Elegant custom closets conquer interior space

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | March 10, 2014

When Ron Pringle entered the "space organization industry" back in '89, "a closet was just a closet," he says. Shelving was the only solution for conquering closet space issues, and it was "wall-hung and cheaply made." Then California Closets came along with the novelty of closet organization, and a new industry was born.

Closet space -- the final frontier?

Twenty-five years later Pringle has his own space-organization business, Sierra Nevada Cabinets & Closets in Reno, Nev., and the industry is booming. The concept of custom closets has come a long way since those early days. "Now closet systems," he says "…look like a high-end piece of furniture -- something to show off, not just close the door."

The once-lowly closet where you hid things away was yesterday. Today's custom closet can serve multiple purposes -- part storage, part dressing room -- and even as a place to show off your wardrobe on matching wooden hangers.

What a custom closet can do for you

A home organization specialist can help you jettison things you don't need anymore, and reorganize what's left. A space organization or custom closet design company can take it a step further. They help when you can't get rid of enough stuff and need to create more places to put things.

About 75 percent of Americans harbor enough clutter that they usually resort to garage storage, leaving their cars outside. (If you want to organize the garage and bring the car back in, most space organization companies can do that, too.)

But there are other reasons to customize closet spaces besides chronic shopping and an obsession with possessions:

  • You've down-sized to a smaller home.
  • Your family is growing -- and outgrowing the closets.
  • You want a place for crafting or hobbies.
  • You need a designated home office or study area.

Closet storage for crafter
Custom shelving and bi-fold doors make craft supplies easy to organize and access. Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada Cabinets & Closets

Children's custom closet
Closets can be designed to evolve over time, like this custom solution for a newborn. Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada Cabinets & Closets

Pringle offers another insight into why closet space might be at a premium lately. "The sizes of bedrooms have gotten to be a little smaller, which translates as less available space for dressers -- so the closet becomes a great space to make up for that," he says.

Unfortunately, many closets were not originally designed to handle that overflow if the builder provided only one shelf and a single pole for hanging clothes. That design wastes too much valuable real estate.

Today's closet makeovers feature baskets and built-in drawers to take the place of bedroom furniture for holding folded clothes. Designers make use of almost every square inch of vertical and horizontal closet space. They hang poles at varying heights to permit efficient grouping for different lengths of hanging clothes. Shelving moves and adjusts as your closet storage needs change. And an array of clever closet accessories keep items like scarves, belts, jewelry and bags accessible -- visible, but tidy.

What a space organization specialist can do for you

When a client calls in Pringle, the initial consultation may take one to several hours, he says. He takes measurements of the closet space. Then he takes an inventory of the client's wardrobe to determine the best heights for long, short and medium "hangs" based on the lengths of the clothing. He asks a lot of questions: How many pairs of shoes? How much space for folded clothes? What do they want the finished closet to look like?

Designing the closet comes after they work out all the specifics together. Details count when a client spends anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 on a closet remodel -- a typical range for closet customization. Why the hefty price tag for a closet? The strength and durability of the materials used in closet organization today surpasses that of the flimsy, wall-hung shelving used in past decades -- or of off-the-shelf solutions.

For those with generous budgets, natural wood provides the quality of fine furniture or built-in cabinetry. But many clients save money by opting for melamine, a popular material often used for cabinetry. Melamine's simulated wood-grain finishes look surprisingly like the real thing.

While some clients play coy when it comes to revealing their budget, Pringle recommends being up front about what you can spend. "Have a realistic budget number in mind," he says, and "divulge it in the beginning." You can save the closet specialist from over-designing and scaring you off with too high a price quote for features you would gladly do without.

So what do you get for such an elegant closet storage solution? For one thing, Pringle says, "You are never limited to fixed dimensions… The closet system can be changed to accommodate your items." Your investment in a well-organized closet provides "a specific place for shoes, folded garments, purses -- even spaces for cell phones to get charged," which "really does take some stress off our plates. It makes finding your shoes or that blouse or suit jacket in the morning easier -- and truly can give us back some extra minutes."

Time and space -- it would appear the custom closet really can conquer the final frontier, after all.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.