The Well-Organized Closet
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We have always wondered about those wonderful, spacious closets we see pictured in designer and home magazines — expansive rooms filled with shelves, drawers, trays, and baskets on all sides, but containing exactly 6 suits, 12 shirts and one drawer of socks — all in white.
The 21st Century Closet Solution
A typical closet provides truly hostile storage. It is usually poorly lit, especially wherever you happen to be looking at the moment. Clothes get tangled, drop to the floor, are seemingly always out of sight or reach. There is no good place to store shoes, belts or ties. It's a mess.
Reach-in closets, a largely 19th century innovation, just do not work well for the 21st century's more extensive storage needs. Just as closets replaced armoires and wall pegs, now it is time for closets to be replaced by something more effective in handling the great quantity and variety of stuff we now need to store…
If all you own is 6 suits, 12 shirts and one drawer of socks, why do you need a closet the size of Yankee Stadium?
These pictures are all fantasy, of course. We don't have giant, garage-size walk-in closets; we have small walk-in closets if we're lucky and tiny reach-in closets if we're not.
If any of us actually did have a closet the size of a gymnasium, we would already have it filled to the rafters with stuff.
We all collect stuff. Lots of stuff. And it all has to be put somewhere. It resides mostly in closets. The closet keeps us from constantly tripping over stuff. It is some of your home's most valuable real estate. But it is also the most under-utilized, unappreciated and least respected part of your home.
The biggest problem with our closets is clutter — and the fact that most closets have a door. By shutting the closet door, the catastrophe that lies inside the closet is out of sight and out of mind, so we can ignore the clutter problem — until we have to actually find something, that is. Then it's hard to ignore.
There are three basic reasons why our closets suffer from clutter:
- We have very distinct seasons in Nebraska. They all require different wardrobes: winter, summer and football. Everybody knows that bulky winter wear takes up many times the space of summer wear. Plus, we need a whole third wardrobe of red clothing just to watch Husker football — something that utterly mystifies folks who aren't from around here.
- We live in an age when fashions change rapidly by design. We like to hold on to the clothing that is so out of fashion that we don't really wear it anymore — just in case it ever comes back into style — it won't, but hope springs eternal.
- But the third and most dreaded reason for closet clutter is that a lot of our clothes just don't fit anymore. But we keep them around anyway — because they will fit again as soon as the ol' diet kicks in, right?.
There is only one way out of the closet catastrophe: Organize your Closet. That's it. We wish there were another way, Unfortunately, there isn't. But, before we get to actual organizing, there are some preliminary steps.
Go ahead and very carefully open the closet door and stand well back until everything stops quaking. This may take a few moments. Just be patient.
Now, carefully remove everything from the closet. This requires the utmost dedication and concentration. You are inevitably going to find things you have not seen for years, if not decades: your high school yearbook, that souvenir kayak paddle you thought was lost, and so on. These archaeological treasures tend to bring on bouts of nostalgia and day-dreaming. Resist these temptations and stay focused. Otherwise we'll be here all day.
Organize your wardrobe into piles. If you are like most people, you only wear 20% of your clothes and shoes on a regular basis. Sort them into seasonal groups and then further separate those clothes into the "keeper" group, the "may come back into style" group and the "may wear sometime" group. Then, donate all but the "keeper" group to the Salvation Army or Disabled American Veterans. They will thank you warmly and make very good use of them. And, you get a nice tax deduction for your generosity.
This may seem needlessly ruthless at first, but it will make your closet reorganizing so much easier and more meaningful.
Take out-of-season items, pack them into containers and store them in the attic or basement so that they are out of your closet but accessible when needed as the seasons change.
Now you are ready to organize your closet.
Making Better Use of Closet Space
Let's face it, our closets are typically pretty small. In an older home, we are lucky if we have closets along one wall of our bedroom — those rows of unsightly bi-fold doors. If we're not lucky, our closets are suitcase-size stuck in one corner as an afterthought by the builder.
When our houses were built we simply did not have so much stuff, so not much thought was given to where to put it all.
Still, there is much that can be done to relieve the situation. Even a small closet can hold lots of stuff, organize it and make it more accessible when we need it. Most closets just do not make efficient use of space. There is more wasted space in American closets than there is in all of Arizona. (The guy who figured that out obviously had too much time on his hands.) Making more efficient use of that space is the art and science of closet organizing.
There are two main plans of attack. Hire a professional, or do-it-yourself. Let's look at both options.
