High-end custom painted wood cabinetry like this from Jay Rambo Co. comes in components.
courtesy of Jay Rambo Co. High-end custom painted wood cabinetry like this from Jay Rambo Co. comes in components.

In many homes, closets are dark spaces too narrow to even accommodate a hanger. There are no codes for closet size, depth, or shape. In new builds, the space left for closets depends on the attitude of the designer or builder, says Bill Huntley, co-owner, with his wife Denise D’Eri, of ClosetPlace, in Wolfeboro, N.H. But, he adds, “The closet should not be an afterthought.”

Plan It

“When we do a whole house, the closet is always part of the planning stage,” says Christine Jurs, vice president of Advance Design Studio, in Gilberts, Ill. Jurs’ clients complete a closet questionnaire that asks such questions as: How many dresses do you have? How many pairs of shoes? How many folded items? What type of storage is appealing for jewelry, lingerie, socks?

She asks clients how they envision their closet, whether it’s for storage, as a place to fold or iron laundry, or for putting on makeup. Lighting becomes important, she says, if people are putting on makeup or dressing in their closet.

Huntley likes, ideally, to work with the homeowner — or builder or remodeler — early on to plan these “personal spaces.” He has noticed that builders will install inexpensive systems and leave it up to the homeowner to upgrade. “We’re trying to promote putting the closet into the planning stages of the home and creating a budget for it,” he says.

For a high-end look, designer Christine Jurs mixes laminate with her companyís own millwork.
Amy Pennino For a high-end look, designer Christine Jurs mixes laminate with her companyís own millwork.

Design It

Huntley designs and installs panel systems that hold adjustable drawers and shelves, as well as more spectacular customizable component systems. When designing a closet for an existing home, he hopes the contractor left him square, not angled, walls; doors that swing out from the closet; and light switches on the outside of the closet. “A typical closet system,” he says, “is 14 to 24 inches in depth, so you have to leave that in the corners by the windows or doors.”

Jurs, who has designed many custom closets, says her company actively promotes closets with built-ins, keeping costs down by making laminate systems appear built in. (She works with Plus Closets, plusclosets.com.) ADS does its own millwork. “We purchase paint-ready birch millwork and put that in,” Jurs says, then the painter matches it to the laminate. ADS adds crown molding and frames mirrors. “You can have a custom closet at half the cost of a wood system with doors and still get all the gadgets, pull-outs, and hanging mechanisms,” she says.

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.

See an example of a closet design questionnaire.