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Knowing how to avoid mistakes (and what to look for) in a garage cabinetry project (Part 2 of a 2 part series)

If you’ve never done a garage cabinetry project before, FOSU (that’s the Fear of Screwing Up), can paralyze you from ever getting started. This IS NOT a project you do every day (thankfully).

Just like with all home improvement projects, there’s more to the job than meets the eye. Here are a few questions that could be bubbling up in your brain if you’re considering throwing out your store-bought garage shelving (which is likely sagging, bent, rusty, and disorganized) and installing professional garage cabinets:

  • Where should I put the cabinets?
  • How tall, wide, and deep should they be?
  • Should I include a workbench or a place to take off shoes?
  • How should the cabinets be built so they’re simple to maintain and hold up over the long run?
  • How can I get things off the floor and make it easier to walk through the garage without tripping?
  • How can I make sure my kids or grandkids won’t get their hands on dangerous chemicals like they can today with my open shelving?
  • How can I make sure I have access to my outlets?
  • How do I prepare for the job so the garage cabinet installers can complete the job efficiently?
  • How long will a garage cabinetry installation take? And what should I look for to make sure I get a quality job?

And yes, this list could go on and on and on – but you get the gist. There’s a lot to think through before spending money on a garage cabinetry and slatwall project.

And as a guy who leads a company that designs and installs garage cabinetry systems in Columbus Ohio, I come face to face with garage storage problems daily.

So, when my wife Rose and I FINALLY decided we had it (up to here – as my mom used to say) with our ‘garage organization system’ (and yes, I’m using that term with a heavy dose of sarcasm), I wanted to make darn sure I didn’t make ANY MISTAKES – after all I am a garage cabinetry professional. And I’m proud to say I almost pulled it off….and yes I will fess up and mention one thing I would have done differently.  

So, in the second part of this two-part series (and if you’re interested in part 1, read Knowing How to Avoid Mistakes (and what to expect) in a Garage Floor Coating Project) you’ll get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at Rose and I’s garage cabinetry project.

Part 1 how to avoid garage floor coating mistakes | Innovate Home Org | Dublin Ohio Garages | Garage Floor Coating

In this article, I’ll identify 15 garage cabinet system mistakes you DO NOT want to make.

Then I’ll let you know what to look for in a garage cabinetry installation.

And finally, I’ll share with you one thing – even as a garage cabinetry designer I would have done differently which I noticed AFTER we moved our things back in.   

15 garage cabinetry mistakes you DO NOT want to make.

Mistake #1 – Don’t start without knowing your goals AND having a plan.

You’ve heard the old saying, “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.” And in any home improvement project (including a garage cabinetry and slatwall installation) you need to know your goals and have a written plan, so you won’t be disappointed at the end.

Rose and I had three goals:

Goal #1) Get rid of the visual clutter.

We wanted to put as many things behind closed doors as possible (ALL garages look neater when you don’t see your stuff!). We even wanted to put yard tools (which just look ugly)– where possible – behind closed doors.

Mistake 1 goal 1 eliminate visual clutter with cabinets Columbus | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage Solutions | Cabinetry in the Garage

Goal #2) Make the garage safer.

Since we now have a granddaughter (and NO I’m not really old enough or mature enough for this stage in life– ha! ha!), we wanted to make sure it wasn’t possible for her to reach gas cans, bug sprays, windshield washer fluid, you name it as she gets older.

Goal #3) Create a ‘quasi’ mudroom in the garage.

Since there’s not enough space in our home for a mudroom (unless we wanted to make the kitchen smaller or take off the first-floor bathroom (which would make no sense) – we wanted to create a garage mudroom near the entry door from the garage into the house.

And before any garage cabinets were ordered – I created this detailed 3D garage design (which is the same thing I do for ‘real’ customers), so we knew exactly what the finished design would include. In addition, this design provides precise measurements (and cabinet locations) for the installation team. There’s no guesswork on the day of the job for the installation team on where things are supposed to go.

Mistake 1 - goal 3 - installer drawing garage cabinet columbus mike foti | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage Design Software | Cabinets in the Garage | Storage Solutions

Mistake 1 - goal 3 - 3D garage cabinetry design Mike Foti | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage Solutions | Garage Cabinets | Garage Organization in Dublin, oh

Mistake #2 – Don’t buy any old-sized cabinets.

A space-efficient (and practical) garage cabinetry system starts with choosing the right-sized cabinets.

And to make sure your cabinets are the right depth (especially if you’re putting them on the back wall of the garage you see where you pull in) you’ll want to measure your garage depth, then subtract the length of your vehicle to see not only if you have enough room to pull in – but also if you can still open the garage cabinet doors when the car is inside. This is especially important if you live in a cold weather climate like Columbus or Akron Ohio and want to get things from the cabinets (without having to pull vehicles out) when it’s ‘booty-freezing’ outside).

