closet doors diagram
Illustration: Duo Dickinson
Swing
There are essentially two types of closets: those you can walk into and those you can't. Reach-in closets pose the biggest challenges, not the least of which are the doors used to access them.

If there's room, a swinging door is the best option because it gives you full access to the inside of the closet. The downside is that you can't swing a door into a single-depth closet, and a standard outswinging door means nothing can be in its path.
7 Ideas for Improving Any Closet

1. Use the vertical dimension — in both directions. Take advantage of all available space, up to the ceiling and down to the floor. Bins on high shelves, roll-out boxes that sit on the floor (available from many catalogues), even a third closet pole if your ceiling is over 9 feet high, are ideal for storing items you don't use all the time. Less accessible places work well for off-season storage; if you have enough room that you don't need to rotate clothes, use the space to get oddball shoes, hats, bags, or sentimental items out of damp basements and freezing/baking attics.

2. Think about lighting. For a closet to work, you have to be able to see what's inside it. Natural light from skylights or windows is a plus, but beware the fading that sunlight can produce (windows also eat storage space). When sunlight isn't available, you need good artificial light. The important thing to keep in mind about artificial light is that it has to be between you and the contents of the closet; if it's behind you, you'll cast a shadow on what you're trying to see. One consideration here that you might not think of is heat. Incandescent bulbs can be a fire hazard in the tight, enclosed confines of a small closet. Fluorescent lighting is often the only code-compliant solution.

3. Know your wardrobe — and habits. Closets, more than any other space in the house, work best if you know in advance precisely how you're going to use them. For example, if you bunch socks, they'll need more space than if you roll them. Ditto for shirts: Do you stack them neatly or hang them up? Think about what you wear and how you like to get dressed, and design the space to serve you: most-used items up around eye level, less-used below, and least-used high above. Most closets have too much hanging storage and far too little shelf or drawer storage.

4. Design in visibility. Being able to actually see all your socks, ties, and underwear (versus only the top layer) gives you real choices when you get dressed. Take advantage of the many accessories available, such as see-through wire bins, acrylic- or glass-fronted drawers, drawers with dividers, and belt and tie racks, to keep items organized. Shelves (and drawers that are part of shop-fabricated cabinets) should be adjustable and movable from place to place within the closet for maximum versatility.

closet sliding doors diagram
Illustration: Duo Dickinson
Sliding
Your next best bet if space is too tight for a swinging door. But these bypassing slabs are prone to racking, binding, and even popping off their tracks — and you can only get at one half of the interior at any given moment. Swapping out the generic hardware for "HD," or heavy-duty hardware, limits the problems and is well worth the cost in the long run.
5. Don't ignore the floor. You may be the only one who sees it, but the floor of a closet matters, because you'll be standing on it in your bare feet every day. For warmth underfoot, carpet is your best bet. But carpets in closets can be difficult to vacuum. For maximum cleanability, go with wood or vinyl.

6. Watch out for mold, mildew, and other still-air breeders. Closets need some airflow and dehumidification or they become breeding ground for mold, mildew, even insects. A bathroom-size fan, timed to go on and off at regular intervals, will help pull air through the closet even when the door is shut. A small dehumidifier is another way to keep things from getting musty, especially if the closet is in a damp basement.

7. Beware of cedar. Cedar closets do keep moths away, but the cedar scent can permeate adjacent spaces. If you don't want your bedroom to smell like a gerbil cage, locate the cedar closet in an attic or basement with at least one additional door (other than the door of the closet) between you and it.

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