One of the primary principles that cadets take away from time spent at The Citadel in Charleston is discipline. Everything is structured, down to the manner in which everyday items are stored. For Chris Weston, such discipline gives him assurance that his extracurricular hobbies and activities remain simple and relaxing, with no worry of wondering where things are. “I like to have everything functional,” he says. “Without discipline I learned at The Citadel, I don’t know where I would be today.”
Chris, the son of a physician, spent many hours growing up in Charleston seeking out and accumulating “things” … dismissed wooden furniture, scrap wood and anything else that struck him as capable of being whittled and scraped into a new life. As he gained expertise in refinishing and woodworking, Chris’s collection of tools, materials and furniture continued to grow. He often enlisted the help of Stuart, his brother, who gave him organizational suggestions and helped build shelving in the closet where he stored his things. Later, when he met Anne, his future wife, his woodworking hobby was encouraged and even challenged by her father, T. E. “Tommy” Thornhill, who is known throughout the Lowcountry for his handcrafted joggling boards and furniture.
As Anne and Chris’s family grew, he and Tommy collaborated on cedar chests, chairs and end tables that decorated their homes or were donated to church bazaars. Over the years, Chris’s need for materials and space to store them has grown, and he moved from using a closet to store his tools to a shed that had a closet in it.
When Anne and Chris were looking for a home in Columbia several years ago, they found the perfect place. “What sold Anne on the house was the fireplace,” he grins. “What sold me on it was the workshop.”
The brick colonial in the heart of Columbia has a two-car garage that includes a large workshop space at the back that extends beneath the house. There is enough driveway space for parking that the couple decided to convert half of the garage into a recreation room for their children. The workshop at first held only a work table, which still sits against an interior wall, but Chris’s vision for the space was immediate. With Stuart’s help, Chris spent a weekend setting up shop.
Jayne Elmgren, founder of Clutter Marshals, a professional organizing company, tells her clients that the key to an organized space is to give everything a place. “You can keep whatever you want, but everything must have a home. This is true not just in the garage but throughout the house. But in the garage, it is important to know where everything is when you need it.”
This is precisely what Chris set out to achieve. To simplify, first he pulled out all of his tools and materials and sorted through them. He threw out anything that was too worn or no longer functional and gave away items that he just didn’t use. From there, he sorted everything into piles based on how often he used it.
Chris and Stuart hung pegboard on all of the walls of the shop in order to hang and organize his materials, but soon they realized that this was still not enough to house everything. So they decided to build partitions that resemble miniature closets along the perimeter of the workshop. In this way, Chris developed a very compartmentalized style of organizing that separates and groups his materials based on their purpose. There is a section for paint, one for electrical items, one for chains, and so on.
Next, Chris took to the ceiling. Using coat hangers that he had straightened and cut down to size, he pushed the insulation in the room’s ceiling out of the way and hammered nails into the support beams. Like items were grouped together and hung from the nails. In one section of the workshop, he suspended a neat grouping of coolers. In another, he hung pots, pans and smokers used for his popular turkeys and hams. In yet another section are long wooden rods with Mason jars attached to them. Inside the jars are nails, screws and bolts that are separated by type and function, and the rods rotate to grant easy access to pieces needed for the latest project.
Jayne says that there is peace of mind to organization anywhere, but in the garage, it is vital. “You go to the garage for a particular purpose. Whether it’s to repair or build something, whatever the reason, once you start the project you don’t want to waste the time searching for the right tool or, even worse, have to go buy another one because you can’t find what you need.”
Chris’s reasons for his organization method are similar, but there is an added, lighthearted piece to the equation … his family’s penchant for borrowing. “I’ve always liked to work with my hands and want to put my hand on something when I want it. Probably where Anne can’t reach it, so it goes back to its place,” Chris says with a wry smile. That doesn’t mean that Anne and their daughters, Sarah and Drayton, don’t have their own things in the garage and workshop. “I utilize the space we have for the different activities we’re involved in,” he adds. This is accomplished with sections for the mountain bikes, kayaks and camping, hiking and scuba diving gear associated with an active, outdoorsy family. There is even an area for the lamps Chris and his daughters, who are now grown, created out of old liquor bottles with the intent of selling them as a novelty, and Anne’s drum set is in the pool room. The garage and workshop are the embodiment of the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Few can argue against the fact that The Citadel’s strict discipline fosters intense organization. Chris Weston has used what he learned as a young man to create a space that is a retreat from the chaos of everyday life. There is a quiet order to the garage that is refreshing, and there is comfort in knowing that everything will be the same upon his return the next day. The rules of organizing are simple: throw away what is not needed and place materials where they can be found. Chris has turned these rules into a model that is brilliant in its simplicity.