Here’s a specific post with an evergreen takeaway: find the solution that works for you and your space.
In our old apartment, we kept our shoes wrangled in a basket and a crate that could live outside our apartment door. There, the landing outside the apartment was wide enough that the shoes didn’t get in the way and even though the baskets and crate sometimes got a bit unruly, we lived on the top floor of the building so they weren’t much of a bother to us or anyone.
Here, shoes generally need to stay inside the apartment, and since we don’t wear them in the apartment and can’t be tripping over a pile all day every day, we needed a new solution. There’s no real landing outside and inside, the entryway isn’t anything more than a door opening directly into our main living space. For a few months after we moved we tried the same basket and crate solution, except we kept it inside instead of out. It made the room feel cluttered even when we managed to keep it relatively orderly. This is my main gripe with open shoe storage: it’s great if you don’t have to look at it. But if that open storage exists in the same place where you eat dinner, or watch movies, or work from the kitchen table, no matter how lovely the piece itself is, it still requires a small daily miracle of color coordination and cleanliness to keep it looking nice. In finding solutions for our family at home, I try less to wish for miracles and try more to meet everyone where we are, which is with mismatched dirty playground sneakers and salt-encrusted boots.
We needed an incognito shoe storage solution. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money and we didn’t want to buy anything new or so shoe-specific that it couldn’t be repurposed later. We needed something slim enough that it wouldn’t interfere too much with the apartment door opening, but deep enough that it could accommodate our largest shoes. For us, that meant we needed something about 12 inches deep and no more than 24 inches wide. Most of all, we wanted something with a door that could close and that the kids could use themselves without any special help or cajoling. Shelves would be ideal along with some amount of height to make the best use of the available space.
After a few months of searching (and starting at dirty playground sneaks), James spotted an old mid-century metal pantry cabinet for sale and we scooped it up for $15. It was in rough shape condition-wise but functionally it was perfect—small enough to fit against the wall without interfering with the apartment door opening and large enough to keep a pair or two of shoes for each member of the family. (Off-season shoes are stored in crates in a closet in another room, just like in our old place.)
Getting the old cabinet up to snuff took a bit of work. There were layers of contact paper inside and out and the whole thing smelled musty, like it had been kept in a garage or a basement. I could have stripped the whole thing with chemical stripper, but I didn’t want to deal with more neurotoxins than strictly necessary, so I decided to remove the contact paper and cover everything two coats of fresh paint.
Now, it’s perfect, which is to say good enough for us. Multiple shelves mean it’s easy for kids (and everyone) to see exactly where their shoes belong and the door keeps everything hidden.
In case anyone finds themselves with a similar old cabinet, here’s what worked for me:
Prep and paint:
Contact paper: Contact paper is designed to be removed, but if it’s been hanging out for a few decades it needs a bit of a nudge. Using a hair dryer to gently heat old contact paper loosens the adhesive and makes the job of removal considerably easier. Directly after heating up the paper, I used a putty knife and my fingers to peel up the contact paper, which came up without leaving any residue behind. The paper was the main culprit of the odor inside and removing it made a huge difference.
Rust: Under the contact paper I found a number of rust spots, so I used a wire brush to lightly brush away any loose rust flakes before painting. (Masks abound around here lately, so I wore one while doing this and vacuumed everything with our HEPA filter as I worked.)
Primer: The metal cabinet might have benefitted from a direct-to-metal primer, especially over the rust, but I decided to cut my losses for a shoe storage cabinet and simply paint two coats of fresh paint over what was already there.
Hardware: I removed the existing hardware and simmered it in hot water to remove the layers of paint. I used my wire brush to urge off the paint and reinstalled it where it had been.
Odor absorber: Minus the contact paper and plus two coats of fresh paint, the worst of the odors are gone, but for good measure I keep a charcoal odor absorbing bag (similar to the one linked) clipped to the top of cabinet with magnetic bulldog clips. It works like magic.