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Plastic Hangers Be Gone! No Skeletons to Hide with a Well-Designed Closet

Photography by Olivier Koning

CLOSET ENVY. Everyone’s got it these days, from celebrities with their own stylists to the fashionista moving into her first apartment. Gone are the days when closets were an afterthought.

“They are very personal and serve as an emotional and psychological need,” says interior designer Kirsten Merrill of Merrill & Associates. Closets are never big enough, she says. “People always have more than they will hold.” Which is why Merrill recommends starting any closet remake with a purge. She has a system where she turns all her hangers facing backward, then after something is worn it goes back in right side out. In three months she’s has a good idea what isn’t getting worn.

“I always hear people saying they want a ‘Zen’ closet. What they really mean is that they want a place for everything. They don’t want chaos,” she says. They want to feel calm, pulled together and organized when they begin their day. “After all, it’s where your costumes are!”

Merrill, who works for many high-end clients with generous budgets, sees the same custom cabinetry and design style of the rest of the home carried into the closets. People aren’t skimping these days, she says. Finishes such as teak and mahogany are commonplace.

One of her favorite closet requests came from a man who liked to surprise his wife with expensive jewelry. He asked Merill to design a secret compartment in his closet to hide the jewelry before he presented it to her.

There’s some great hardware out there now, she says, recommending pull-down clothing rods that allow clothing to be double-hung and pullout drawers. She also always installs a full-length mirror.

“Many people today have closets that are separated from the bedroom. Instead, they are off the bathroom and can be large enough to include a bench or ottoman to use when dressing,” says Merrill. Among her best tips for a better closet are getting your shoes under control (store what you don’t need accessible), and including luggage racks in guest room closets.

As for the issue of shoes, Sommer Meyer, founder of the Web-based site Closet Fetish (closetfetish.com), started her business out of necessity. She had acquired 350 pairs of shoes, and had no way to store and keep track of them. As a homework assignment when she was a student at Hawaii Pacific University, she turned her addiction into a business that now manufacturers sturdy, lacquered shoeboxes in fashion colors and deluxe hangers. Among her delighted clients are celebrities Denise Richards, Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall. Michelle Obama ordered 45 boxes (in shiny brown) for her White House closets.

“I can see everything when I get dressed in the morning,” says Meyer, who bubbles over with energy. “It sets the tone for my day. It’s like going shopping every morning in your very own department store.”

Designer Lowell Tom of Philpotts Interiors thinks men’s closets don’t get nearly enough attention. It may be because when a home is being built or renovated there are too many other decisions and closets are overlooked. Tom likes a tiered rack system to maximize space. Clothing not worn regularly is relegated to top shelves. There are never enough shelves for folded items such as sweaters, T-shirts and dress shirts, he says.

“I always advise men to protect their shoes with shoe shells and use boxes with clear fronts. Another thing many men often neglect is to provide storage for small items such as ties, socks, belts, watches and jewelry.”

Honolulu Realtor and radio talk show host Artie Wilson thinks that any high-end home constructed today without considering the importance of closets is simply missing the point. Wilson likes a walk-in closet with his and hers dressing areas, as well as a sitting area.

With a penchant for shoes (and watches), Wilson’s own shoes each have dedicated cedar shoetrees. He loves that his own closet is generous enough that clothes have room to breathe and don’t become wrinkled. He had a special tie bar installed so that his ties are never creased. Folded socks and circled belts occupy drawers. All his shirts are on wooden hangers; suits are on suit hangers and slacks folded over once on substantial bars.

Closets are never afterthoughts for stylish people. Designers seem to all agree that anyone can have a dream closet; all it takes is a weekend of weeding out, and either a trip to purchase and install a closet system, or a designer with the right vision to help you manage your space.