Posted by: jeb1 | January 14, 2011

The Closet Comes Out of the Closet: Coffee, TV , Flowers: Why Walk In ,When You Can Live In?

[CLOSET-JUMP] Michal Czerwonka for The Wall Street Journal

Barbara Savage-Schiller spent $75,000 on her closet.

A closet used to start with a rod and end with a shelf. Then came the drive to organize, and companies like Elfa International AB and the Container Store grew selling modular and custom storage systems. Now comes the next phase in the closet’s evolution—enjoyment.

Homeowners, some deferring plans to move into bigger houses, are upgrading their closets to room-like status, with not only specialized storage but also period lighting, breakfast bars and flat-screen TVs. Sometimes called “boutique” closets, or “dressing room” closets, they have sleek fixtures, display walls with backlighting and seating that make them feel like a fashion designer’s showroom. Meant to be lived in, or at least hung-out in on occasion, they ratchet up the household trophy of a “WIC” (real-estate parlance for walk-in-closet) and make it an “LIC.”

The inside of the closet used to start with a rod and end with a shelf. But as Anjali Athavaley explains, some people are adding elaborate fixtures, fancy lighting and in some cases amenities like a flat screen TV to their closets.

Robert Cort, producer of movies such as “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Jumanji,” and his wife, Rosalie Swedlin, customized the closets in their Beverly Hills home to include a refrigerator (his) and a bathtub (hers). Mr. Cort’s closet has an exterior door that leads to a small putting green.

“Instead of this utilitarian thing that you wedge stuff into, dark and cave-like, they’ve become a room to enjoy,” Mr. Cort says. The master bedroom is where partners share their lives, but closets are for personal space, he adds. “It’s a metaphor for how to have a good marriage.”

Designers say many homeowners see their closet-rooms as bastions of privacy and professionally necessary. “People are successful because they’re efficient,” says Jeff Klein, president of the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals, a Wheaton, Ill., trade group. “What better way to start your day than be efficient in your closet?”

Into the Closet

Barbara Savage-Schiller of Los Angeles spent $75,000 to convert an extra bedroom into this 350-square-foot closet in 2009. See the closet’s amenities, including wall-to-wall displays of her 520 pairs of shoes, a silver ottoman, and a rotating spiral rack.

The closet in Colin Strause’s master bedroom used to consist of a small space with white particleboard shelves. “It seemed strangely deficient compared to how cool the rest of the house was,” says Mr. Strause, 34, a feature-film director and visual effects supervisor in Los Angeles.

Last year, he and his wife, Rina, hired LA Closet Design to create a 253-square-foot closet with “his-and-hers” sections, at a cost of $82,000.

Mr. Strause wanted a closet that felt like a store. “I’m a neat freak,” he says. “I wanted everything to be laid out nice.” Their closets have LED lighting on the ceiling and inside drawers, as well as display walls for Ms. Strause’s dresses and Mr. Strause’s ties. Ms. Strause has a makeup table and mirror.

Interest in boutique closets, an accessible luxury niche, is rising as more homeowners adjust plans and stay put in their homes longer. “In the last three years, there has been a real change,” says Ginny Snook Scott, vice president of sales and marketing at California Closets, a unit of FirstService Corp.

California Closets says sales rose 6% last year. “The housing industry has shifted,” she says. “People are starting to look at staying in their existing spaces but really maximizing the way they’re used.”

Michal Czerwonka for The Wall Street Journal

Barbara Savage-Shiller’s closet includes compartments for her belts.

“My wife specifically enjoys her clothes and also her jewelry,” says Richard Greco, 51, a plastic surgeon in Savannah, Ga., who recently had a new home built. “She wanted an elegant room,” he says. “I have totally different needs from my wife.” His wife, Robin, says her closet impresses guests. “People come in and are like, ‘I want to see the closet.’ ”

Dr. Greco’s closet has three levels of golf and tennis clothes and a holder for his 200-plus ties. Her closet has shoe shelves around the perimeter and an island with some 20 drawers on each side. He has a cabinet with a cushion on top, so that his grandchildren can keep him company on occasion.

A new closet can be a relatively inexpensive remodel. Closets Magazine, published by the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals, surveyed 1,005 consumers last year and found the average price of a master bedroom closet project was $3,011 in 2009, up from $2,947 in 2008.

Michal Czerwonka for The Wall Street Journal

A pull-out ironing board in Ms. Savage-Schiller’s closet.

Julie Ray and her husband, Andrew, of Washington, D.C., spent $5,000 last summer to have California Closets redo their closet. Working with an 8.5-by-8.5-foot space, they removed the doors of the closet to make it an extension of the bedroom, adding tie racks, a pull-out hamper and a black mesh light with hanging crystals. Getting ready isn’t a chore, now. “I think it makes it easier because I know where everything is and I can get to it faster,” says Ms. Ray, a part-time psychologist. “I can see everything now, whereas I wasn’t able to before.”

Whether sprucing up an existing walk-in space or converting a room into a primping space, many people find they like hanging out there.

“Generally people who are a little more fashionista are going to spend more time getting dressed,” says Brian Patrick Flynn, an interior designer in Atlanta and founder of, an online design magazine. “Sometimes it’s fun to turn that into kind of a social thing. By having an ottoman or lounge to perch on, two or three people can hang out in the space.”

Michal Czerwonka for The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Savage-Schiller lines up her shoes by designer on angled shelves.

For others, the closet is a personal statement. Barbara Savage-Schiller, 46, of Los Angeles, spent $75,000 to convert an extra bedroom into a 350-square-foot closet in 2009.

“I did it as I was divorcing my husband,” she says. “I was like, ‘This is going to be all about me.’ ”

The space consists of wall-to-wall displays of her 520 pairs of shoes, a silver ottoman and a laundry station. “I decided I’m going to do it really 1940s style and pop a chandelier in there,” says Ms. Savage-Schiller, founder of a skin products company. She sold the house last month for $3.6 million and says she believes the closet added value.

Some closet additions may not be practical, says Genevieve Gorder, host of television network HGTV’s “Dear Genevieve.” Closets “can be over the top,” she says. “If you’re living in your closet, only then should you have a coffee maker and a refrigerator.”

Write to Anjali Athavaley at

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