13 Ingenious Uses for Tension Rods

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iStock

Tension rods are inexpensive tools for hanging curtains. But if you’re only using them to set up window treatments, then you’re missing out on a ton of other uses for these versatile DIY miracle workers. They come in a range of lengths and load-bearing limits, and can be installed in a minute or two. Snag a few different sizes of tension rods—which are cheap and removable for when your tastes change—and start experimenting with these creative projects.

1. INSTALL A HANGING HERB GARDEN.

You'll need a sturdy tension rod to fit your chosen window's width and a group of small hanging plant pots for this project. Place the rod within the window frame at the desired height, hang (or string) the planted pots along it, and ta-da—an instant, space-saving herb garden. This also works with your favorite sun-loving flowers or ferns. “You will never have to worry about the rod coming down, and the window placement will lend a lot of sun for flower and herb planters," Justin Krzyston, president and CEO of Stonehurst Construction and Design in Los Angeles, tells Mental Floss. "You can hang almost any kind of plant from the rod for a practical and fun way to garden indoors.”

Once your herbs are grown and picked, tie them into bunches with twine. Dry the herbs by hanging them upside-down from—you guessed it—a tension rod placed in a door frame. Dried herbs will last much longer than fresh.

2. ARRANGE YOUR ACCESSORIES.

Hang tension rods within your existing closet to corral scarves, necklaces, and small bags. “You can even hang S-hooks from the tension rod to separate your bracelets and smaller items,” Krzyston says. Hooks also make it easier to remove and put back items because you won't need to remove the rod from the closet wall to retrieve them.

3. STORE CLEANING PRODUCTS.

Annie Draddy, organizer and co-founder of New York-based personal organizing service Henry & Higby, likes to use tension rods for cleaning storage. “Use a tension rod under a sink to hang spray bottles and other cleaning implements,” she tells Mental Floss. Hanging the spray cleaners at the top of the cabinet leaves more room for other items, like sponges, towels, and buckets.

4. ORGANIZE KITCHEN CABINETS.

It’s difficult to keep all your trays and pans organized in your kitchen cabinets, especially if they’re all different sizes—but that’s where tension rods can help, Draddy says. She recommends installing a few tension rods vertically inside the cabinet and standing up flat items, like baking sheets and pans, cutting boards, pot lids, and trays, between the rods. The arrangement saves space and makes it easier to grab the pan or cookie sheet without dislodging everything else in the cabinet.

5. CREATE A BUNK BED SCREEN.

Kids who share bunk beds will love the extra privacy that tension rods and curtain panels can offer, Krzyston says. This project works best on the bottom bunk because the rods are installed between the bed posts. If the top bunk's posts extend to the ceiling, you can double this project for the top and bottom beds.

To make the world's easiest no-sew bunk bed curtains, you will need three tension rods that fit the head, foot, and side of the bunk bed; a measuring tape, scissors, four or five lightweight curtain panels depending on the size of the bed, straight pins, iron-on fusing web, and an iron. Then follow these steps.

First, install the rods between the bed posts and measure the height from the rod down to the platform of the bed (past the mattress)—this will be the curtain's length. Next, lay each curtain flat with the backside facing up. Measure the same distance down from the rod pocket, and add two inches—the extra fabric will be your hem. Draw a line with a pencil across the curtain at that length, or mark with pins, and then cut each curtain along the line. Lay a piece of the iron-on fusing web across the curtain, 3 inches from and parallel to the end. Fold up the two-inch hem over the web and pin in place. (Now, measure the sides of the curtain to make sure they're of equal length, and adjust if necessary.)

Iron the hem to fuse it in place, removing the pins as you go. Once the fabric is cool, install the curtains on the rods. “The sturdy construction of the bed will lend an easy place for the curtains to hang without worry of them coming down,” Krzyston says. Boom: super-cool bed fort!

6. KEEP TUB TOYS TIDY.

This trick works on tubs with walls on three sides. Find a tension rod roughly equal to the longer side of your tub. String an even number of shower rings on it and install along the wall side of the tub. Then, hang small plastic bins from the rings (two per bin, which keeps them level) for storing small toys, and you’ll never have to step on a Paw Patrol toy again.

7. CONCEAL CLUTTER.

Are your bookcases and shelving units packed with odds and ends? Disguise the clutter behind an easy-to-assemble screen. Pop a tension rod between the sides of the cabinet at the height of the stuff you want to hide. Then, hang a curtain or drape a piece of patterned fabric over the rod, and you’ll have a custom-made junk-concealer. You can even string clip-style curtain rings on the rod and clip on a fabric panel—the rings will make it easier to push the panel to the side when you need to retrieve items from the shelves. Try it anywhere you need to mask garbage bins, Costco-sized pantry items, or other unsightly necessities.

