Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When Home is... Good Storage Solutions

‘That’s what we do here, my mum does storage’, Fiona Chandler recently overheard her six-year-old daughter tell a friend who had asked why there were so many boxes in Fiona’s home office.

‘Oh,’ answered her friend, ‘We have stuff everywhere at our house.’

‘So do we,’ her daughter sympathised, ‘My mum just works out ways to hide it.’

Indeed her mother has worked out many ‘ways to hide it’ and three years ago turned these solutions into the storage brand Fiona Kate.

Living in a small house with two small children and another on the way, Fiona saw how much clutter the family had accumulated but had never found a successful way to store it; ‘Every time I thought I’d found something to store all the toys, baby clothes and books in, they would either break or the kids would get paint on them and it was too expensive to go out and buy another 10.’

‘I tried wicker baskets that just got dusty and were too big so all the small toys would disappear to the bottom. Plastic tubs just looked ugly. I couldn’t find the right sizes to fit my shelves or I’d go back and the shop wouldn’t have the same colour. I just wanted something useful that I would never have to think about again.’

Working as an Art Director designing homeware brands, Fiona decided she should just make her own boxes. ‘I wrote down a list of all the things I wanted: it needed to be strong, fun, classic and flexible enough to carry a child from baby to teen and beyond.’

From experience, Fiona knew that corflute, a strong propylene, would be the most durable material she could use. She had a prototype made, let the kids play with it, made a few changes then had them made up.

It wasn’t long before girlfriends were asking where she had found the boxes and soon after her house was used in a magazine photoshoot. One of the staff saw the boxes and asked to include them in the photos. More people started asking about them and suddenly Fiona and her husband realised they may have stumbled into a business.

‘I would never have thought this would be a business idea or that I would ever start up a business. I was just trying to solve all my own storage issues!’

They decided to see what would happen. ‘I said to my friends “these are the sizes I’ve made. Can you go home and tell me all your storage issues, measure the sizes you need and what colours you want?”

With all their feedback, Fiona made a few more prototypes which were tested by ‘jumping, sitting and dragging’ and before long had the finished product out in the marketplace.

As her four children have grown, Fiona has stumbled across different storage issues to those she had with a house full of babies and toddlers. But, as the boxes have been designed to outlast any childhood phase, she has found that what first housed nappies moved on to housing blocks, then lego, then trainsets, and now stores a soccer kit.

Fiona spends a lot of time designing and redeveloping her products in much the same way as she did when making those first boxes. ‘I use it and use it to make sure it will work and last. I give it to the kids to try out... they enjoy helping. Actually they most enjoy telling me what’s wrong with it. It’s like I have my own quality control team.’

Sometimes the kids come up with their own storage issues that need solving. ‘My oldest son sleeps on the top bunk and wanted something to keep his lego men and other precious things out of the way of the other kids. “I can’t sleep with a box, Mum” he said to me but he wanted something to put those things inside.’

‘I designed the ‘Storage Bandit’, a little woollen bag, and gave it to him to test out. He loved it so I gave one to each child and all of them used it for something different. I then gave it to a few girlfriends. I didn’t tell them what it was for, just asked them to use it. None of them ended up giving it to their kids. One used it next to her front door to keep her keys in, another used it on her desk and another in her car. Everyone could find a use that suited their needs so I will sell it now.’

As everyone has different needs and all houses have different storage problems, it has always been important to Fiona that her brand is able to be used in a multitude of ways to solve a multitude of problems.

When asked to pick a favourite product, she is quick to choose the crate box; ‘It’s got handles, looks stylish, I can carry it around, it goes camping and to the park and all I have to do is wipe it down. We’ve used it to carry food for parties to the park and then it becomes a table too.’

When the family renovated their home, not surprisingly, built in storage was well thought out. ‘I don’t like clutter,’ says Fiona, ‘but we have an extraordinary amount of stuff that has just become well hidden.’

‘Every corner of the house was used and many features have two uses. The kitchen bench seats open up for storage, the kids have bench seats, cupboards and bookshelves in their rooms. All are easily accessible so the kids are able to get to everything.’

‘I don’t need a tidy house but I do need a systematic house and then I find life much easier. The kids know where everything belongs. There are hooks for hats, there’s a book cupboard. I try to make it easy and doable.’

So, does a systematic house make the morning rush to get six people up, dressed, fed and ready to get out the door for work and school easier? Fiona laughs. ‘My system for the morning would have to be... I shout about socks a lot!’

‘I’m not the best mother in the world or the best housekeeper. I don’t get stuff done on time and I don’t have it all sussed. We’re just an ordinary family trying to work it all out. But I do think that anything that drives you mental you just need a solution to. Otherwise you end up being that shouty, scary woman!’

To find out more about Fiona Kate products, visit the website here.

To read Fiona's blog, where she answers commonly asked questions about all things storage, click

All images © Fiona Chandler

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