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Dream Homes ... For Outdoor Folk

Words and photos by Molly Steere

Photo: What every outdoorsman needs--a place to store everything. It might as well keep your climbing technique honed, too.

When buying new gear, from skis and kayaks to tents and clothing, the biggest concern in my household is not expense or even performance, but where we’re going to put it.   And if we’re lucky enough to find a spot tucked in amongst the rest of our poorly-stored sports gear, will we ever see it again?  

In a rental unit without a garage, we’re in a bit of a pickle.  I’ve unexpectedly found myself defending my right to have a coffee table in the living room --- a room my husband thinks is better suited for bike storage.  Since we’re preparing to build a large pole barn and small log home on our property outside of town, the discussion of storage requirements and proportions (and whether or not we need to retain a divorce lawyer), has come up repeatedly in conversations.   My nightmares are filled with his Castle Grayskull dwarfing my Barbie Dream House.

Driving through neighborhoods, looking at the latest monstrosities shoe-horned into small lots, we imagine gymnasium-sized gear rooms that could house a quiver of skis, fleet of kayaks, stable of bikes, and racks of climbing gear.  In reality, tours of these houses reveal bonus rooms, multiple master suites, media rooms and gourmet kitchens, all full of stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day, let alone a starry night.  If a gear-laden outdoor enthusiast were to design a storage space, and had full spousal approval, what would that space look like?

The Outdoors Specialist

I went to Mark Shipman for answers.  Mark is an ER doctor at the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center Walk-In Clinic and an outdoor fanatic, to put it mildly.  He’s one of those guys who can fit in twice as much work and play into the day as the rest of us.  He bikes, ice climbs, rock climbs, mountaineers, backcountry skis, Nordic skis, paddles, and paragliders, all while working 30 hours a week at the clinic (a major reduction from his previous hours).  I was not surprised to learn he had recently added tap dancing to his repertoire of activities. 

Mark moved back to Wenatchee when he realized he could do more as an outdoor recreation enthusiast here than just about any place in the world.  On a recent day off he ran his dog over Saddle Rock and back, flew his paraglider off Burch Mountain and finished the day paddling with friends up the Columbia.  “I have always considered myself a climber and a skier.  Doing all kinds of other outdoor sports just somehow increases the enjoyment,” said Mark.  “I try to make my recreational time as physical as I can.”

When it comes to storage, Mark, like most outdoorsy folks trying to get the most out of life, bows to the gods of efficiency.   He doesn’t want to spend his time packing or preparing; he wants to spend his time experiencing.  “Efficiency is paramount,” said Mark.  “You can get caught up with storage and waste so much time figuring out how to get organized, and then I think you kind of lost the battle a little bit.”   As it is now, Mark can walk into his garage, grab his paragliding bag and head out to fly within a couple minutes.  Packing for overnight climbing trips can be as little at ten minutes. 

Mark Shipman's solution to outdoor gear--a dedicated 'stuff' garage.

The Walk-In Toy Box

A quick tour of the Shipman home and garages proved that Mark put a lot of thought into the storage of his gear.  We started with the attached garage where he and his wife, Rosie, can park two cars comfortably.  For efficiency’s sake, he keeps his camping cookware and bladders in this garage because it’s a closer walk to the kitchen to fill up with water and food.  He also stores his paragliding gear in here.

A year ago, the Shipmans built a two-story garage behind the house, which stores the majority of the gear required to fuel Mark’s addictions.  This garage, accessed via a drive around the side of the house for easy loading and unloading, is a virtual walk-in toy box for the outdoor enthusiast.  It reminded me a little of REI back in the good old days:  cool, functional, and chock full of gear without any glitz.  Bob Key, a general contractor obsessed with properly utilized storage space, helped design the space.

“Taking a small space and making it usable -- I’m fascinated by it,” said Bob who lives in a hyper-functional 327 square foot living space (with double the space for his shop).  Mark’s gear garage is by no means small, but it’s exquisitely functional.

The main floor of the garage has two walls of shelving, cubbies and racks to hold his skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, and snowshoeing gear as well as tents and bags and everything else required for general mountaineering.  Corner space is maximized with a rope dolly that Key designed.  Hooks run the length of the shelving system so Mark can hang items to dry when he comes home and grab them off the hooks as he leaves.  A work bench for grinding ice tools and waxing his skis stands on the right wall.  The middle of the garage is open and spacious leaving plenty of room to work at a bike stand or, in Mark’s case, practice tap dancing.  

Mark isn’t the only Shipman with an obsession that requires vast storage space.  His wife, Rosie, works with miniatures and the second floor of the garage is her work area, complete with work tables and storage designed in part by Bob.  A roof on the left side of the garage shelters Marks’s larger toys including a dirt bike, scooter and snowmobile (all to get to trail heads) and a couple boats on pulley systems. 

In a true show of ‘form follows function’ belief, the Shipmans’ attractive yard belies its practicality.  The right side of the gear garage boasts a climbing wall.  A pull up bar is a few steps outside of the door from the master bedroom, camouflaged in ivy.   “I just stumble out here in the morning and a do a few pull-ups,” Mark said.  A small bbq is in-laid into the ground to provide a fuss-free fire pit and two small sheds to the side of the house hold all of the gardening equipment.  “You can’t have that stuff mixed in with your gear!” scoffs Mark. 

A Man Can Dream

When I ask Mark how he would remodel his home and garages to accommodate his gear if spousal approval, cost, time and reality weren’t factors, he responded, “Well, we’ve done just that!  But if Rosie and I were to win a large lottery, we’d probably try to figure out a way to build a home inside one of the huge old warehouses in downtown Wenatchee with unlimited inside storage space.” 

I ponder this idea and wonder if it’s sound…and get the distinct feeling Mark is used to people pausing to question his soundness of mind.  If you have the room, aren’t you prone to fill it?  In my eyes, that’s the downfall of this new, large construction style that’s so prevalent these days.  If you have ten rooms, you have to furnish ten rooms, and even worse, you have to clean ten rooms.  This drastically cuts into play time and funding. 

Photo: Mark Shipman picks the perfect rope for the day, a light 9.2mm line rather than a 9.4mm monster.

According to Mark, the problem isn’t in having too much space; it’s how you’re using it in conjunction with your lifestyle.  “I find it laughable the way builders build homes today.  It’s just silly,” Mark said.  “As you get to be old enough, you’re likely to be affluent enough to be able to afford the toys that get you outside.”  Unfortunately, if the space isn’t designed to store gear, it doesn’t matter how many rooms you have – you still can’t get to your skis in a timely manner.

Bob Key agrees.  “I see people’s garages and I just crack up.  They need help.  Their cars are always parked outside.  Their garage is so full of junk they can’t even get a motorcycle in it,” he said.  These people have insane amounts of space, but nowhere to put their stuff.  Mini-storage businesses are scarring the faces of towns across the nation for this very reason.

The key is making your space work for you.  Mark helped me realize that having a separate building (in my case, a ginormous barn) built specifically for our sports equipment arsenal, is the best solution as long as it’s designed intelligently to maximize storage.  It will save me from having to designate one room in the house as the ‘homey’ façade to dupe guests into thinking we’re normal, while the rest of house bursts with the shrapnel from our outdoor activities…and the 37 boots required for those activities.  I think I hear my husband celebrating in the living room/bike locker.  

 

Click here to read Molly's sequel, describing more gear-storage strategies