Closet Couture

Custom installations can put the kibosh on clutter, but which features will best suit your needs? We turned to companies whose designers take clothes storage spaces from humdrum to spectacular.

By Ashley Nichols

Courtesy of Studio Becker

“Don’t agonize, get organized,” said David Mora, manager of Capitol Closet Design in Vienna. His mantra rings true, especially as we face a new year. The fact is, most people spend as little time in their closets as possible, often cringing when they open the door to a disastrous display of dirty and clean laundry heaped in piles and shoes and handbags scattered on the floor. Getting dressed in such a space tends to add to the misery of an early Monday morning.

Enter the custom closet installation industry. Companies who make it their mission to help you find everything you need with ease. Designers who count—yes, count—your shoes and create a nook for each pair, plus room to grow. While materials and designs run the gamut from double racks that hang twice as much clothing to sliding tie and belt racks, their purpose remains the same. We’re not saying a do-it-yourself job from Home Depot or an Ikea A-fits-into-B prefab system won’t suffice. With today’s variety of choices, customizing your closet is about what you want and how much you’re willing to spend. Sure, it may sound like an added expense now, but think how smart installing a simple, slanted shoe shelf could have been the next time you trip over your new platforms and fall into a stack of clean (or was it dirty?) laundry.

While not every state-of-the-art feature may be on your list of priorities, society’s current obsession with organization has driven designers to create some pretty fantastic thingamabobs. Take a walk through these three hypothetical closets—from low-end basic systems to knock-your-socks-off (and into special compartments!) luxury wardrobes—to find the elements that will work for you.

Simply stated spaces bring a sense of tranquility to a room. Courtesy of California Closets

Door Number 1: You want the basics, and nothing extra
“Northern Virginians require a lot of wardrobe, yet builders aren’t increasing closet space, even when they build McMansions,” said Karen Sylvestre, sales manager at Closets by Design in Manassas. She said that installing a custom system, even a $3,000 nuts-and-bolts look, can yield a 100-percent return during a good housing market and will certainly make a home more attractive to buyers than the house down the street without one.

For simple installations, you’ll find similar choices from most closet specialty companies. For Mora, the first feature to address is the hanging rod. Most closets he sees have a single, long rod. Mora said that isolating longer clothes into one section, then adding a second rod to accommodate twice the amount of shorter hang-ups frees space for shoe shelves, mirrors and laundry baskets.

At the lowest end of the spectrum, white melamine shelving and cabinetry are staples. They create a clean look without much fuss and give order to a once-messy space.

Courtesy of California Closets

Door Number 2: You want organization, but would like It to look pretty
With the popularity of HGTV and Internet research, today’s consumer is increasingly savvy, said Randall Fry, manager of sales and marketing at California Closets in Fairfax. “People ask less about what the product is and does. They’re more design-oriented these days,” said Fry. He’s recognized a trend towards minimalist furniture in the master bedroom, which means less dressers and wardrobes to hold a couple’s clothing and a larger strain on their closet.

In the mid-range spectrum, there are plenty of veneers with a variety of stains (think maple, cognac, cherry) to choose from for cabinetry and shelving. Since closet design trends tend to follow building trends, brushed nickel and oil-rubbed brass hardware are in vogue right now. For a little glam, add clear Lucite doors to cabinetry. They actually reinforce neat stacking since you can see what’s behind them (an added benefit when trying to locate a coordinating piece).

Courtesy of California Closets

One standout accessory is the valet rod (a groovy sliding rod that allows you to hang tomorrow’s outfit for quick dressing or a traveler to keep the suits he or she needs handy). “At a minimum, you’ve got to have a valet rod,” urged Sylvestre. “I wouldn’t let my clients go without one.”

Slide-out pant racks provide bars for pant hanging and minimize the time it takes to neatly hang pants on hangers. They come in 18- to 30-inch sizes and keep trousers from wrinkling.

For sorting out the dirty clothes, try tilt-out hampers so that dirty clothes are discretely hidden from view. If you want to really get organized, have multiples installed: one for lights, one for darks and a final third for dry cleaning.

For men, slide-out belt and tie racks are a preferred alternative to standard back-of-the-door systems or the delicate balance of using hangers. They shave minutes off finding the right accessories for a suit. Slanted shoe racks are another nice mid-range installation feature. They clear the floor and often increase awareness of what you own so that you don’t yourself resorting to the same pair repeatedly.

Wood cabinetry and backed shelves are among the high-end features that will produce luxe looks. Courtesy of Studio Becker

luxury closet makeover
“We may not go into our kitchens every day, but we walk into our closets every day,” Mora said. And a luxe closet upgrade is becoming nearly as popular as installing a desirable granite countertop. High-end features can make a huge aesthetic impact. And more people are spending the $20,000 to $150,000 to turn their closets into a wardrobe oasis than you’d think. Though many firms average a stream of customers with basic to mid-range interests, they’re also seeing a growing number of clients who hardly flinch at the top price tags.

“At this point, it’s no longer just a closet,” Sylvestre explained. “People want to feel like they’ve just walked into their own dressing room.”

For the ultimate look, there’s wood cabinetry and shelving with backing so that the actual wall is hidden. Glass panels and raised trim give depth and add drama. To top it off, clients can opt for crown molding on built-in pieces, as well as in the room itself. “To me, the look of floor-to-ceiling crown molding and back paneling makes the biggest impact of any install feature,” Sylvestre said.

