From the April/May 2009 Issue:

In the Closet

  • Writer: Denise Difulco

This is a good season to clear the cobwebs, bring warmer weather clothing to the front, and put your bedroom closet in tip-top shape

Article Photo
enlarge | Courtesy of Contemporary Closets Organization systems can be designed to fit many spaces — from big and sunlit to more modest — as this option from Contemporary Closets demonstrate.
It’s one thing to say you want to get organized. It’s a whole other thing to work up the motivation to do it. Not only do our messes tend to be overwhelming, but the choices for marshaling them into place can be even more so. “The reason there are so many options is because there are so many desires,” says Elizabeth Frey-Davis, senior design consultant for California Closets in Fairfield. The company also has a franchise location in Cranbury.

Truly, when it comes to closets and organizing systems, you can fulfill any fantasy. Or you can just improve your storage layout and add some extra shelves. Either way, here’s what you need to know:

Whether you’re installing shelves in your garage or considering turning a small bedroom into a walk-in closet, there are three questions you’ll need to consider:

• How is the space going to be used?
• How do you want it to look?
• How much do you want to spend?

The first step is to assess what you have and what you want to store in that space, Frey-Davis says. As most professional organizers will tell you, you should donate or throw away any clothing you haven’t worn in two years. Do a detailed inventory of what remains. Count everything: shoes, handbags, ties, and other accessories. And when you tally your hanging items, make note of different clothing lengths. Something as simple as whether you prefer to hang pants folded or straight will factor into your calculations (so you’ll know at what height to hang the rods). And don’t forget to list items such as giftwrap or photos if they’ll share the space.

We used to keep our closet doors shut, but that’s no longer the case, says Becky Newman, vice president for sales and business development for Contemporary Closets in Pine Brook. “A lot of customers tell us they bring everyone into their closet,” she says. “The closet has developed into a space that people are proud to show off.”

Local closet designers report that some homeowners are doing away with most bedroom furniture, making the closet, in particular, as much a room as the bedroom itself. That means moldings, hardware, cabinetry, and lighting should meet a higher standard for quality and appearance. These days even barely seen hanging rods come in a variety of finishes.

That doesn’t mean you need to break the bank on materials. Many local closet installation companies use furniture-grade melamine (particle board laminated with melamine resin), which is relatively affordable and easy to maintain. Its veneers can be painted or treated to simulate different types of wood, allowing for continuity with nearby rooms and furnishings. “It’s something that works for most people most of the time,” says Nadine Holtz, vice president of Closets by Design in Carlstadt.

Other materials used in closet systems include medium-density fiberboard, an engineered wood product that is denser than particleboard; stained wood veneers; and real wood, which can be prohibitively expensive for some.

Slide-out pants racks. Concealed ironing boards. Tie trays. Velvet-lined jewelry trays. Hidden drawers. The list of closet options and accessories is mind-blowingly long. If you have the space and the budget, you’re likely to find gadgets and conveniences to suit your needs and whims alike.

In large walk-in closets, islands with granite countertops, under-the-counter drawers, and pull-out hampers are a popular option for appearance and convenience, says Nancy Witherow, marketing coordinator for The Closet Gallery in Medford.

You’ll get the greatest amount of customization from a closet company that designs, manufactures, and installs its own products.

Hiring a Closet Company
Most closet companies offer a free hour-long consultation, and some will even present you with a design before they leave. It’s good to be prepared with your detailed list of items to be stored, as well as some idea of your style preferences and budget. But don’t feel the need to clean up in advance. Some companies, especially if they’re assisting with organizing, will want to view your clutter in full bloom. “I like to see the mess people have because I like to see their frustrations and where we can help,” says Joe Adelfio, owner of Closettec in Manalapan.

Doing it Yourself
If you’re going to build out your own closet or storage space, it is important to take accurate measurements of the height, width, and depth, also taking into account any obstructions such as fuse boxes, windows, and light switches. Knowing which way the door swings or folds and leaving enough clearance is important, as is permitting enough room for drawers to pull out — and for you to stand.

Some other expert tips: Avoid the “bowling alley” effect that’s created when using both sides of a walk-in for hanging. Beware of placing shelves in a corner because hanging items can block your reach. Also don’t feel compelled to install drawers. “A shelf is more economical and gives you a better visual,” Adelfio says. “You also can change it for other uses.”

Flexibility is important since clothing styles change, as do people’s wardrobe needs. A stay-at-home mom, for instance, might find she needs more hanging space for suits and dresses if she returns to work. “You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself in the design,” Adelfio says. -DNJ


For DIYers, you can find help online from major manufacturers and retailers. For $5, ClosetMaid will send two design variations for a single storage space using its products. Included are line drawings, color renderings, a parts list, and information on where to buy.

The Container Store offers design assistance for its elfa storage components.