8. CATEGORIZE BOOKS.

Short tension rods can take the place of cumbersome bookends and leave you more space for storing and displaying actual books. Install the rods vertically within the bookshelf to corral paperbacks, hardcover titles, magazines, or notebooks. You can also organize and divide your collection by theme or subject matter by installing rods vertically between the sections.

9. SET UP A CLOTHESLINE.

Make your space-saving indoor clothesline by putting a tension rod in the doorway of your laundry room or in any unused corner. You can pin garments to the rod with clothespins or air-dry shirts on hangers. The rod can also serve as a finishing area for freshly ironed clothes. The best part: Pop out the rod when you're done, and it will look like laundry never happened.

10. MAKE A FORT.

You don’t need to buy anything fancy to provide kids with a few hours of fun. Insert a tension rod under a desk or table, in the hallway, or in a low-traffic doorway. Have the kids drape a sheet or blanket over the rod, spread it out, and weigh down its edges with pillows—instant hideway! Or build a "condo" with multiple rods at varying levels down an entire hallway. The special space will boost the kids' imaginations and spark creative games.

11. HIDE THE LITTER BOX.

Litter boxes are a fact of life if you have a cat, but that doesn’t mean her business has to be visible. If the litter box is sitting in a corner of a closet, you can conceal it and create storage space at the same time. Install a shelf on the wall above the box at your desired height. The shelf's width should be about the same as the closet, and its depth roughly equal to the litter box (you might want to turn the box so the longer side is against the wall, but make sure the cat can still get in). Install a tension rod just under the lip of the shelf and hang short curtains (use the curtain-customizing method in #5) or drape a piece of fabric over the rod. Now Princess will have some privacy, and you can store her food, litter, and other feline accoutrements on the shelf.

12. CAMOUFLAGE UNDER-BED CLUTTER.

Choose a longish tension rod and install it between the legs of the bed on its visible side. Cut an oblong piece of fabric that, when doubled lengthwise over the rod, will hide the clutter underneath the bed. Repeat the steps for other sides of the bed. You’ll never have to see the mess again, and you can change the fabric's pattern or color whenever your design aesthetic evolves.

13. CONSTRUCT A BLACKOUT COCOON.

City dwellers have to deal with bright streetlights seeping in their windows at night. Even with the curtains closed, the light pollution can disrupt sleep. Ensure restful slumber with this fast blackout hack: Slide a tension rod that is roughly the width of your bedroom window into the rod pocket of a blackout curtain panel of similar width. Then, install the rod and curtain inside window frame, allowing the curtain to closely cover as much window area as possible. Close the existing curtains for a virtually pitch-black boudoir.

How to Turn an Old Wicker Basket Into a DIY Cat Bed

iStock.com/Kurgu128
iStock.com/Kurgu128

From cat trees to stackable boxes, there are plenty of products out there for cat parents looking to spoil their pets. But you don't need to buy brand-name accessories to make your kitty feel comfortable in your home. If you have an old wicker basket, you can make a DIY cat bed that doubles as an accent piece.

For this craft project from Martha Stewart, get together a drill, two .25-inch screws, two fender washers, and a round basket. Align your basket where you want it displayed, with the flat bottom against the wall, and mount it by drilling the screws in their washers through the wicker. Add a soft blanket to make the nook an inviting spot for your pet.

Cats like to climb things: Being up high is a way for them to feel safe and expand their territory indoors. If you're not thrilled by the idea of your cat scaling the human furniture in your home, building an elevated cat bed just for them is a way to keep everyone happy.

This project isn't just for cat owners: The mounted basket can be used as a place to store throw blankets, towels, and even stuffed animals. And if you ever do decide to bring a cat into your home, there will be a spot waiting for them.

[h/t Martha Stewart]

10 Essential Items Every Bar Cart Needs

Antonis Achilleos
Antonis Achilleos

The 1950s style was all about fun—and some of that whimsy is reemerging in 21st-century homes. Witness the glorious resurgence of a '50s home staple: the bar cart. This retro piece of furniture pulls double-duty: If styled well, it not only serves as the focal point of a room, but come party time it takes center stage again as a functional, fashionable platform for crafting your guests' favorite cocktails.

There are countless styles of bar carts, as well as products to put on them. But what exactly do you need to get your cart up and running? A bottle opener and some booze are de rigueur. But beyond that? We turned to two experts: Vanessa Dina, author of The Art of the Bar Cart: Styling & Recipes (Chronicle Books); and Brooklyn-based bartender extraordinaire Ivy Mix, who routinely shows up on lists of the country’s top mixologists. Here are their suggestions for can’t-miss bar cart items.