Since our garage is 255” deep (or 21’3”) and our SUV is 193” long, this left us 62” for not only the cabinets, but room to stand behind them when the doors are open.

Mistake 2 depth of garage cabinets to open door stand behind | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage Solutions | Garage Cabinets

Also – make sure to use your height to its fullest. Since we have a 125” high (10’5”) ceiling, we could use taller garage cabinets (our tallest cabinets are 90”).

Mistake #3 – If you’re O.C.D., eliminate open storage – where possible.  

For my wife visual clutter is like nails on a chalkboard. It’s to be avoided at all costs.

And I don’t care what you do, garages with open shelving look sloppy (because NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, keeps their stuff on shelves as pretty as the staged images on the websites of companies who sell open garage shelving)!

So, where possible – use garage cabinets with doors. And if your space is limited (and you don’t feel you have enough room to open doors with your truck or SUV parked inside) – consider a sliding garage door cabinet system.

Mistake 3 sliding garage cabinetry doors if space is limited columbus | Innovate Home Org | Garage Cabinets | Storage Solutions

Mistake #4 – Don’t forget to include a place to take off (and/or store) muddy shoes. Consider creating a ‘mini mudroom.’

If you don’t have room for a mudroom in your house you’re not alone (Rose and I suffered from the same problem in our 27-year-old home). So, what can you do about it?

Create a ‘mini mudroom’ in your garage. Include an area to take off and store shoes. In our project, we used a 2’ wide bench seat and a storage cabinet below for the tennis shoes I use when working in the yard. And as you’ll see in ‘mistake #5, we also added cabinets for extra household items storage next to the bench seat as well.

Mistake 4 mudroom bench with shoe storage Columbus | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage in Columbus, OH | Garage Storage Near me

Mistake #5 –Don’t view your garage as only a place for garage storage.

In a perfect world, you’d only need to use the garage for ‘traditional’ garage storage items (yard tools, automotive supplies, sporting equipment etc.). However, in the real world (especially if you live in an area of the country which doesn’t have basements – fortunately we do have one!), you may need space for household storage in the garage.

In our installation, we now store neatly (AWAY FROM SIGHT) bulk purchases of toilet paper, paper towels, and fizzy water.

Mistake 5 household storage toilet paper in garage cabinets Columbus | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage in Columbus, OH

Mistake #6 –Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations.

There are lots of ways for a supplier to ‘cheap-out’ in the ‘cabinets’ they sell you. They can use thinner shelves. They can supply cabinets that don’t have full back panels so your garage walls get dirty as time goes on. They can use hinges that are not heavy-duty or have slow-close operators so your kids and spouse can slam them when they’re mad.

In addition, if you’re looking for a quality garage cabinet – make sure they’re actually a separate cabinet vs. a ‘modified closet system’ put into a garage.

Look for 1” thick shelves.

Mistake 6 heavy duty garage cabinet hinges 1 inch thick shelves | Innovate Home Org | Garage Storage Solutions | Storage Organization

Ask about the warranty.

Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations…and there are a lot of them.  

Mistake #7 –Don’t underestimate the number of hooks for slatwall storage.

If you want to store more things in your garage and eliminate trip hazards (and get tools, bikes, leaf blowers, strollers, off the ground), the key is having more than enough hooks to go on your slatwall storage.

Mistake 7 number of tools on a hook in professional garage cabinet installation | Innovate Home Org | Closet Storage Solution | Custom Organization Ideas

Some people think they’re going to fit 4 shovels, rakes, and hoes on a single 8” deep hook – but they won’t!

I’d take the number of hooks you think you’ll need and add 25 to 50% more. You’ll need more hooks than you think, and they’re a small cost of the project.

Mistake #8 –Don’t hang the cabinets in a random fashion. Be strategic and symmetrical.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got to have symmetry – otherwise a design looks wrong. It looks out of balance. But in a garage design you not only need to think about symmetry, but you’ll also need to know if your cabinet doors have enough room to open when your ‘rigs’ are parked inside.

In our design, I wanted to use a 36” wide cabinet for our small hand tools (many of which are hung with hooks on slatwall inside the cabinet), but didn’t need the rest of the cabinets to be this wide. So, we used a 36” wide cabinet in the middle and flanked it with two 30” cabinets on the side (so my ‘O.C.D.-ness was kept in check).  

Mistake 8 symmetrical cabinets in columbus garage installation | Innovate Home Org | Custom Garage Storage Upper Arlington | Organization Solutions

Mistake #9 –DO NOT cover outlets. Don’t lose any function when installing garage cabinets.

As more people are ‘searching’ for useable space in their existing homes (especially given the crazy-high prices of new homes), the garage has become the place for more than storage and vehicles. You’ll see garages used as studios, gyms, workshops, and even home offices. And if you don’t believe me read, What are the best uses of your garage?”

