ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge
“A closet is now a place to display your Prada shoes, your Gucci bags. It's a mini-museum for clothes. You look at all the things you have and get a little rush.” - Celia Cleary, interior designer
For many homeowners, the days of rummaging through old chests of drawers or fumbling around in dark, cramped closets are gone.
Instead, large, modern storage spaces - sometimes as big as a guest bedroom and with space for clothes, shoes, accessories, luggage, and sometimes even a table and chairs for relaxing - are becoming more popular.
“Twenty-five years ago, people often felt as if they had too much stuff or they weren't organized enough,” says Sue Groszek, a storage expert. “Today, closets are like rooms. [People] are now building them larger in homes. Clients today like to know where their items are and they are simplifying their lives, and storing their treasures.”
Ms. Groszek is president of the Northern Ohio Service and Manufacturing Center of California Closets, a storage system company.
“Prior to the 1900s, closets were taxable rooms, so that led to the creation of the armoire,” Ms. Groszek says. “But then along comes the Industrial Revolution - and voila! - we have more things, and larger spaces, which leads to more clutter.”
The modern walk-in closet, a post-Victorian invention, is uniquely American, said Veronique Vienne in an article for House & Garden magazine.
“In the 1920s, built-in furniture became the craze as architects championed the idea that a room was more functional with fewer pieces of furniture ... Magazine editors encouraged their readers to get rid of cumbersome armoires and dressers and transfer their belongings into floor-to-ceiling units,” she said.
Today, some homeowners are taking that idea to the next level, arranging for entire rooms to store their clothes, accessories, and treasures.
Take Susan Klein, who along with her husband, Bill, worked with a builder to convert a 10-by-24-foot garage bay into a his-and-hers closet in the couple's 1950s renovated Perrysburg home.
“We moved the chests of drawers that would normally have been in some people's bedrooms in our closet,” says Mrs. Klein. “I went to the Perrysburg library and did a lot of reading up on closets and organization, and we chose the open method of storing our clothes where you can see everything without opening a lot of drawers.”
Shoes are arranged with the back heels facing outward on an upper shelf. Luggage is placed on a shelf above the shoes, and clothes are on double racks with blouses and suit jackets on the upper rack and trousers hanging underneath.
“We have a small island in the middle of the room, where we can put our suitcases right on top and pack. It's at the level of a kitchen counter,” says Mrs. Klein, who refers to the large closet space as the couple's “dressing room.”
The island holds a hidden clothes hamper, a built-in ironing board, room for extra storage, and a pullout bench. Mrs. Klein says in addition to all the convenient features of the large space, the closet is private and she or her husband can change or pack without disturbing the other, who may be asleep in the adjoining master bedroom.
Glenda Schwartz, co-owner with her husband, Larry, of Closettec, a closet system business along West Bancroft Street, said designing a residential wardrobe space depends on individual taste.
“The way one keeps closets is a very personal matter,” Mrs. Schwartz says. “What one sees as cluttered, another thinks as well organized.”
Ms. Groszek agrees. “Closets are as varied as the personalities we meet. No two closets are exactly the same.”
Mrs. Schwartz says organization is a key in designing a residential closet. She says closets sometimes include space to store items for hobbies and crafts. Storage islands, pullout units, even spaces for a table and seating for couples to enjoy a morning cup of coffee are becoming more popular in modern closet rooms, she says.
“If you can go into your closet and get dressed and get out in an organized fashion, instead of banging around in a dresser drawer, it's a better way of starting your day,” she says.
Closettec designed two walk-in “wardrobe systems” for the Treuhafts, mainly to accommodate Mrs. Treuhaft's clothes.
“I have a ton of clothes ... and when we built the house I didn't want to have the walk-ins in the bathroom like in many of the newer homes. I like having the walk-in in the bedroom,” Mrs. Treuhaft says.
While her closet is filled, her husband's walk-in has empty racks and shelves.
Salon owner Denise Soto says she maintains two closets in her bedroom, while her husband only has one.
“I have two closets for all the clothes and shoes I own,” Mrs. Soto says. “I switch back and forth - one closet holds the clothes I wear all the time and the other is for special-occasion dressing. I also switch clothes back and forth by season ... my husband only has one closet because he's more simplified.”
Modern storage spaces come in a range of prices.
Ms. Grosek says her company has three price levels, which are based on size and building materials. California Closets' most requested Classic storage system is made of 3/4-inch thick melamine. The Suite is a 1-inch-thick laminate floor-to-ceiling system. And the high-end Paradiso is made of cherry- wood that is custom cut in Italy and shipped to the United States. Ms. Grosek calculates the cost of a 61/2–by-11-foot walk-in closet (about 20 linear feet) at $1,760 to $4,000 for the Classic, $4,400 to $9,000 for the Suite, and $17,600 to $22,000 for the Paradiso.
These prices and materials are similar to many products at other local and national closet companies. Here's a sampling of storage-system providers: Are You Organized? (www.areyouorganized.com) will design an online plan based on the measurements of your existing closets; ClosetMaid supplies wire-grid closet systems and charges a $15 fee for a layout of two custom variations by a design specialist; Poliform USA offers freestanding, high-end systems with a variety of finishes and woods, and the Container Store provides kits with installation instructions and mounting hardware and will consult online, over the phone, and in stores at no cost.
Why the need for all this attention in the closet?
“The collection of goods that we have - we simply have more stuff and we can't keep building houses bigger,” Mrs. Schwartz says. “We have to make them better so that there's no wasted space.
“We used to be satisfied with a pull and a shelf, but that no longer meets our needs. Closets today are much larger and more organized - we can now have parties in our closets.”