Doing It Yourself
If all you need is a shelf or two and maybe some pull-out baskets, doing it yourself is definitely an option. You will need to be able to handle a hammer and screwdriver without hurting anyone, but if you can do that, you are a definite do-it-yourself candidate.
Minimum Dimensions for Closets
Minimum Closet Depth
Closet Rod Height
- Minimum 28 inches for overcoats and heavy jackets - 30 inches is better.
- Minimum 24 inches for suits and dresses and other hanging clothing - 25 inches is better.
Closet Rod Length & Spacing
- 60-63 inches for street dresses.
- 38-42 inches for suits, blouses, and skirts, men's pants, and shirts.
- 68-75 inches for floor length dresses.
- 30-35 inches for clothing of 3- to 5-year-olds.
- 38-45 inches for clothing of 6- to 12-year-olds.
Distance Between and Depth of Shelves
- Minimum 48 inches per person in household.
- Allow 3 to 4½ inches for overcoats.
- Allow 2½ inches for man's suit.
- Allow 1½ - 2 inches for all other garments
- Allow 3 inches between top clothes rod and lowest parcel shelf.
- 12-inch to 15-inch depth of lowest shelf.
- 12-inch depth of shelves above the lowest shelf.
- Minimum 8- to 9-inch clearance between shelves.
The sources of supply for closet organizers are almost endless. Wire shelving from Rubbermaid and Closetmaid is almost universally available. All of the large home centers: Menards, Home Depot and Lowe's carry lines of DIY-ready wire shelving and accessories, as do most hardware stores and even Wal-Mart. These are wire grids coated with an epoxy or vinyl finish that is almost indestructible. There are literally dozens and dozens of accessories available to make the most of the smallest closet space: drawers, baskets, belt and tie hangers, you name it.
These are very easy to install. The only tools you are likely to need are a hammer, flatbar (for extracting the wood shelf now in the closet), screwdriver, 2-foot level, a hacksaw, sandpaper, and possibly a cordless drill.
The first step is to remove the single shelf and clothes hanging rod. Spackle and sand any nail or screw holes left in the plaster and apply a fresh coat of paint. (Once you add shelving and brackets, painting gets much more difficult.) Then measure the space carefully to see how much area you have to work with as you plan storage groupings
Now a visit to your home center is in order to buy all the shelves, brackets and accessories. While you are there, pick up one of the free brochures that show how to install the closet system you just bought.
Use our handy Closet Dimension chart (above right) to locate the new shelves at the right height. Cut the new shelves to length (follow the manufacturer's instructions), screw the mounting brackets to the wall, and snap the shelves into place.
If you have bought drawers, sliding trays or other accessories, they mount right to the shelves in most instances.
There, wasn't that easy! Now put all of your clothes and shoes back into the closet and admire how neatly they are organized. You might want to leave the doors open for a few days to receive justly deserved accolades from your spouse, friends, the cable guy, etc.
Hiring a Professional
If the organizational problems are more than a few shelves and baskets are going to handle, or you are just not the do-it-yourself type, then you may consider hiring a professional to organize your closets for you.
Closet Organizers Compared
Comparing closet systems is not easy. There are so many configurations and so many options available that it is nearly impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison. So we created our own using the most common closet in America — the 8' wide 2' deep reach-in close with 6' bi-fold doors — as our test closet. The organizers specified include (4) 36" shelves, (4) 36" hanging rods, a 24" wide central organizer unit with four drawers and three adjustable shelves. Prices vary considerably, and most do not include installation in the price. Prices shown here include any available discounts.
Floor-Mounted vs. Wall-Mounted
There are two basic kinds of closet systems: floor mounted and wall mounted. A floor mounted system must sit on a bare floor and flat against the wall. So if you have a base-molding and carpet in your closet, they will have to be removed to install the closet system. Wall-mounted systems do not require tampering with either the baseboard or carpet, but are more difficult to install even with the tailored mounting rails provided by manufacturers. Unless you have at least moderate DIY skills, we recommend you don't try it.
StarCraft Custom Cabinets — $655.40*
For comparison, here is our price for the test closet. This includes delivery but not setup or installation so the price is comparable to the other systems listed, which don't provide installation. We estimate installation of any of these closet systems to be between $100.00 and $160.00.
General: Local to Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska only. While we will manufacture closet systems for delivery out of our service area, we will not install them any place but within 100 miles of Lincoln, Nebraska. Sorry.
