Home & Design August 4, 2008

Closet Cues

Making Better Use of All Your Space

It used to be closets were simply places to stash things we didn’t want cluttering our bedroom.
Out of sight. Out of mind. Behind closed doors.

Not any longer. You might say closets have come out of the closet.

As the average home has gotten larger, so, too, have closets. Now some homes sport closets large enough to dance the tango in. As people spend as much time designing their closet as they do their living room, closets have emerged as a showpiece in and of themselves with opulent glass doors through which to see your clothes, polished pear wood trim, ceramic and porcelain door knobs, rattan baskets and even chandeliers.

Just check out the window seats, telephones, temperature controls, hydraulic hangers that can be pulled down, roll-out baskets, dresser-drawer hutches, hidden portable laundry hampers and slide-out drawers with glass covers for folded shirts and jewelry trays.

There are wicker baskets, closets with solid woods and veneers. And there are spiral garment hangers, remote-controlled pop-up cabinets, slanted shoe racks, vanity mirrors, library ladders and tie butlers that can store up to 104 ties in a 7-inch space.

“People are building closets with beautiful custom cabinetry which includes dressers, mirrors, hanging space and storage,” says Susan Witman, of Susan Witman Interior Designs. “They have become beautiful and functional dressing areas off the bedroom and bathroom.”

One of the driving forces is the quest for personal order, which has turned closet organization systems into a $3 billion, and growing, business.

“Even a large closet is no good if you don’t know where everything is. People have realized that being organized is better than being unorganized,” says Terry Williams, who turned a custom cabinetry business into Sun Valley Closet Company.

“If you can’t find your favorite sweater, it can be very frustrating," adds Williams. “If you’ve got to pull 10 belts off a hook to get to the one you want, that’s very frustrating as well.

“A well-organized closet gives everything a place to be and, if everything is in its place, you can get in and out quickly and get on with what you need to do.”

Another factor driving the boom is the insistence on making use of every square inch of space in the house.

“With square footage being at a premium, we look at spaces in a different way. We want to make sure the space is as functional as possible. Single rods from which to hang all your clothes are no longer cost-effective,” says Witman.

And with the innovations available today, there’s no reason not to take advantage of every square inch of space. Make use of corners with corner rotating hangers that hold 20 to 30 pieces of clothing and spiral as they rotate. Add a drop ironing board or pressing table, or even a mirror, to a door. >>>



If you have an unlimited budget, you might want to opt for a mechanical closet, like dry cleaners have, that spin a rack of clothes around for you.

If you don’t have $75,000 to spend on a closet—or even the $70 to $125 a foot it costs to customize a closet—you can still get great shelving systems and bins and baskets that are not expensive and easy to install from home improvement centers. And you can change adjustable shelving and hangers as your needs change or as your children grow.

“You can do so much with variable hangings and baskets even in simple reach-in closets,” says Jackie Hennessy, of The Closet Company.

The important thing to remember with reach-in closets is to beware of closets that force you to reach in in an awkward manner, Williams says.
“A closet system can’t solve architectural problems. If you have a ceiling that extends three feet higher than the door on a reach-in closet, there’s little I can do with that. The bottom line is the bigger the doors, the better the closet space,” he says.

The first step in designing a closet is to prioritize what you need for your closet to do for you.

What kind of clothing do you wear? Do you have a lot of one-piece ski outfits that take the full height of the closet? How many pairs of shoes do you need? How many purses and hats? Do you like to hang your pants or do you prefer to fold them?

Most Sun Valley women, for instance, don’t wear many dresses. So why put in five feet of single hanging when you need only a foot of rod for lengthier outfits.

That’s four feet of wasted space that could be turned into double hanging or even a triple hanging if the ceiling is tall enough.
In short, a one-size closet no longer fits all.

“It’s the difference between fitting your stuff into the space that’s already there and creating a design that fits you,” says Williams.

Hennessy has a client who keeps her seasonal clothes on hanging racks mounted on wheels. When summer comes to an end, she rolls her summer clothes out of the closet and down to the elevator where she takes them to the storage room in the basement. She brings up the winter sweaters and skiwear on the way back.

Others go for sliding rods to hang their garment bags.

“If you have a large closet, I advocate an island in the center,” says Witman. “The lower portion can serve as storage and it’s handy to put your suitcase on top of the island. Then you can fill the suitcase for a trip as you walk around your closet.”

Always provide a stool or bench to sit on so you don’t have to take your clothes and shoes elsewhere to get dressed. If you have room, install a fold-out closet seat.

Consider lighting, too. Surface mount ceiling fixtures illuminate your closet better from the ceiling down than recessed lights that angle toward the floor.

And consider automatic lights if there’s no window in the closet.

“If you’re never going to go in there without turning on the light, anyway, why not have it turn on automatically?” says Williams.

This article appears in the Fall 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.