Paper Storage: An Alternative to Flat Files

One of the many challenges of being an artist is storing supplies and, for book artists, that means paper. Do we roll it up? Lay it flat? And where in our studio do we store paper without exposure to dust, bugs and other troublesome elements?

Ideally I think we’d all love to have a nice set, or three, of flat files. Big, flat, thin drawers to cradle all of that beautiful paper that we just can’t resist. If you’ve ever been to the annual paper sale at Flax in San Francisco, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s such a deal, why not buy more? Because you have to store it somewhere.

I agonized over whether I could afford flat files (I tried Craigslist and Freecycle in addition to art and office supply stores, I even tried school suppliers hoping that they might have a bit more of a bargain for classroom storage) and, even if I could afford them, would they fit in my studio, a 10 x 10 bedroom? The only option was to remove my work table and use the top of the flat files as workspace.  I didn’t really like this idea and thought long and hard about what I truly needed.

I realized that because of the size limitations of my computer printer it was unlikely that I would ever make artists’ books that would need full sheets of paper. This changed the size of the paper that I needed to store from 22 x 30 to half sheets of 22 x 15. I knew I wanted drawers, not containers with lids, so that I could stack them and not have to move anything to get to the paper. I do enough of that shuffling around already in my studio. I scoured the local stores and the internet for a product that would work.

Enter the Wide Underbed Drawers from the Container Store. These stackable drawers are 23 x 27 x 6.5 high and easily hold half sheets of pretty much any paper I’ve bought. It turns out that 6 of them fit neatly between my upper and lower linen closets. Aha. Instant flat paper storage for a pittance compared to the price of flat files. $150 for six drawers (38 ” of stacked height) instead of the $500-$1500 I would have paid for flat files. Even better, by ordering online and picking up at my local Container store, shipping is free and they brought the items to my car. Now that is customer service.

I’ve had my stacking drawers for more than a year now. I’m very happy with the size, the ease of stacking and the amount of paper I can fit in the drawers. They are easy to open and close and do not jam. Because of their height, I am able to store boxes in the drawers to divide the paper. For example, if I’ve cut Rives to 8.5 x 11 grain short and Rives to 8.5 x 11 grain long I want to be able to store them separately but I don’t want to use up a whole drawer for just one stack. I use the Stockholm Office Boxes, also from the Container Store, to hold smaller sheets inside the larger drawers. (Just to be clear, I have no affiliation with The Container Store, I just love these products enough to recommend them.)

I have no idea yet where this flat paper storage will go in my new studio, but because of their stackability there is a lot of flexibility, certainly more than if I’d purchased flat files.

A friend of mine, Kitta, stores hers in rolls in a wine rack turned on it’s back, another friend under her bed. How do you store large pieces of paper for your art?


11 responses to “Paper Storage: An Alternative to Flat Files

  1. This is a great idea, thanks for sharing. Another source for map files is your local state university swap store. They sell all their used equipment, furniture, etc. to the public on certain days of the month. They have map files a couple of times a year and they can be very cheap. But you have to be patient for one to show up and the other downside is you have to lug and haul yourself.

  2. Ahhh, smart idea. I think they have paper drawers at Cheap Joe’s but they probably cost more. Or maybe they are just shelves. Anyway, you are so clever, plus I like that you can see through the drawers when making your selection.

  3. Great idea, Ginger. I’ve been hanging my large papers against the back wall of a closet. I use 3M removable hooks on the wall and large paper clamps that hang from the hooks. But I like your idea much better.

  4. I, too, think the storage drawers are the perfect solution for my paper problem. Since a Container Store is not anywhere in Michigan, I ordered online directly from the distributor — Iris USA. The price was $22 apiece, plus shipping ($12 for three drawers). Can’t wait until they get here! Thanks for sharing your good idea.

  5. I use my linen closet for paper storage. My linens are in various other locations. You can tell where my priorities are. I can get paper up to 17 x 22 in my linen closet. For full size sheets I put them on a board in my guest bedroom closet. The board is propped up by frames. Frames, book cloth, paper, art supplies are in that closet. When guests visit I manage to eek out a couple of inches of space for them to hang clothes.

  6. I have a large steel file cabinet that I believe was used to hold computer related crap. I used to use dresser drawers but then needed to use them to store clothing. Alas…
    My cabinet is about 4 feet high 2.5 feet wide / 2.5 ft deep.
    I really wanted flat files and gazed longingly at them on Craigslist and other places. If some were to magically appear I would be thrilled but I’m quite happy with my current paper storage.
    Before I bulled my way into housing this 200lb monster, I also used plastic pants hangers (like the ones that come from kids new clothing) and hung large sheets in the closet. It worked pretty well and even though I now have storage drawers, I still use the closet for sheets that won’t fit.

  7. I love the idea of container store shelves.I need to invest in some myself. here’s an idea if you have rolls of paper

  8. Years ago, I bought a big holiday wrapping paper storage bag, about 48″ long x 15″ in diameter, made of heavy clear flexible plastic (acetate?). It also has an extra storage area, about 6″ long on one end. Both ends zip open around the circumference. It works pretty well for rolled paper, with a couple of cardboard tubes (with paper either in them, or around them) for stability. It’s so light that I can store it under my worktable, which is good because my workspace is about 6′ by 6′. I have tons of stuff on Ikea 18″ square shelves (4 across by 4 high), from which my table suspends and folds down when we need to use the dining room! I long for flat files! where I could actually see what I have, but that’s for another life.

  9. Thank you so much for this tip! I bought two at the weekend, and have three more on order! I was at a loss until I saw this post. 🙂

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