Construction: European-style frameless or American-Style framed cabinets. Wall- or Floor-mount systems. All cabinets are constructed of solid wood and furniture grade plywood with full extension drawer slides. Our closet systems are made in the same shop that makes our kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and to the same high standards. For more information on how our cabinets are made, see Comparative Kitchen and Bath Cabinet Construction. For more information on cabinetry in general, see Cabinet Basics. We have about 100 standard finishes and can custom mix any color or finish.
*Price local to Lincoln, NE. Does not include shipping. Price does not include installation.
Closet Organizers U.S.A. — $1,089.67*
General: Although we have become very good at ferreting out company information, we are unable to find out about this company. It offers free shipping on Web orders, and had a fairly easy-to-use closet designer on its web site. We don't like the fact that it automatically stores a tracking cookie on your computer when you start a design. All systems are wall hung from a steel mounting rail.
Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over particle board. Drawers are solid maple with dove-tail joints at all four corners. Full extension slides in all drawers.
* On-line price. Does not include installation.
Closets-To-Go — $1,039.47*
General: Local to the West Coast, Closets-to-Go also sells online. You can design your own closet, get a price, and order immediately. Every order is custom made and ships within 24-48 hours. Shipping by Fed-Ex Ground (3-7 days) is free on orders over $1,000. Both wall-hung and floor-mount systems are available and both styles can be combined in one closet system. Six colors available including simulated maple and two cherry laminates.
Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over particle board. Full extension slides in all drawers and baskets.
* Discounted on-line price. Showroom price is higher. Includes free shipping. Does not include installation.
Solid Wood Closets — $959.97*
General: This California company makes a floor mounted system out of 100% solid hardwood, including the shelf and cabinet panels which are fabricated in the company shop using a "state of the art wood paneling process". Baseboard clearance is included in the design, so baseboards do not have to be removed to install the system - a definite plus. Four finishes are available: maple, maple spice, cherry and empress. The web site does not disclose the wood species used, but from the photographs on the site, it looks like soft maple. A good choice. If we did not make our own organizers, this is probably where we would buy them.
Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. All cabinets, shelves, drawers and doors made of solid hardwood. Full extension slides in all drawers.
* 40% Discounted on-line price. Does not include shipping or installation. At the time we priced this company, a free shipping promotion was in effect, but we have no indication how long that will last.
Easy Closets — $$778.78*
General: A division of the Stow Company that also owns Easy-Track Closets and ProClosets (a wholesaler which does not sell directly to consumers) Headquartered in Holland, Michigan, it is a well-respected fabricator of store displays and office furnishings. Easy Closets is a floor-mounted organizer system that is available in white and two simulated wood grains. For the wall-mounted version, see Easy Track Closets by the same company.
Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over particle board.
*On-line price. Price does not include shipping or installation.
Easy Track Closets — $694.90*
General: Also a division of the Stow Company (see Easy Closets, above), the Easy Track closet system is a wall-mounted organizer that is available in several colors and two simulated wood grains. Web site designer is the easiest to use of all the web-sites we visited for this survey.
Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over 100% recycled particle board.
*On-line price. Shipping is free. Price does not include installation.
There actually are professional organizers — folks you can hire to organize your entire house — or your entire life. They even have a national organization, the National Association of Professional Organizers that defines a professional organizer as one who ...
"... enhances the lives of clients by designing systems and processes using organizing principles and through transferring organizing skills."
And there you have it: the professional organizer…
For your closet, however, such large-calibre assistance may not be needed. What you do need is a firm that designs and builds storage organizing systems.
Franchise Closet System Providers
Closet organizing is big business, and almost all of the national chains like Closet Masters, California Closets, and ClosetMaid have local franchises in our area, or you can shop on line at Easy Closets.
They are very good at what they do.
What they do is provide you with a modular closet organizing system made of vinyl or epoxy coated wire (yes, the same stuff you can get at Home Depot), or laminated particle board. Typically the laminate is Melamine®, but some also offer high-pressure laminates like Formica®, which is usually patterned to look like wood grain. (You do know that the "oak look" is not really oak, it's paper veneer printed to look like oak.)
What Are the Most Requested Closet Features?
With no place to sit - chair, bench or window seat - putting on hose or shoes is unnecessarily difficult.
A window or skylight may not be feasible, but bright lights that show true colors help you see what you are picking out. Note carefully however that exposed bulbs in a closet are a fire hazard and are strictly governed by building codes. Consider "daylight" fluorescents or LEDs as an alternative.
With a radio or flat screen TV you can keep current while getting dressed.
An idea that is increasingly popular is a make-up sink in the dressing area — away from the steam and fog of the shower.
