Making the Most of a Master Closet

Laura Baer and Mike Levine utilize space-saving tips and a custom closet system to turn their master bedroom closet into a functional focal point.
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Photography by Michel Arnaud

Photography by Michel Arnaud

By: Amanda Lecky

When Laura Baer and Mike Levine bought their 1926 Dutch Colonial-style house, storage was one of the home's unexpected selling points. "For an older house, it had surprisingly big closets," says Laura. But 18 years and two grown sons later, the roomy closets were overstuffed and under-organized.

Laura's master bedroom closet was in the worst shape. Even though the couple had outfitted their bedroom closets with custom shelving systems several years earlier, Laura's closet was bursting at the seams. "The system we installed looked great, but it took up so much room in the closet that it made a lot of the hanging clothes impossible to reach," she says.

The existing shelves also obstructed sightlines. Laura could barely see what she had to wear, inconvenient for anyone, but particularly difficult for someone as visual as Laura, an art director and photographer. Accordingly, she'd taken to piling her most-often-worn items onto hooks mounted on the insides of the closet doors, an arrangement that kept clothes visible, but looked messy.

The central tower of drawers and shelves was too wide and protruded too far forward. "The drawers and shelves provided a lot of storage," designer Debbie Royal of California Closets says. "Because the closet is fairly shallow to begin with, the width and depth of that central storage unit made accessing the hanging clothes on either side very difficult."

Debbie suggested a new design that would eliminate the drawers, decrease the width and depth of the central shelving unit, lower the top rods to a height Laura could more easily reach, and add shelving to the left side of the closet. Laura would lose the closed storage of the drawers, but would gain easier access and better visibility. "I knew I'd have to rethink how I stored some of my clothes, but that was okay—it was time to clean out the closet," Laura says.

Closet Organization Ideas

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After a 3-dimensional closet plan was created, Laura unloaded her wardrobe onto rented rolling garment racks. "It was so much easier to reorganize everything right on the rack," Laura says. To prepare the space for her new closet, the existing shelving system was torn out, walls were patched and the interior was painted. It took a few hours to install the new system.

Case Study: A Master Closet Makeover

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A Bad Fit

When Laura Baer and Mike Levine bought their 1926 Dutch Colonial-style house storage wasn't lacking. To capitalize on the space in the master bedroom closet, they installed a custom storage system. But while it offered plenty of shelves and drawers, the system's central storage unit was so wide and deep it blocked the hanging clothing areas on either side. The homeowner had taken to hanging her most frequently worn clothing on hooks on the closet doors—a convenient but messy solution.

Preparing for a Transformation

To prepare the closet for its transformation, Laura unloaded her wardrobe onto rented rolling garment racks. Creating "keep," "toss" and "donate" piles was an easy way to organize her personal belongings. The clothes were sorted by type and color, and rehung on matching hangers.

Neat and Organized

Laura's redesigned closet is the essence of organization and easy access. A smaller stack of shelves is both shallower and narrower than the original system, so it's much easier to reach the hanging clothes to the right. The warm wood tone of the system gives the closet's interior a polished, luxurious look well-suited to the style of the master bedroom.

A Whole New Wardrobe

Laura couldn't be happier with her remodeled closet. "Now that I can see everything, I feel like I have a whole new wardrobe," she says. The double hanging section holds Laura's most-often-used items: blouses and cardigans worn to work.

Canvas Storage Bins

Canvas bins help keep shelf storage neat and are aesthetically pleasing. Open bins on the center stack of shelves hold everything from scarves to camisoles.

Unique Uses for Organization

A slide-out rack keeps the scarves Laura wears most often at hand. Long necklaces or other pieces of jewelry can be hung to avoid tangling.

Multipurpose Door Hanger

The three-tiered door hanger functions as a place to display purses or hang Laura's outfit for the next day.

Extra Shoe Storage

Laura uses most of the central shelves to hold her shoes—each shelf accommodates two pairs—the rest slip into pockets in the door-mounted shoe bag, along with pashminas and scarves. Providing a place for everything keeps the closet neat and organized.

More Shelving Options

A second group of shelves is just right for sweaters and jeans. A special sweater box with a clear flip-down drawer protects cashmere sweaters from moths and dust. Organizing her hanging clothes by type (blouses, cardigans, skirts, pants, dresses) and color makes getting dressed a breeze.

Once everything was installed the hard work began. Reorganizing was definitely the biggest challenge for Laura. First, she went through her entire wardrobe, creating "keep," "toss" and "donate" piles. "I had to be really brutal," says Laura. "I had so many things that I hadn't worn in years, or that just weren't in great shape any more, but it felt great to be able to give a lot away."

The clothes were sorted by type and color and rehung on matching hangers. Space-saving hangers are slim and flocked, so they take up less room and nothing slips off them.

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The redesigned closet is the essence of organization and easy access. A smaller stack of shelves is shallower and narrower, so it's much easier to reach the hanging clothes on the right.

The redesigned closet is the essence of organization and easy access. A smaller stack of shelves is shallower and narrower, so it's much easier to reach the hanging clothes on the right.

"If you have double rods, hang pants on tops and shirts and jackets on the bottom," says Debbie Royal, certified design consultant at California Closets. "Most people do just the opposite, because that's the way clothes are worn on the body, but inside a closet shirts and jackets take up more room horizontally—so if they're on top, the sleeves hang in your face when you’re trying to see what's hanging below."

To corral items she'd previously stored in drawers (scarves, camisoles, undergarments), Laura used fabric-lined bins. A special sweater box with a clear, flip-down drawer protects cashmere sweaters from moths.'Everyday' sweaters and jeans stack neatly on shelves, as do Laura's most-worn shoes; more pairs tuck into a canvas shoe storage unit hung on the inside of the closet door.

To keep the space neat Mary Lambert, author of The Ultimate Guide to Clearing Your Clutter suggests, "when you buy something new, get rid of something old."

The newly organized space not only looks neater, it's much easier to use. "I can reach all my clothes," says Laura. "But best of all, because I can see everything now, it's like having a whole new wardrobe. I'm combining things I'd never thought to wear together before. Don't tell my husband, but I won't have to go shopping for a year."

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