place in the plans prepared by architects, except to show the purpose of the rooms, or to ensure compliance with accessibility standards for people with reduced mobility. The popularity of “sale before completion” transactions, in which apartments are designed without its future residents being known, greatly reduces the added value that the architect can benefit from within the context of a personified commission. Yet, the enthusiasm for architecture and home decor magazines running headlines on how to make the most out of small spaces shows the success of the work of architects in custom builds. Home improvement and big-box furniture retailers, as well as kitchen suppliers, are ever-striving to cater to those who don’t have the resources to use the services of an architect or to the buyers of new units, through an offer of supposedly personalized, but generally stereotyped, services. The advice provided is identical from one buyer to another, encouraging them to equip themselves, for example, with a state-of-the-art kitchen that is systematically separated from the living room by a bar. These kitchens often turn out to be unsuitable and sometimes hide a push towards consumerism, as it is in the interest of that industry.
There is no question that compact housing must, at the very least, make it possible to set up storage units that can help users organize their relationship to material things, without having them take over the dwelling or interfere with the well-being of occupants.
Yet, this consideration is swept away by the business of residential construction, which, to guard itself against the pitfalls of overdetermination, seeks to erase any unique features of units, fearing potential poor sales. Larger and more expensive housing units would run the risk of being downgraded in the face of competition. This ends up reproducing the same pitfall, however—that of an excessive standardization of spaces for a French “Mr. and Mrs. Average” that no longer exists. It is clear that there is a discrepancy with other industrial sectors, and industrial design in particular, which largely tackles this problem by focusing its efforts on finding how to address a product to well-defined categories of users, backed by powerful marketing. Is providing a diverse range of specific offers really out of reach of the world of real estate? Aren’t understanding a diversity of users, and supporting the versatility of housing units over time worthy challenges that deserve to be considered in order to achieve a greater diversification of the “products” on offer?

The Shadow of Overconsumption

Modern spatiality is based on an ideal of decluttering, highlighting the fluidity of spaces, continuities, or extensions between interior and exterior spaces. Storage conflicts with this ideal. Beyond this observation, the negative connotations associated with storage have become more acute in recent years in connection with a growing awareness of the ecological impact of overconsumption. A discourse has emerged on the need for healthier and sounder relationships with material possessions. The international best-seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2011) testifies to this. Its Japanese author, Marie Kondo, advises us to keep only objects that “spark joy.” Not engaging with the topic allows architects to avoid controversy.
In a 2018 study, Ademe, the French Agency for Ecological Transition, had diagnosed a very significant environmental impact related to the cluttering of our homes: they contain an average of 2.5 tons of accumulated objects which required 45 tons of raw materials for their fabrication.[4]

Tidying up is a trendy phenomenon, notably carried by Marie Kondo and her book "The Magic of Tidying Up" in which she describes a method of de-cluttering based on the joy that objects can or cannot bring us. Advertisement for the Netflix series "The Art of Tidying Up" with Marie Kondo " parody of Marie Kondo's method posted on Ikea's Facebook account

In April 2021, the institution therefore launched Operation “Osez changer : Mieux consommer et vivre plus léger” [Dare to Change: Being a Better Consumer and Living More Lightly], which consisted of assisting twenty-one sample households in the process of decluttering their homes and assisting them into shifting to more mindful consumption patterns. A team of home organizers helped each of the households, from various backgrounds, to inventory and sort out their belongings into six classes of items.[5] The testimonials of the people who took part in the program reveal an often significant difference between the number of items they believed they owned and the amount they actually owned—“I was shocked by the items that were spread out,” “I had no idea I had so many, and I didn’t think I could take out as many as that.” Other testimonials touch on the inflationary aspect of storage space—the more storage we have, the more we’re consuming, and needlessly so. “We settled in a larger house and we told ourselves that, it’s okay, we can buy them toys now, there’s more space now! … Then, finally, it struck me: we realized that our daughter doesn’t play with half of the toys she owns. The more toys there are, the less she plays. She doesn’t know what to choose to play to with.” The program has led its participants to consider “dormant objects” as polluting and driving waste.
The decluttering had some rather major consequences. On average, 31% of all items were taken out of the dwellings of the program participants, with space savings estimated at 30% to 60% depending on households. Some people even abandoned the idea of moving out following the decluttering session: “We were thinking of relocating to a larger place, but we eventually decided to stay as we felt much less cramped after decluttering our home.”
Reading these results, we could almost draw the conclusion that the problem of storage was, in fact, ill-defined, and that the real problem lies with our excessive consumption and not in a lack of storage space or housing quality. Nevertheless, Ademe’s operation took place at a national level, and it seems that the conclusions would differ as far as new collective housing units are concerned, as their functional qualities have undergone sufficient degradation over the past few decades and storage remains an important issue, regardless of the environmental problems of excessive consumption.

