Conquering the closet: Get the most out of your bedroom storage space

“In the past, closets were just a bar in a small room with a door,” said Alloy Workshop designer Kate Tabony. “Now people want to walk in and pull out a special drawer designed for their purses or ties.” Photo: Virginia Hamrick “In the past, closets were just a bar in a small room with a door,” said Alloy Workshop designer Kate Tabony. “Now people want to walk in and pull out a special drawer designed for their purses or ties.” Photo: Virginia Hamrick

Anyone who’s been on a house hunt knows closets are a relatively modern development. And if you’re into vintage homes, you’ll probably have to compromise on built-in storage space.

“Houses that are 100 years old, back then people didn’t really have closets,” said architect Kate Tabony, lead designer for Charlottesville-based Alloy Workshop. “Maybe it’s a product of the materialist culture in America. We have all these objects that we need to put somewhere.”

If you don’t want to tear out walls and rearrange your living quarters, you can take a page from your forebears and opt for standalone wardrobe units, which Tabony says have become sleeker over the years. But if you want a true closet where once there was none, you have a more difficult challenge.

The first question is how to balance location and accessibility, according to Tabony. Your closet should be easy to get to, but you don’t want it to be in your way or to take up habitable living space. Typically, you’ll want it to be away from windows to maximize the natural light in the places where you’ll be spending the most time. But these days, even that is not a hard and fast rule.

“The visual ambiance of the space is important. The trends are people want good lighting and a variety of storage options,” Tabony said. “In the past, closets were just a bar in a small room with a door. Now people want to walk in and pull out a special drawer designed for their purses or ties.”

Part of that desire is driven by the availability of modular closet solutions from places like IKEA and California Closets, Tabony explained. These days, each closet space can be tailored to individual needs. Short in stature? You’ll want usable, low-level storage space. Tall drink of water? Plan for room to hang longer clothes. Have a beloved shoe collection? A purpose-built storage unit that both holds and highlights your prized toe-toppers is what you need.

If you’re working with a professional closet designer like Alloy Workshop, the key is to communicate your needs to your designer. You can be vague, offering general thoughts on size and storage capacity, or specific, saying things like “how many pairs of pants you want to hang on a rod,” Tabony said. Be clear about your budget; if you’re looking to keep costs down, a prefabricated modular solution is ideal, but for a high-end look, custom millworkers will produce cabinet architecture that works with the space. Tabony said the process can require a bit of back and forth to make sure customers end up with a perfect configuration.

“We ask them all these questions, go to our suppliers, design the closet, and come back to show them,” she said. “Our clients might say, ‘can we get a little more of that and a little more of this?’”

If the answer to either question is no, you might want to consider paring down your wardrobe.

THE BASICS

Architect Kate Tabony, lead designer for local firm Alloy Workshop, says the cost of a closet depends on its size, but there are ways to keep the price down even if you want a space you can stretch out in.

Simple solutions: Basic, non-walk-in closets, can be outfitted with a single shelf and hanging rod. Your contractor will likely provide these materials at low cost. If not, you can grab what you need at a retailer like Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Swedish know-how: Tabony said home goods giant IKEA has become the go-to store for closet storage solutions on a budget. The Swedish big box outlet doesn’t skimp on the unique, purpose-built modular storage options, but as with all of its products, it keeps costs down with a DIY focus and inexpensive building materials.

High-end pre-fab: Closet-focused suppliers like California Closets offer versatile shelving and storage options similar to those you’ll see at IKEA at a higher price point. For the money, you’ll see sleeker designs and higher quality workmanship.

Custom Design: Architecture firms like Alloy Workshop can subcontract with millworkers to provide a truly unique shelving system in any closet. Tabony said her firm often works with Jeff Barratt Woodworking to complete projects for its highest budget clients.