apartment progress: entryway shoe storage.

February 16, 2021
shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

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.

shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

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.)

shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

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:

shoe storage | reading my tea leaves

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.

Paint: I had leftover paint in white and grey paint from past projects so I and decided to use white on the outside and grey on the inside to better hide the inevitable dirt build-up.

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.

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  • Reply Katie February 16, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    This is a perfect solution! *bookmarking immediately!*

  • Reply Carol February 16, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    Nice recycling! Shouldn’t the kid shoes be on the bottom?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2021 at 3:23 pm

      Not if you ask Silas!!!

  • Reply Megan February 16, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    Such a cool find and can likely have a long life for you guys (or anyone else) after your shoe needs change. We had a similar shoe issue, and what helped us was adding shelves to a coat closet we already had.

  • Reply Alicja February 16, 2021 at 3:15 pm

    Where do you typically search for vintage items like this?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2021 at 3:24 pm

      Depends! We have so much luck in our buy nothing group, local thrift stores, sidewalks, and this one James found through Facebook marketplace!

  • Reply cathy February 16, 2021 at 3:52 pm

    Nice solution!
    Random question: Do you remember where that terracotta pot is from? I’ve been looking for some cute ones like it. Thanks.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2021 at 3:54 pm

      It’s from GRDN in Brooklyn!

  • Reply Kiera February 16, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    What is the green tarp type mat you have in the entry way – can we hear more about this? We use our back kitchen door as an entry way and struggle with salt and snow getting all over the wood floors of our tiny galley kitchen and am looking for a solution.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 16, 2021 at 5:23 pm

      It’s a painted canvas floorcloth that I made to cover the existing vinyl floor! More soon!

  • Reply J.H. February 16, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    Lovely post all around. What struck me most was how refreshing it is to see shoes that are actually show some use in a blog post. So much of what we see online is all perfect-perfect. This is one of many reasons I love your blog – how you beautifully, yet honestly, show your family’s style and home!! Brava.

  • Reply Sherrie Olscamp February 16, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    You might consider cutting card board boxes into little mats to soak up winter salt and sand. When dirty they can then be recycled again into the normal way. Cutting down on the periodic cleanup time.

  • Reply Madeleine February 16, 2021 at 10:36 pm

    Well done! I didn’t realize the doors were unpainted wood before. They look so much better white – and I generally subscribe to the “never paint wood” camp. I am tempted to paint my own (rented) doors but have already been told that is a no go. Did you negotiate with your landlord or just crossing fingers?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 17, 2021 at 8:28 am

      Just asked!

  • Reply Rebecca K Ringquist February 17, 2021 at 12:39 am

    I have an odd question. It looks as if you’ve got a doorbell….inside your apartment?
    As the parent of two littles that are obsessed with doorbells, I’m very curious. Does it ring? Does it ding? What’s it doing there?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 17, 2021 at 8:27 am

      That button is actually the door buzzer. It’s what we press to open the front door when our doorbell rings!

  • Reply Luisa February 17, 2021 at 8:29 am

    It looks excellent! Thank you for this series of “small” updates. It has inspired me to tackle many small updates in my home as well. It feels funny to call them small because they still take effort to gather the materials–and inevitably, they take more time than I predict they will. But most importantly, the impact doesn’t feel so small, so they are well worth the effort and time!

  • Reply Jess February 17, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Your ingenuity and commitment to repurposing items is always inspiring. Thank you for sharing! Can I ask where your winter accessories are stored? We have one toddler with just a few items of gear but it still seems overflowing. I’d love any ideas you have to contain the entryway detritus.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 17, 2021 at 10:42 am

      Thanks! We have a wardrobe on the opposite wall of this room where we hang our coats and winter accessories—all of which are stuffed fairly unceremoniously into a tote bag and hung from a hook inside the wardrobe! Our biggest help is really sticking to keeping only one hat, one pair of gloves, and one scarf per kid/adult which means there’s not a huge assortment to rifle through!

  • Reply Laura February 17, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Such a good idea! Most ready-made shoe storage systems leave shoes out in the open, and it’s not the most visually appealing for an entryway. I would love to try something like this in my home!

  • Reply Steph February 17, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Sharing for others in case it’s helpful: We have a narrow hall as our “entry”, and I use an old wooden dresser to hold shoes for me and my kids in the bottom few drawers, and then other outdoor accessories, etc. sit in the top drawers (hats, gloves, scarves, masks, etc.). If your dresser is more precious or you don’t want to dirty the insides of the drawers, it could be lined, but I just vacuum or wipe them out once in a while. Of course, boots can’t stand upright in this, but we really only wear boots in the snowy winter, when they need to sit out and dry on a mat most of the time anyways 🙂 And those we do want to keep handy in the dresser can easily be laid flat if they are dry already. It looks nice and keeps the majority of our heading-out-the-door supplies out of sight in a busy passageway. We’re even able to keep our three pairs of skates in the bottom drawer laid flat, which is nice for avid skaters.

    • Reply Sarah February 17, 2021 at 3:15 pm

      Ooh, this is pretty genius to me. I expect dressers would be easy to come by, easy to use a different way at another time, and would corral my gloves/hats/scarves more neatly. Thanks for sharing your strategy!

  • Reply Yasmin Bartlett February 17, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    My husband said to me, what are you reading and I described the blog post! In the half an hour since I managed to find a similar thing on FB marketplace and have it delivered in about 30 mins, thank you for the inspiration! Our entry way already looks so much better!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 18, 2021 at 9:15 am

      Yay! So glad to hear that!

  • Reply Heather February 17, 2021 at 7:43 pm

    Why does ur floor ripple? I love the sweet cupboard!!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 18, 2021 at 9:15 am

      It’s a painted canvas floorcloth! More soon!

  • Reply Robin February 18, 2021 at 10:52 am

    That is a great solution!

  • Reply Evan February 18, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    Can I ask a shoe question? I need winter boots, and those look like they might be Blundstones. If yes, could you tell me if they are the thermal or the Chelsea or the high-top, and two, do you like them?
    Thanks 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 19, 2021 at 9:42 am

      James got me a pair of Blundstones for Christmas! I think they’re the classic Chelsea boots–not thermal or high-top that I know of! I really like them. They’ve been so great for hiking and just generally having warmer feet!

      • Reply Evan February 19, 2021 at 9:54 am

        Thank you!

    • Reply Emily February 21, 2021 at 8:25 am

      Blunnies are great! I live in Toronto and use them with wool socks as winter boots for all but the snowiest hikes and days, and I have the normal Chelsea ones. My partner has thermal lined but he says they’re too warm to wear except when you’re outside on really cold days, so he can’t wear them indoors or in fall/spring much. They’re such good shoes, and the company store we have here will oil them free for us every season.

  • Reply mackenzie February 18, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    I love this solution for shoes! We live in an apartment as well but we have open shoe storage by the front door and it honestly drives me crazy! I am going to look for something similar to this to corral all of our shoes 🙂

  • Reply Louisa Clarendon February 22, 2021 at 6:17 am

    A strange question… can you open your front door completely? It looks from the photos that the door would touch the shoe cabinet. If it does, what do you use to protect against damage to both the door and shoe cabinet? I have a hook on the back of my door and it hits the wall behind and scuffs it. I have yet to find a good solution to prevent marks….

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 22, 2021 at 8:32 am

      We can’t open the front door completely. The cabinet and door are both painted the same color and so far we don’t have any scuff marks (and haven’t taken any preventative measures!).

  • Reply Andrea May 21, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    Erin, where are your fabulous canvas sneakers from?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 24, 2021 at 9:46 am

      they’re gola sneakers!


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