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How to Choose a New Wall Unit

Part bookshelves, part entertainment center, a wall unit in your family room helps utilize vertical space for getting organized and frees up floors and tabletops.

By Jan Soults Walker

Piles of books, mounds of games (with missing pieces), tangles of exposed electrical cords, an array of family photos, and a slew of DVDs. If this scene describes your family room, take control of the clutter with a wall unit. Part bookshelves, part entertainment center, the wall unit is a smart strategy to utilize vertical space for getting organized and frees up floors and tabletops for fun and togetherness.

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Garrison Hullinger

Whether you want a freestanding or built-in wall unit, consider these steps before you make your investment.

  • Assess your stuff. So exactly how much stuff do you need to store in the family room? "You really must first take a look at all the things you want to stow away in that area," says organizational guru Donna Smallin Kuper of and author of such guides as How to Declutter and Make Money Now. "Do you need display space for artwork and photos? Storage for other photos, books, and how about DVDs, CDs, and games?"
  • Purge the excess. Once you have everything together, size it all up. "Group your family room belongings into categories," Kuper suggests. "This gives you a better grasp of how much space you need for each kind of item and will help you determine special storage needs, such as drawers for DVDs, cabinets for games, and shelves for artwork." Then, she says, let go of the things you can live without. "Donate items to charity and books to a library, or hold a garage sale and earn some cash," she says. "Do you watch all those DVDs; listen to all the CDs? Books seem to be a larger issue for some. Think about whether you really want them all out on the shelves."
Gleicher Design Group
  • Measure carefully. Take dimensions of the width and height of the space where you plan to place the wall unit, and determine a depth that will work best for the space and your storage needs. "I own a wall unit that allowed plenty of storage on top when it was in my former home, but when I moved to this house, there's only 6 inches to spare above the unit," she says. "So I lost the storage space up top. Dimensions matter."
  • Plan for media equipment. Available space isn't the only measurement you'll need. Know the width, height, and depth of your television and accompanying media equipment as well as the required ventilation space. "My wall unit lacks holes for power cords," Kuper says, "so it's not designed for media equipment. Make sure there's a way to pass cords to outlets and that you have a spot for each piece of equipment—cable boxes, gaming gear, modems, routers, and the like."
  • Check shelving. Avoid being locked into one scenario and select a unit with adjustable shelving. "Better yet," Kuper says, "make sure the shelves are easily adjustable. There is nothing more frustrating than struggling with shelf clips that won't budge, so try adjusting the shelves in the store."
Kathryn Scott
  • Go into hiding. Shelves aren't your only option."You may want to consider a unit that also offers closed cabinetry for hiding stacks of games or toys," Kuper says. "Deep drawers are another choice for keeping your belongings accessible but out of sight."
  • Consider modular. Give an A-plus to any units you're considering with flexible design options. "Life changes," Kuper says, "and so will your storage needs. If you have kids, look at modular units, such as from IKEA, that you can add onto or change the configurations or customize with different storage accessories."
  • Investigate accessories. Manufacturers offer an array of storage options from drawer inserts for keeping DVDs tidy to roll-out shelves so nothing gets lost at the back of cabinet. "Canvas bins add color to shelves and baskets lend textural beauty. Both keep small items together but hidden," Kuper says.
  • Express your style. Shop around, you'll be amazed by the varieties of looks offered in family room wall units. "Find something that really speaks to your style," Kuper says. "There is something for everyone, from contemporary to traditional and everything in between."
  • Seek quality. "Select a good, solid unit—the best you can afford," Kuper says. "It needs to withstand moving—maybe several times—but you don't want it to be such a monster it's a struggle to lift and maneuver through doorways." Additionally, Kuper says every freestanding wall unit should either be stable and substantial enough that you know it won't topple or use hardware to secure it to the wall.
"One last thought," Kuper sums up, "if your home is like mine, there are a bunch of remotes controlling all that equipment. Rather than losing them in the couch cushions or leaving them out on the coffee table, designate a basket on the wall unit shelf to hold the remotes. You'll love knowing where they are!"

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