So – if you’re considering an alternative use for your garage the last thing you want to do is cover ANY electrical outlets. When using full garage cabinets, make sure the backs are cut for your outlets.  

Mistake 9 do not cover outlets in garage cabinets columbus | Columbus Ohio Garage Cabinets | Garage Cabinet Storage | Organization

Mistake #10 –Don’t forget a lock on a door(s) to protect little ones.

One of Rose’s friends used to joke about her kids ‘going up stupid hill’ (a fun way to put the dumb things kids do. If only our kids were as smart as we are!). I can relate to that phrase as Rose, and I went to the emergency room when our son Parker and a friend decided to ‘play with’ gasoline when they were young! And I’m sure if you’re a parent out there, you have your own emergency room stories to tell.

Well, the best way to eliminate ER visits (other than NOT having kids or grandkids) is to lock dangerous chemicals behind doors. And a simple way to do this is to have one cabinet in your garage storage system with a lock. Even though none of our kids is young today, we now have a granddaughter – and we’re sure as heck going to do our best to protect her from a trip up stupid hill (or at least while she’s visiting our home)!

Mistake 10 lock on garage cabinet doors Columbus | Garage Storage Organization | Garage Cabinets | Organization Solution in Columbus, OH

Mistake #11 –Don’t forget to include things (other than the cabinets) in your design.

As much as I’d like to put the emphasis on garage cabinets (and workbenches, slatwall, and mini-mudrooms), it’s garage design planning malpractice to NOT include things beyond the cabinets in the design.

And one example of this is your trash cans. Since most people store trash cans inside the garage – and many want them conveniently located close to the inside of the house, you need to think through their size (and location) in your plan.

In our design, Rose and I positioned one of our trash cans between our ‘mini mudroom’ storage and the second storage area where we keep tools, sports, and automotive equipment.

The amount of space left for the trash cans was intentional! Not only was the actual size (width, depth, and height) of the can measured (and put in the design), but slatwall was placed behind the can so the wall won’t get nasty when the lid is opened.

Mistake 11 trash can open with slatwall behind it | Innovate Home Org | Storage Solutions | Garage Cabinets

Mistake #12 –Install your cabinets off the ground – or you’ll be sorry.

If you like to (or your spouse forces you to) sweep or hose out your garage, the last thing you want is to ‘fight’ cabinets which sit on the damp garage floor (which DOES NOT help the longevity of the cabinets either). They’re a pain to clean around.

Use cabinets which are wall mounted and 6” to 12” off the garage floor.

Mistake 12 wall hung garage cabinets space to clean columbus | Columbus Garage Storage | Home Organization | Garage Cabinets

Mistake #13 –Make sure you use sturdy and thick tops.

Whether you’re using a top for a bench seat or workbench you want to make sure it’ll stand up to the T.L.C. (OK, I’m being sarcastic here) your family will show to it.

In our counter, Rose and I chose a 1 1/8” thick high pressure laminate top with thick edges (in the industry it’s called edge banding).

Mistake 13 sturdy thick garage cabinet tops columbus | Home Organization Garage Storage | Columbus, OH Garage Storage

Mistake #14 –Don’t forget to add a few drawers.

While garage cabinets with doors are wonderful (especially if you’ve put up with open shelving for years), it’s also nice to include drawers for tools, electrical cords, or small hand tools.  

Mistake #15 –Make a place for sporting equipment.

 While my garage design didn’t need to accommodate much sporting equipment (our ‘kids’ are grown and weren’t big sports people anyway), I’d say this is the exception to the rule. So, if you’ve got a sports-crazy family, use ball stays or mesh baskets to ‘attempt’ (if your family will follow the program) to keep your garage organized.

Mistake 15 include ball stay for garage cabinet storage | Garage Storage Columbus, OH | Home Organization | Garage Storage Solutions

What to look for in a garage cabinetry installation.

I’m going to make a bold statement.

You can buy the greatest quality cabinets in the world, but if they’re not installed properly you could have B-I-G problems!

For example, if a cabinet (or yard tool) falls onto your (or your partner’s) fancy SUV or luxury car, it won’t be a good day.

So, if you’re looking for a quality job – and want to make sure you’ve found a well-oiled (OK- maybe not literally well-oiled) installation team, what should you look for? Here’s 7 things to watch out for – and to prepare for – to get a time-effective, high quality installation:

  • Does the installation team have a ‘system?’ One of the things I loved seeing was my installation team (led by Sean Malmsberry our Operations Manager) had a process. Each team member (including Kevin Kretzer – whose been with our company since Moses was a boy, and Nerraw Sanders) had a role and got right to it. There was no messing around!

