Creating Personalized Storage

In addition to arranging things by size and type, the closet can be made more efficient by organizing things according to how often they're used. In the typical wall closet with sliding or bi-fold doors, "you'd put your 9-to-5 clothes right in the middle where you can see them," says Scott. In these closets, the corners are often hard to get to—making them perfect for out-of-season clothes or less-used items like raincoats.

Toward the bottom, shelves can be added to store items such as sports gear and winter hats and gloves, while shelves at a more accessible height make good places for dress shirts and sweaters. "You can stack them, but if you can't pull the bottom one out without toppling the entire pile, it's probably too tall," she says. For sweaters, limit the pile to three or four; for shirts, five or six. Scott usually adds one shelf across the very top of the closet about a foot from the ceiling to store pieces of clothing or extra blankets or pillows that "you might get down only once a season."

The dividers, shelves, and modular units that can help make closets efficient are available in a wide range of prices and finishes. Home improvement centers sell the cheapest versions, and some even offer a computer program or consultants to help work out the design. Filling a standard 8-foot-wide wall closet with professionally designed and installed shelving might cost as little as $500 for laminate, or as much as $5,000 if wood veneers or solid hardwoods are used. And then there are gadgets that can make them more expensive still: The fanciest closets have hydraulically operated rods positioned very high in the closet that you pull down when you need to access them. One client of Danowski's, a TV personality, even has a computerized library to guide him through his prodigious wardrobe, down to his last pair of socks.

In many cases the problem isn't too little closet space but too much stuff. "People stockpile clothes," says designer Scott. "Before you redo your closets, purge first.You'll be amazed by all the extra space you'll find."

Tom Silva On Shelving

Rather than use modular units to outfit a closet, This Old House contractor Tom Silva likes to build the shelving himself. First he makes cleats to support the shelves: He cuts long strips of 3/4- by 4-inch pine and attaches them along the back and sides of the wall with 2 1/2-inch finishing nails. He then cuts shelves to rest on top of the cleats, but instead of nailing them into place, he attaches the boards with a few 1 1/2-inch screws. "That way, if I ever want to rearrange the shelves for any reason," says Silva, "I can do so easily." As for the wood, Tom prefers paintable birch-veneered plywood to planks of a solid wood such as pine. "The plywood won't warp," he says, "and it's actually a lot stronger than most plain boards."

Ask TOH users about Storage

Contribute to This Story Below