News & Politics

Home Design 2003: Closets

How to Get the Closet of Your Dreams

Place for Everything

If you want a luxurious master-bedroom/bath suite but don't think you have enough space, try cleaning out your closet.

Streamlining storage lets you "steal" space for the bedroom or bathroom. Having closets professionally redone can double storage space and increase floor space by eliminating armoires or chests, says Chandler Fox, a certified bath designer and co-owner of Foxcraft Design Group in Arlington.

Even new homes, designers say, can benefit from a closet makeover; they often come with flimsy rods and shelves or poorly thought-out arrangements.

One option–an expensive one–is to use built-in cabinetry, says James Lynch, a certified bath designer at F.A. McGonegal in Falls Church. Bath and kitchen designers, who know cabinetry, can devise a custom system with a place for everything, from pullout tie racks to tilt-out laundry bins.

Jennifer Gilmer, owner of a kitchen and bath shop in Chevy Chase, created for one client what looks like a mirrored hallway between the master bedroom and bath but is really two walls of storage.

Cabinetmakers such as Wood-Mode or Poliform, both in the Washington Design Center, can also be good choices for built-ins. Cabinetmakers have access to the biggest variety of surfaces and detailing–great for storage that is meant to be seen. They can customize any space, whether an entertainment center or morning kitchen.

If you don't have the budget for custom, closet firms can help make the most of existing closets, with new racks, poles, and drawers. Some stores sell systems you install yourself. (See page 174 for a list of closet and cabinetry firms.)

These systems range from melamine shelving to top-of-the-line storage components with veneer finishes, crown molding, recessed lighting, and back panels.

California Closets, one of the larger companies, averages $350 to $550 per linear foot for its midrange line. Their closet makeovers average $2,500. Most firms offer free in-home estimates.

Wire systems such as the one made by Elfa, available at the Container Store, allow for self-installation, although some stores, including the Great Indoors, will install Elfa. A basic setup for a large reach-in closet is $500. Custom-design service at these stores is free.

Before investing in a closet redesign, you might want to pare down.

Gail Grannum of the Container Store in Rockville advises customers to follow the two-year rule: If you haven't worn it in that long, it goes. In a master-bedroom closet, look for items that could be stored elsewhere: Luggage is one of the first things to go to other closets in the house. Out-of-season clothing can go in under-bed storage.

Measure the closet, ignoring existing rods and shelves and looking at the full vertical space. Measure door and wall dimensions–these spots are valuable real estate. The typical single closet rod is a barrier to getting the most out of your closet, Grannum says. Designers suggest that you inventory what you have to store–the Container Store provides forms for this–and bring the inventory to the store. A photo can help, too.

The three keys to organizing a closet, Grannum says, are visibility, accessibility, and flexibility. "We have so many more things than we used to have," Lynch says. "If you can't see something, chances are you'll go buy another just like it, and then you'll have two things you can't find."

Even the most traditional designers utter the words "feng shui" when talking closets. The Asian design concept stresses having a proper place for everything to create a sense of serenity–and serenity is what people are looking for in a bedroom.

Organizing shoes is the most common challenge. According to the Container Store, the average woman owns 40 pairs. "Do you come home and kick your shoes off, or do you put them away carefully in boxes?" Grannum says. The former might use an over-the-door rack; the latter, transparent boxes.

For clothing, double hanging, which halves the closet horizontally, is a typical solution. Because more people are wearing separates, many can get away with hanging two rods, one below the other.

In Washington, some people include a place to hang formalwear, says certified bath designer Carolyn Thomas of Jennifer Gilmer. Grannum's customers have included one with a collection of cowboy hats and boots, and a golf pro who organized his equipment and sportswear into one closet.

Don't forget lighting–there are stick-on options if your closet doesn't come with a built-in light.

California Closets recently teamed with Whirlpool to offer Personal Valet, an appliance they call a "clothes revitalizer." A sort of dry cleaner that fits in the closet, it's the size of a small bookcase. It uses heated mist to remove wrinkles and odors.

A master-bedroom closet could have a linen section for an adjoining bath. In the bathroom, a cart on wheels can hold linens and bath supplies, Grannum says. Chests, bookshelves, étagères, and other furniture are now popular for bathroom storage.

A medicine cabinet hung over the sink is a good look, but built-ins can hold more and can be shaped to accommodate storage needs. Ann Unal, a certified bath designer at Tunis Kitchen & Bath in Chevy Chase, likes to add angled sink-to-ceiling cabinets to the corners of the vanity. A few inches deep, these provide a lot of storage in normally unused space. You can also buy corner medicine cabinets for about $150 each to get similar storage less expensively.