Home & Garden

These dressers are a good fit for small places

Stylish children’s furniture such as PB Teen’s Chelsea Tower dresser can save space or an apartment or condo.
Stylish children’s furniture such as PB Teen’s Chelsea Tower dresser can save space or an apartment or condo. PB TEEN

Dressers, often the catch-all for socks, pajamas and off-duty garb such as jeans and T-shirts, are just as important as closets.

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, Md., suggests apartment dwellers think outside the bedroom.

“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, having lived for a time in a 230-square-foot studio in downtown Washington. 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 offer handy items such as storage beds and stackable bins, dressers are typically still too large for rooms where the bed barely fits.

“What these spaces need is what people used to call a lingerie chest,” says interior designer Kelley Proxmire, referring to the tall, slim chests that were once popular for storing linens 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, Md., says she stumbled into her own dresser conundrum when she was trying to find storage furniture for her 750-square-foot condo. After hitting every major furniture retailer in the Washington 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 it holds clothes and doubles as a TV stand.

“You’d never know it wasn’t intended to be a dresser because it fits perfectly in my space,” she says.

Look for vintage or secondhand pieces with a mid-century aesthetic, because they’re typically smaller-scale than furniture designed for newer homes, Benton says. “The homes of the ’50s were not the homes of today.”

Check a retailer’s children’s section for pieces that are essentially smaller versions of a main-line piece, Wachtel suggests. 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 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. Buy a simple piece, such as one of Ikea’s five- or six-drawer Hemnes chests ($149-$179, www.ikea.com), and replace the hardware with something more personal, Wachtel recommends.