Operation Dare to Change: 21 French households declutter their homes with ADEME, Towards a more sober and responsible consumption, ADEME, February 2022
Idheal, the Institute of Advanced Research on Action in Housing, published a vast study on the developments in residential construction over the past 20 years in June 2020.[6] The Institute examined all of the blueprints of some 50 collective housing buildings erected between 2000 and 2020 in the Île-de-France region. The study reports a general decline in housing spaces, with floor space losses ranging from 3.4 m² in the Yvelines département to 14.8 m² in Essonne. Utility rooms are the first to disappear—so long cellars and laundry rooms! At the same time, whereas before 2010, 65% of new housing units came with a cellar or an attic, after 2010, only 36% did.[7]
On average, 2.3% of the surface area of housing units are dedicated to in-built storage.[8] In an average-sized apartment in a collective building (63 m²),[9] this doesn’t even amount to 1.5 m² . The same study established that 17% of dwellings came without any storage space at all.[10] It also pointed out that small apartments are the mostly poorly served, even more than other apartments, with a lesser proportion of their surface dedicated to cabinets.
Though overconsumption is an important question that shouldn’t be eluded, there is no risk of offering an excess storage capacity when coming from so far—most often, a single cupboard located in the entrance.

Storage and the Eclipse of the Kitchen

The kitchen has also been a room that served as an adjustment variable when scaling down dwelling sizes. The shrinkage of the kitchen has a much longer history, however. The surface area dedicated to the kitchen has been declining steadily for many years now. The kitchen was stripped of its role as a room for living, and had its table and chairs replaced by a long counter on which meals are prepared standing up to improve efficiency. The Modern Movement sought to optimize our motions and kitchens were miniaturized around the housewife’s body, ultimately becoming “corset” kitchens. The room lost its window and its partition with the invention of ventilation and under the influence of the so-called “American lifestyle.” It was also pushed to the back of the living room and we now have to systematically turn on the light, even to prepare coffee. Catherine Clarisse relates this very accurately in her book, Cuisine, recettes d’architecture[11] where she discusses the gradual shrinking of the kitchen and the successive losses that it incurred. It now often consists of no more than five 60 cm × 60 cm modules for a family apartment, with an additional recycling cabinet. Certain individuals even announce its demise under the influence of take-out food and meal delivery services, which represent tremendous opportunities for job generation. The alternative of canteens and collective kitchens is also put forward with the idea that they foster social interaction and conviviality. One such person is Tiffany Buckins, the head of interior design at Ikea Australia, as well as Spanish architect Anna Puigjaner, who authored a book on the topic, Kitchenless City.[12] The disappearance of the kitchen might also assist in closing the gender gap.
The reduction in the surface area dedicated to the kitchen, or even the elimination of that room, seems very far removed from the realities of life and the challenges of the ecological transition. The induced limitation of storage volumes hinders the transition to new consumption patterns or serves as a barrier to eating well: “I make jams or preserves to take advantage of seasonal products, but we don’t have enough space to store them.” “My recycling bins sit right in the middle of my living room,” “I keep bottles of wine in my wardrobe,” and “I’ve installed a pantry on my balcony.” are some testimonials which were shared with us during a consultation with residents.[13]
These testimonials are confirmed by studies, such as the one conducted by Association Qualitel, which reports that 62% of apartment dwellers state that they don’t have enough space in their kitchen for a recycling bin.[14] A study conducted by Socovision on behalf of the trade body L’Ameublement français, also reports that kitchen items are those that are most challenging to find a place for.[15]
The example of the kitchen is a good illustration of the need to create new benchmarks to objectify functional qualities, and raises the need to propose renewed specifications that are better adapted to lifestyle changes—both those that have already occurred and those that will inevitably follow in the foreseeable future.