In addition to the normal bells and whistles, luxury closets can incorporate added pieces of furniture for more usage and a boutique-like feel. Many clients are eager for a storage island. A designer can tell if the space allotted will accommodate one. For some, seating is appealing. Large ottomans or upholstered chairs allow homeowners to feel relaxed while preparing for the day. Specialty storage elements can also add to the look. Jewelry drawers are gaining popularity, along with safes.

Some clients ask for task lighting and chandeliers. Others want decorative mirrors placed throughout. The list of specialty custom designs goes on and on.

Designers at Studio Becker, a high-end international firm with American headquarters in California that’s branching out nationally but has not yet opened a showroom or boutique in the D.C. area, can attest to the fact that buyers want more and more customized luxury in their closets. Lasha Sawenyn, design director, said the brand has recently launched a line of Italian leather luggage to match their designs.

Fry said his firm has done luxury upgrades for professional basketball players (the challenges are their very tall clothes and plethora of shoes), yacht owners and even the East Wing of the White House. He said that, lately, closets are spreading to different rooms in the house. For some, it’s a hobby room that needs additional storage, but for others, it’s completely converting a child’s room into a closet space so each spouse has a walk-in (it’s safest to wait until Junior is past the moving-back-home-after-college phase).
Despite the add-ons, even the most luxurious of closets take shape from the same standard dedigns. “The basics haven’t changed: Hang space is maximized,” explained Fry. “That’s what a system does. The best ideas are the simplest ones. Materials change. Install methods have changed. And form follows function.”

How long until you’re organized?
Generally, if you call a closet design firm, a scheduler will assign your designer and book them for a time slot sometime in the following week. The designer will spend anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes assessing your space. If the project is a simple one, they may sketch a design on the spot. Or they may send one electronically or return to talk you through what they’ve come up with at a later date.

After you’ve seen the design, you’ll want to work out any kinks and then decide if you’re ready to sign a contract. For small jobs, you might expect to see laborers within two weeks. For larger or more intricate jobs that require ordering special components, it could be a month.

In most cases, a team of two will take a day to assemble and install your unit. For larger jobs, it could take two days. Be sure to ask if you should remove your clothing first. Different companies have different preferences. Most will remove your existing system and patch holes, but you may want to do that beforehand if you want to paint before they install. As your first step towards an organized 2008, why not make a checklist?

So you still want to do it yourself?
While we certainly admire your commitment, may we suggest you choose a self-install system that comes with a designer’s approval? At, you can create a custom design based on the dimensions of your space and the variety of products offered. But you can talk to a designer if you’re having difficulties. Or even have them work something up for you remotely. If you do place an order without requesting design services, you’ll still receive a call before shipping if there are concerns. Becky Newman, vice president of Internet sales and business development, is a stickler for good design. “We don’t ship until we’re sure it will work for you.”

Regardless of which route you take, conquering clutter has satisfying rewards. You’ll be pleased when you have a closet that reflects your style.

What You Should/Could Do Before A Consultation

1. Although your ultimate goal is organization, don’t go overboard trying to cover up clutter for the designer’s visit. “It’s like going to the doctor,” Mora suggested. “Why call if you’ve hidden everything?” Make sure every item you want to be stored in the closet is visible. Consultants will complete a wardrobe analysis in which they count the numbers of each type of item. Be sure to let them know if access to certain items is a priority.
2. Stay open to the idea of downsizing if you haven’t worn something in years. Being realistic about usage can clear up space for high-use items.
3.  Ask for references when you schedule an appointment. “Find out how quick a company will fix a mistake,” Sylvestre recommended. “You can’t always tell that out front. You might be better off talking to someone who had a problem.”
4. Be particular. This is your closet. Designers are there to work for you, and you’re paying for that service. Don’t sign a contract until you’re completely satisfied with the design. Take as much time to consider upgrades as you’d like.

Can An Organized Closet Change Your Life?
Springfield Resident Tanya Burton Shares the Skinny on Her Installation Experience

Why Did You Use A Custom Closet Installation Company?
We’ve been restoring our 26-year-old home, and my closet was just the standard, single bar reach-in that the builder put in. I had a lot of folded stuff just piled up in there. We had a company come in a few years ago and do my husband’s closet, but I wanted something different. I had a couple of companies come in and do estimates before I decided on California Closets.

What Features Did You Go With?
We used white melamine that’s rounded. I incorporated some sliding wire baskets that pull out and you can put whatever you want in there. And we created double hanging on the ends. I was able to gain 4 feet of space. I also added some shelves that look like a piece of furniture. I really like the fact that they hang everything on the wall. My husband’s installation goes all the way to the floor, but I have more floor space. When you have limited space, every inch is important.

How Long  Did It Take?
After having my designer come out and sketch, then going to the showroom to look at what they have and finalize the order, they were able to come out and do it in a week.

Are You Satisfied with the Result?
I love it. I can see what’s there and know where everything is. It makes it look like it’s three or four times bigger. It was the least stressful of all of the renovations.

What Would You Recommend to Someone Considering A Custom Installation?
I was so glad I went to the showroom because I made some slight changes. Originally we were going with more shoe cubbies and shelving, but then I saw the pull-out baskets. Seeing it really made a difference. And I’m glad I shopped around.

(January 2008)

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One Response

Growing closet Says:

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