The word “closet” often conjures up a dark, claustrophobic zone of frustration, where sweaters fall on your head every day. But, frankly, it shouldn’t be, since it’s the site of our daily reinvention each morning.
“While it might seem frivolous to decorate a closet,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers in New York City, “if your closet looks great, you'll be more likely to keep it organized. You'll be inspired to take the few extra minutes to neatly fold, hang, and put away your clothes, making it easier for you to get dressed.”
We talked to top pro organizers for tips on giving your closet style and luxury — as well as supreme organization.
“Good lighting can improve the way your closet looks and the way it functions,” Zaslow says. “If your closet is dark and dim, it will be hard to see — and find — your clothes.” It also helps you match colors and accessorize outfits with confidence, according to Glenna Milburn, director of operations for California Closets, based in California's Orange County.
If you’re renovating or building, plan for an electrical outlet in the closet for clamp lights that can be directed to focus on what you want. Stick-on battery-powered lights are also an option. Sconces work where there’s more room, and are especially helpful flanking a mirror. And it’s a good idea to install lights that come on as soon as you open the closet door.
Milburn notes to save floor and wall space by going for ceiling lights, like a small chandelier (for fun), a pendant lamp, or a couple of spot lights. And, says Zaslow, “if your closet has a ceiling light that uses a cord to turn it on, upgrade from plain old string to a lovely ribbon with a tassel at the bottom.”
Consider the Walls
“Wall colors can play a role in the overall appearance of a closet if you have sight lines from other areas of the room,” Milburn says, “and help make the space your own. But stay away from colors that reflect and distort the true colors of clothing, shoes, and accessories.” Instead, she notes, go for light, bright colors in easy-to-clean high-gloss paint.
“Keep in mind that your wardrobe itself will provide a lot of visual interest,” Zaslow says, “so don't go overboard with paint colors or patterns that might make your closet seem visually overwhelming.” If you love wallpaper, stick to a small area in the closet or pick an understated pattern.
It’s in your best interest to consider mirrors — they create the illusion of space anywhere in the home, and nowhere is that more valuable than in smaller spaces such as a closet (where you're also immediately able to spot a hanging slip or too-sheer top). “Mirrors are wonderful in any size, wherever you can fit them in,” Milburn says.
Use the walls for storage, as well. “Hang single hooks on your closet door or on empty spots on closet walls to hold hats, bags, belts, robes or other items,” says Zaslow. Milburn likes pegboard or slatwall hooks for cramped, otherwise wasted spaces. Or hang a space-saving folding ironing board on a wall or over a door for quick touch-ups.
And who says you can’t throw in a little personality? “If your closet has some spare wall space,” Zaslow says, “hang a favorite photo or piece of art.
Don’t Ignore the Floor
“Even in a small reach-in closet, installing a small rug, piece of carpeting, or flooring can spruce up the place,” Zaslow says. Think thematically; there’s no reason to drop your design goals just because it’s the closet. “Pulling together the bedroom, closet system, and floor colors with an occasional rug is a great addition to a walk-in closet,” Milburn says.
Master the Art of Hanging
“Upgrading to high-quality metal closet rods adds shine to your closet,” Zaslow says, “and makes it easier for hangers to slide.” And, speaking of hangers, “treat yourself to matching hangers in one color,” she notes. “It's one of the quickest ways to make your closet look more uniform and polished.”
“Most people find it most intuitive to store similar items together,” Zaslow says, “all dresses together, pants with pants, etc. Some people prefer to hang a whole outfit together if they’re short on time.” Put ball gowns or interview suits that you don’t often wear in the most remote corner.
Short on space? “Double-hang wherever possible; it automatically doubles your space,” Milburn says. If you put shorter hanging items together, you can sometimes fit in a compact dresser (drawers are a great addition to a closet). Hang pants over a hanger (rather than long) to save space. “If space permits,” she says, “separate clothing by business and pleasure, then by type (pants, skirts, tops, jackets, etc.), then by color, and then by sleeve length.”
Don’t have enough horizontal space to hang? Just add more. “Add instant organization and a touch of class by installing a few pull-out valet rods in your closet,” Zaslow says. “They are super-handy for picking out outfits, packing for a trip, or airing out clothes. You might not have a Mr. Bates to dress you, but with a valet rod you can pretend you're living in Downton Abbey.”
Take a Seat
“Planning the perfect closet should always include a spot to sit, either inside or immediately outside the area,” Milburn says. “An interesting small chair, stool or pouf can be placed inside or just outside a closet to be used for putting on stocking, socks, or shoes.” (California Closets actually builds bench seats into many of its designs.)
“High-quality cloth hanging shelves are a quick way to add extra shelf space to your closet,” Zaslow says. Go for color or stick with neutral canvas.
Separate handbags by type (daytime, evening, travel), then by color, Milburn notes. Zaslow likes to line them up, held upright by shelf dividers.
Both our experts prefer shelves for organizing shoes. Go vertical, making the most of unused space, Zaslow says. Milburn organizes shoes by color, and stores them with the heel of one in the toe of another to save space. Adjustable shelves are good for fitting boots, flats, or stilettos.
Where there’s space, a tray with a selection of perfume is a pretty addition, notes Milburn.
Box It Up
Accessories, jewelry, shoes, and other smalls (as well as off-season clothing) can be handsomely organized in boxes. Trade ugly plastic for attractive canvas or fabric, but don’t forget to attach identifying photos or labels. “Seasonal items should go either very high up (on a top shelf) and out of the way or at the bottom of a stack so that your current needs are easier to access,” Milburn says. Boxes or baskets are great for soft or cloth hats (constructed hats are better on shelves).
“Trays with compartments are ideal for housing jewelry and small accessories, as well as hair accessories,” says Milburn. Her tips: Buy several of the same size so that they can be easily stacked. Roll ties, belts, and scarves so their colors are visible and line them up in 3- to 5-inch trays.
“If there is a truly special garment that you absolutely love but don't wear, keep it as a piece of 'closet candy' to make you happy,” Zaslow says. She has her grandmother’s red silk kimono, “and it makes me feel good every day to think of her.”
(Photo by Douglas Friedman/trunkarchive.com)