And — now, here's the best part — we do all this extra stuff for less money than they charge.
- Free in-home consultation,
- Free design,
- Free delivery, and
- Free installation (sometimes).
…all of the above, plus…
- Customization to a degree that the franchise companies cannot provide,
- Real wood or cabinet-grade plywood instead of particleboard with simulated wood grain,
- An innovative, state-of-the-art design service that goes beyond looking merely at the closet (see more below), and
- A lifetime cabinet warranty. (Try to get that out of the other guys).
How can we do that? Very easy. They are franchises and pay big franchise fees. We don't. They order their materials from distant places, paying lots of shipping charges. We buy ours here. They maintain large, expensive showrooms. We don't keep a showroom, so we don't need to pass on that large overhead expense. See? Wasn't that easy?
We also differ considerably from those "other guys" since we can deliver broader solutions than merely outfitting your closets with organizer modules. We can look at all of your storage requirements and suggest solutions outside as well as inside the closet. And, if your storage problems are best solved by better closet organization, we can build systems to exactly fit your situation. We are not limited to whatever storage modules the factory happens to provide.
Our Design Process
The scope of our design process is much more expansive. Our "closet" design does not start with your closet. It looks at your storage situation as a whole. If you have, for instance, ample drawer space in a chest or bureau, you don't need much drawer space in your closet. If you have lots of suits, we need to organize your closet differently than if your ordinarily wear jeans to work. Does your closet have interior lighting or does it rely on room lights. This will have an effect on the materials we use — or we may suggest you install a light.
Your Closet Doors
We look at your closet doors. Doors provide marvelous storage opportunities. The best doors, if you have room, are swinging closet doors, because you can hang organizers on them. These swing out into the room to you when you open the
door — very handy. They also allow the most access to reach-in closets. The next best are bi-folds, and finally sliding doors. Sliding doors permit access to only one side of a closet at a time — not good. You spend a lot of time moving the doors back and forth to reach stuff. If you do not have swinging doors, and you have space for them. We generally recommend you replace your bi-fold or sliders with swinging doors. That's an automatic 20-25% addition to your effective closet space. And it's actually not very costly to replace the doors.
Real Wood vs. Simulated Wood
The Interzum Exhibition held every year in Germany is the major European cabinetmakers' show. This year the emphasis among exhibitors was on how realistic photo-engraved simulated wood grain has become. One exhibitor featured its new process of using an embossing press to make the simulated wood grain of its cabinets more true to life.
Our thinking on the matter is that if you want the look of wood, the best choice of material is actual wood. Which is why our closet organizers and cabinetry are made only of real wood and real wood veneers over real wood cabinet grade plywood.
For more information on how we build our cabinets, see Comparative Cabinet Construction.
Your Closet: The Inside Scoop
Finally, at long last, we look at your closet.
The standard American closet is a small room the same height as the rest of your bedroom enclosed by a standard height door.
This arrangement does not allow good access to the top of the closet — as anyone who has ever tried to retrieve a box from the closet shelf well knows.
Closets are the traditional storage option for clothing because:
They are not necessarily the best wardrobe storage solution, however.
- They can be built by regular carpenters,
- They're relative inexpensive, and
- They're traditional.
Non-Traditional Storage Solusions
It could well be that a non-traditional storage solution would work better for you. Imagine opening up your closet from floor to ceiling, then take a look at the space and visualize how it might be better used. Here's a radical idea — let's get rid of the closet altogether and replace it with a wardrobe wall. Built-in cabinets hold all of your hanging items. Built-in drawers with specialized organizers hold everything else.
But, if what you need is organization in your current closet, we take measurements, discuss with you your storage needs and expectations, and go back to the office and prepare up to three different closet designs. Once that's done and you have selected one, we order the materials, fabricate what we need to fabricate, and put it in. The fabrication generally takes place in our shop, and the installation usually requires about a day.
Once it's finished, might want to leave the closet doors open for a few days to receive justly deserved accolades from neighbors, friends, the UPS guy, etc.
Contact Us for Your New Closet — and the Beginning of Your New, Well-Organized Life
If you are convinced by now that StarCraft Custom Builders is the proper choice to help you organize your closets and other storage needs, please contact us. If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area, we can design and build your storage. If you live elsewhere, we can design and build the cabinets you will need, to be installed by your local carpenter. In either case, we will be happy to help. Otherwise, please read on.
Wait! We're Not Done Yet. There's more…
There's more to closets than just closets. See the better way to store clothing using a 21st Century Storage System.