Offering Guarantees Rather Than Prescriptions

Advocates of home storage as a key to quality collective housing finally come against the difficulty of defining new tools for action without being prescriptive. Addressing the creation of built-in storage spaces from the design stage presents two challenges. First, aligning with cost constraints, which are often intangible. Second, the overdetermination of uses, which presents the risk of making the housing units unsuitable for a diversity of ways of dwelling. Shifting away from prescribing uses to guaranteeing potential seems to be an interesting concept to explore. In such a context, the responsibility of the architect would be to ensure the possibility of planning so that a fitting housing unit has sufficient storage. Though this might seem obvious, Idheal’s study[16] has shown that certain rooms, based on the analysis of these plans, are totally incapable of accommodating storage cabinets. The study also provides indicators that can be used to assess the livability of rooms beyond simple square meters. The “furnishable perimeter” indicator helps realize that possibilities for placing furniture against a wall are often limited. The “usable area” indicator further illustrates the fact that circulation areas all too often encroach on the ability to furnish and occupy one’s living room. Confronted with the risk of “unthought-of” hindrances, furniture placement plans are a useful tool that architects can and must use to prepare layouts for furniture arrangement in order to verify, from the very start of the design process, that the rooms can be furnished in a satisfactory manner—with a wardrobe in one bedroom, a cupboard in the entrance, a storage column in the bathroom, a pantry, etc. The simple analysis of a catalog from a large furniture chain is sufficient to observe the discrepancy between the plans that are drawn up by architects and the realities of a fully furnished room.
By projecting the placement of a comprehensive set of everyday furniture into the space at the outset, a floor plan with furniture placement can allow for testing out layouts and catching flawed placement of fixed items such as radiators or doors that would limit interior flexibility. This document can therefore provide a guarantee for the functionality of spaces. In addition, proposals for interior arrangement of the units could be shared with future residents. Including a furniture placement plan in addition to the standard sales documents illustrating different ways of fitting out the kitchen could form the basis for additional missions entrusted to architects. Suggesting built-in storage rather than standard furniture might also serve to shift back to a form of tailored advice, adapted to the configuration of each dwelling, leaving it up to the residents to later follow it or not.

Extrait d’une page dédiée au rangement de la chambre, Ernest Neufert, Les éléments des projets de construction, 1951

Putting the Commons to Use

Storage covers a highly material dimension related to functional qualities—that of being able to dispose of our possessions in our home while maintaining a peaceful living space with intact spatial qualities. But this theme also touches upon more personal and less tangible dimensions that are often embodied outside the dwelling itself, traditionally through places such as garages, cellars, or attics—indulging in home improvement and undertaking to repair objects thanks to a few stored tools and materials, preserving memories in their material thickness, or passing on photos or family heirlooms. The ability to store also takes on a certain flexibility, by allowing for the storage of furniture while moving out or taking a trip aboard, or following a separation, or for putting one’s belongings away when renting out one’s home. It is a source of adaptability to different lifestyles. Storage can meet one-off or fluctuating needs over the course of one’s lifetime. For instance, young parents might store away boxes of clothes from their first child for a few years until they can be handed down to a second child.
However, under the current conditions and constraints of the construction of collective housing, these qualities cannot always be offered within the housing unit itself. Faced with decreasing surfaces, it is obviously essential to advocate for making them more generous, but also for creating cellars or utility rooms on the landing—private extensions, just like garages and attics are for detached houses.
The sharing of spaces, on the scale of the building or the neighborhood, is another possibility that should be explored. We need to try to address our occasional needs for storage.
Most large cities are now experiencing a decrease in the use of private cars. Many storage spaces are being freed up from the vehicles they were originally intended for. The thousands of square meters once meant for cars can partly be put to use for “democratizing” the access to storage in urban contexts. The repurposing of a former parking lot on Rue du Grenier-Saint-Lazare in the 3d arrondissement of Paris that is being pursued by Sogaris is one such example. It will accommodate storage spaces for neighborhood shops, but will also offer spaces for local residents, who will be able to temporarily reserve small spaces to store a few items there.
The “commons” might also be heavily leveraged to improve the circular economy. Consider, for example, that power drills are used on average for only a short ten minutes over their entire service life.[17] Faced with this reality, it seems relevant to offer, on the scale of a building or a neighborhood, the pooling of certain objects that are used only infrequently, such as DIY tools or a fondue set, as an alternative to purchase. The “commons” can be leveraged to foster awareness and facilitate giving, sharing, or second-hand purchases, under the form of a community-based resource recovery center or a “library of things” for example. They form a partial answer to the problems of excessive consumption mentioned earlier, as they can become a stepping stone towards an alternative form of consumption based on repair and second-hand use. This cannot be achieved without a dedicated storage capacity, however.
Ranging from shared facilities on the ground floor of buildings to community-based resource recovery centers and self-storage services, several models are emerging. In the first of these models, the residential real estate industry takes on the responsibility of meeting the storage needs of residents. In the second model, the responsibility of developing “libraries of things” is explored based on the model of the municipal library by the local government. If neither of these models comes into being or if they prove to be insufficient, then paid services will take over and address that need. And the self-storage sector is, in fact, booming. But doesn’t an organized dependence on a paid service imply a de facto discrimination in access?