What to look for - 1 installation team with a system | Home Organization | Garage Storage Solutions

  • Are your cabinets anchored in multiple places? While a wall hung garage cabinet has a number of benefits (read mistake 12 above), it’s critical they be properly anchored with cleats (and no, these aren’t the same cleats your kids have on football spikes). These cleats are behind the cabinets and tied into the studs. Make sure your cabinets won’t be ‘hanging by a thread.’

what to look for - 2 cleats to support wall hung garage cabinets | Garage Storage Solutions | Columbus Garage Organization | Garage Cabinets

  • Does your cabinet installer use heavy duty, slow-close hinges? If you have any ‘door slammers’ in your house, you may have ‘enjoyed the task’ of attempting to find a handyman to repair cabinet doors. Well to fight against your (favorite … sarcasm intended) door slammers, make sure high quality hinges with slow-close operators are included.

What to look for - 3 heavy duty slow close garage hinges columbus | Columbus Garage Storage | Home Organization | Garage Storage Solutions

  • Is your garage floor protected? OK- maybe if you have an old, nasty, garage floor you won’t be worried about this – but such WAS NOT the case for us. Rose and I are (proudly) sporting our new epoxy coated floor (you can read about it in part 1 of this series about garage floor coatings). So, we wanted to make sure it was protected – and it was. And I’m sure if it wasn’t Rose (in all of her 5’2” glory) would have taken the ‘boys out back’ and had a word or two with them! Ha! ha!

what to look for - 4 tarps on the floor | Innovate Home Org | Columbus, OH garage cabinet storage

  • Are your cabinets pre-assembled so you won’t have an Eldon the Painter (who was the guy in the Murphy Brown sitcom was always painting her home) installation on your hands?  Let’s be realistic. Even if you have the best garage cabinetry crew known to man (or woman) – you really don’t want installers at your home. You want the new stuff installed, then put your contents back, then enjoy your new garage. Towards this end I’d ask your garage cabinet supplier if they pre-build your cabinets so the time on the site is reduced. In most cases, garage cabinet installations are done in a day.  

what to look for - 5 preassembled garage cabinets coming off truck columbus | Columbus, OH Garage Storage Solutions | Home Organization Tips

  • Is your crew doing the ‘little things’ to ensure the project will stand the test of time? Sometimes it’s the things you don’t see which are more important than what you do see. Such is the case in this picture where Kevin is gluing and screwing the slatwall inside this cabinet because there was only one stud behind this cabinet to anchor the slatwall.

what to look for - 6 kevin installing slatwall glue and screw | Garage Storage Solution | Home Organization | Garage Storage Ideas

  • Have you made life easy (and pleasurable if I can go that far) for your crew? Years ago, I had an old installer named Pete (who was a bit of a curmudgeon). Pete would give the customer his ‘A job’ if he was treated nicely – and less than an ‘A job’ if he wasn’t! And let’s face it, when you roll out the red carpet for the crew and treat the team well –they’ll go the extra mile. This means taking the contents away from any wall(s) the project is being built on (so they don’t have to move your stuff). It could also mean being really nice (like Rose, says this guy whose been married a looooong time!) and putting out snacks and drinks for the crew. A little kindness goes a long way.

what to look for - 7 contents on side access to back walls

what to look for - 7 snack for innovate home org installation crew | Garage Storage Solutions | Home Organization in Columbus, OH

One thing I would have done differently.

OK – I’d love to tell you I developed the perfect design (because after all I AM a garage designer). However, even those in the business (after they use a system) might have thoughts about something they would have done differently.

And in my design my one regret is I would have added a few drawers for tools and small supplies. Other than that, I’m cool with my design (and more importantly Rose is LOVING our new cabinets). And as they say (whoever ‘they’ are), “Happy wife, happy life!”

One warning, and one unintended consequence (‘er more work for me!).

These garage improvements do, however, come with a price (beyond the cost of the job). As I mentioned in the part 1 of this series after we did the floor we noticed how ugly the unpainted insides of the garage doors looked – so I ended up painting them.

And after the garage cabinets where installed our old wheel barrel is not looking too good either– so I’m off to buy paint for it as well.

I’ll warn you, as you make things look better it’ll have some ‘ripple effects’ which can cause you more work! I’m just ‘keeping it real dog’ (as Randy Jackson used to say on American Idol).

So, you may be wondering, how can I get help with a garage cabinetry project?

If you read about my project and have ‘garage envy,’ me and my team would love to help. For a Free 3D garage design in Columbus Ohio call Innovate Home Org at 614-545-6888.

And if you’re not in Columbus, add information in the comments of this blog and I’ll see if I can find a friend through my industry trade groups who can assist.

Thanks for reading about our garage journey (and dealing with my wacky personality along the way).



If you’d like more information and articles on garage, pantry, entryway or custom closet design follow me on LinkedIn @MikeFotiLinkedIn

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Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

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