organized closet
John Blais
"Even a messy person would have a hard time losing things in here," says Mary Danowski of this Brooklyn, New York, closet. Walk-ins—pantries for clothes—should be at least 6 feet wide, for a 2-foot aisle and 2 feet of hanging space on either side.
Taking Inventory

Growing up in the 1950s, architect Duo Dickinson clearly remembers what lay inside his father's closet. "He had about 12 gray suits, a few ties, some white shirts—and that was it," he says. But those days — when a closet could be outrigged with a single metal pole — are long gone. Today's wardrobes include not only formal garb but also a profusion of casual clothes and footwear: Dickinson recently designed a closet for a client with a collection of 400 sweaters, and another for one with 200 pairs of shoes. "The amount of clothes we accumulate has increased. Our closets have to work harder now," he says. The best way to make your closet more efficient, say closet-organization experts, is to segment the space with a variety of shelves, cubbyholes, and clothes rods set at different heights. Not only does this eliminate the wasted 3 or 4 feet below a dangling shirt, it makes it easier to see an entire wardrobe at a glance. "Whether you have a big walk-in closet or a standard reach-in one, you want to be able to choose your clothes for the day and close the door in about two minutes," says designer Mary Danowski of the Italian furniture company Poliform, one of many closet-system manufacturers.

In order to intelligently divide the closet, professional designers begin by sorting through a person's wardrobe—a first step even for those heading to the local home improvement center to buy inexpensive shelving. "There's no formula that works for everyone in terms of how many linear feet of rods or shelving you'll need, but by grouping like items of clothing together and seeing exactly what you have, you can pretty much figure out how to make any closet work," says Ginny Scott, a designer with California Closets in San Rafael, California. To begin, the pros organize clothing items into categories according to how much space they take up when hung from a rod. At 64 inches or more, long gowns, overcoats, and bathrobes use up the most. But few people own many of these, "so you might be able to get away with a rod only a foot or two long" that could be hung at eye level, says Scott. Next come medium-length dresses and trousers hung by the cuff, at 48 to 56 inches, followed by shirts, jackets, blazers, and folded pants, which, at 38 to 42 inches, require the least space. Rods holding these shorter-length clothes can be hung one above another, thereby layering more into the closet.

Some designers plunge foot first into the closet—by counting shoes. "For me, that's really the determining factor for how you're going to carve up the space," says Danowski. "You can squeeze shirts on thin wire hangers if you need more room, but you can't squeeze a pair of shoes." If someone has a dozen pairs or less, Danowski adds a sliding vertical rack below the clothes or shelves. Significantly more shoes require cubbyholes that hold individual pairs or large sliding shelves that can store them two-deep.

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