The Storage Rack Also Relates to Land Use

The issue of storage, as we’ve already mentioned, is even more acute in collective housing. We observe that people living in apartments opt to move into houses when they can afford them. Houses seem to offer more possibilities without leaving home, to lead more independent and self-sufficient lifestyles. Houses take on roles that small urban dwellings, as they are designed today, can’t, for example, in the transmission and the conservation of family heirlooms or mementos in the case of a secondary family home.
Though the model of individual housing is currently preferred by most to that of collective housing, aping that model by seeking to impart the same qualities as a house to apartments would be futile as this is a fool’s errand. The lockdowns we experienced in France during the recent pandemic have dramatically highlighted a fundamental aspect of urban lifestyles, namely, their dependence on external amenities and services. Architects must participate in questioning, conceiving, and organizing this dependence.
In light of the question of storage, it appears that collective housing doesn’t address the non-pragmatic dimensions of our lifestyles that are nevertheless so important to lead fulfilled lives, and in particular transmission, autonomy, and even flexibility. We thus consider that the lack of storage in its various forms is in fact one of the causal links of the crisis in desirability of collective housing. It is more than a cause for discontent. Indeed, to ignore the essential nature of storage in collective housing is to fuel the desire for individual housing, which ultimately paves the way for urban sprawl.

Lucie Jouannard and Achille Bourdon pour Syvil architectures
Lucie Jouannard and Achille Bourdon are architects. Within the architectural studio, Syvil architectes, they are investigating modern housing through the lens of the shifts in material supply chains and the ecological transition of metropolitan cities.

1. The lack of storage is the flaw that comes first among those mentioned by the respondents to Qualitel’s 2020 annual barometer survey on the aspirations of the French population regarding housing spaces and layouts, “Logement : à la conquête de l’espace” ( Qualitel is France’s national independent nonprofit organization for improving the housing stock and a major player in building certification schemes.
2. The figure stands at 49% according to the “Ranger pour être heureux” [Tidying Up to Find Happinness] study conducted by Sociovision in 2019 on behalf of the furniture industry trade body L’Ameublement français (
3. Charlotte Perriand, A Life of Creation (New York, Monacelli Press, 2003).
4. Ademe, “Modélisation et évaluation des impacts environnementaux de produits de consommation et biens d’équipements” Study [Modeling and Evaluation of the Environmental Impacts of Consumer Products and Household Equipments] (2018),
5. Idheal, “Nos logements, des lieux à ménager” (2020),
7. Qualitel, “Logement : à la conquête de l’espace”, op. cit.
8. Average storage surfaces by type: T1 (one-bedroom unit): 0.65 m²; T2 (unit with two main rooms, for instance one bedroom and one living room): 0.90 m²; T3 (three main rooms, for instance two bedrooms and a living room): 1.45 m²; T4 (four main rooms): 1.93 m²; T5 (five main rooms): 2.78 m².
9. Insee, “Les conditions de logement en France” [Housing Conditions in France] (2017 Edition), 142,
10. Idheal, “Nos logements, des lieux à ménager,” op. cit.
11. Catherine Clarisse, Cuisine, recettes d’architecture [Kitchen. Architectural Recipes] (Besançon: Les Éditions de l’imprimeur, 2004).
12. Tiffany Buckins, “Ikea prédit la disparition de la cuisine dans nos maisons” [Ikea Predicts That Kitchens Will Disappear From our Homes,” Paris Match Belgique, June 5, 2018; Anna Puigjaner, Kitchenless City (Barcelona, Puentes Editores: 2018).
13. “L’industrie voisine” [Neighborhood Industry] Project in Pantin, workshop organized on January 31, 2019, by Syvil architectures along with Promoteur de Courtoisie Urbaine.
14. Qualitel, “Logement : à la conquête de l’espace,” op. cit.
15. Sociovision, “Ranger pour être heureux,” op. cit.
16. Idheal, “Nos logements, des lieux à ménager,” op. cit.
17. Ademe, “Comment faire de la place chez soi ?” (Jan. 2022),