1. Five Basic Spirits

The Art of the Bar Cart cover
Chronicle Books

This may sound obvious, but Mix—who designed and built her own modular red and orange bar cart so she could have a place for all of her tools—notes that there are five types of liquor that should always be on your cart: a vodka, a gin, a bourbon or rye whiskey, a rum, and a tequila. “They’re the standards,” Mix says.

2. Mixers

Negroni cocktail with an orange twist
iStock/bhofack2

Once you have your array of five essential spirits, you’ll need modifiers or mixers to create the drinks. “The ones that go the quickest in my house are my sweet vermouth, my Campari, and my Cointreau," Mix says. "I make martinis, margaritas, and Manhattans, so they’re really important. Having them right there makes it easy: A little bit of this, a little bit of Campari, and voilà—you have a Negroni. In fact, Campari is the most useful thing to make a tasty drink when other stuff is not around.”

3. Bitters

These flavorful, alcoholic extracts have taken the cocktail world by storm in recent years: Foodies craft them at home, bars highlight them on the menu, and multiple new brands and flavors are popping up everywhere. They’re also perfect for your home bar cart, Dina tells Mental Floss: “It’s an easy way to create a lot of variation in your drinks. They add spices, herbs, and other flavorful notes to a drink. But best of all, unlike liquor, bitters take up minimal space on a cart. I suggest a cubby to keep your collection organized.”

You can start with the classics—like Angostura and Peychaud's—or dive into flavors like smoked chili, cardamom, or chocolate.

4. Mason Jars

The internet abounds with recipes and ideas for adding a fun touch to your next shindig by serving cocktails in individual mason jars. But Mix sees the jars as an essential and versatile tool that can do the work of either a shaker or a mixing glass. “You can really do anything in a mason jar,” Mix says. “You can stir a drink in a mason jar and know that it’s going to be OK.”

5. Small Hand Juicer

“A lot of people don’t think this is important, but one thing I recommend to everyone is fresh juice,” Mix says. She notes that people frequently use a lime juice blend from the grocery store when making margaritas. “Most of the time it’s not actually lime juice, but this gross God-knows-what. Even if it is lime juice, [the manufacturer] had to pasteurize it or cook it in some way; it’s not right. But if you get one of those little hand juicers, you can squeeze a cup of lime juice in a couple of minutes. It’s a complete game changer.”

6. Citrus Peeler

When guests leave your next party, you want them to remember that the cocktails tasted fantastic—and looked even better. “That’s where garnishes come in,” Dina says. “Something as simple as an orange twist provides visual appeal as well as aromatics.” Lemon, lime, and grapefruit rinds created with a citrus peeler can also transform a simple drink into a professional-style cocktail.

7. Shaker With a Built-In Strainer

Cocktail newbies may not realize there are multiple varieties of strainers. A Hawthorne strainer is best for shaken cocktails; its flat profile and coil of wire that hugs the inside rim of the mixing glass keep chunks of ice, fruit, and herbs from slipping into the serving glass. Cobbler shakers come with a mixing vessel, strainer, and fitted top all built in; using one means that you won’t need to worry about misplacing your strainer. “They have a classic look that many people want,” Dina says. “In addition, it helps you pour and makes everything a little easier.”

8. Ice Container and Tongs

“Ice is an essential, and sometimes overlooked, player in cocktails,” Dina says. “Drinks would not be as tasty or inviting without the chill that ice provides, whether it’s large, small, hand cut, crystal clear, cubed, or crushed.” Ice buckets or containers not only keep your ice cool, but usually serve as a decorative accent as well. “If you have a theme for your bar cart, you can get an ice bucket to match,” Dina says. “I’ve seen a lot of them in rose gold recently.” Dina shares a tip: Buy some extra ice tongs so your guests can freshen up their own drinks.

9. Versatile, Attractive Glassware

From cordials to highballs to beer and wine, most drinks are supposed to be served in their very own style of glass. But not everyone has enough room on their home bar for multiple styles, so they have to pick and choose. “Short glasses are the most versatile,” says Dina. “You can serve everything from wine to a mixed drink in them and they take up less space. Also, it’s easier to find cute designs and styles at flea markets and home stores in the shorter versions.” Dina has cordial glasses displayed on her two-level home bar cart. Mix collects antique cocktail glasses; in addition, her father is a glassblower. “He uses his own colors so he can make beautiful, colorful glasses,” Mix says. “Having a really nice glass brings it the extra mile.”

10. Your Own Personality

Keep in mind that your friends are in your home—and not a bar—so parties are a chance to share a bit of yourself. Dina suggests that small frames with pictures of family, a piece of artwork that you picked up on a trip, or even foraged items like attractive branches can personalize your bar cart. She also recommends plants; her favorite are air plants. “A touch of nature freshens things up,” she says. “They are visually pleasing and make the whole area seem homier.”

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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