- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Opening the door to a messy bedroom closet is not likely to happen in this Falls Grove town home, thanks to some closet organization tools.

Marvel Richards of Rockville can open either door of the master-bedroom walk-in closet and find her things placed neatly on one side and her husband, Peter’s, on the other.

The Richardses contacted Perfect Closets in Bethesda to organize the 10-by-12-foot space, originally equipped with one shelf and one hanging rod. For $2,100, the company redesigned the closet with two built-in dressers with pull-out laundry baskets, two sets of double hanging rods, shelves for clothes and racks for accessories.

“You see everything. You know where everything is,” Mrs. Richards, 62, says.

Getting the most out of closet space requires knowing a few things about organization, information and tools that closet companies, interior designers and home-improvement and organization stores can provide.

Storage systems can be custom-built or purchased pre-made and adjusted to the closet space, such as the Elfa shelving and drawer system sold at the Container Store.

A track is installed on the closet’s back wall that allows ventilated wire shelves, hanging rods and wire or mesh drawer units to be added and moved to different heights and locations. For a typical reach-in closet, the system would cost about $350 and for a walk-in closet, $650 to $1,900, depending on the size of the closet and how many shelves, drawers and accessories are added.

Configurations by Rubbermaid closet organization system is another organizer with expandable shelves and hanging rods, along with Closet Maid’s wire system and Mill Pride’s closet components made of melamine-finished board. All three are available at Home Depot. The systems range from $24 to $200 for reach-in closets and from $100 to $200 for walk-in closets.

The various closet organizers allow users to see everything kept in the closet, says Matt Thurston, department manager of floors and walls at the Aspen Hill Home Depot store.

“You can design it yourself,” Mr. Thurston says. “There is unlimited scenarios you can do with these products. You can take one design and make it into 10 designs.”

Likewise, the Elfa system is flexible, adjustable and easy to install, says Brooke Minteer, buyer for the Container Store.

“It’s not a closet in a box,” Mrs. Minteer says. “We can design that space based on what you want to store.”

An organized closet saves space and time, helps clothes stay neater and makes things easier to find.

“It lets people feel there is some order in their lives. People are so busy, and it’s nice to come home to a house that isn’t chaotic like the rest of their lives,” says Carmel Bonfigli, owner of Bonfigli Design in Northwest and instructor of interior design and architecture at Corcoran College of Art and Design.

Closet organization started about 25 years ago, says Miguel Buitrago, who owns Perfect Closets.

“We have more clothes than in the past,” Mr. Buitrago says. “Walk-in closets are common now. A shelving system is not a standard feature, however, of these closets.”

Walk-in closets became popular in the 1970s to 1980s, Mrs. Bonfigli says.

“It’s the fact you can close the door and you have this entire room no one can see,” she says. “It gives your unsightly things a private space.”

The first step in installing a closet organizer, says interior designer Kathleen “Kelly” Stieff, is sorting items kept in a closet into three boxes — for throwing away, giving away and keeping. The stuff to keep can be organized further by making a few adjustments to the closet’s interior.

“It saves you time and frustration,” says Mrs. Stieff, owner of KMI Design Associates in Leesburg. “You want to be able to get in there, get dressed and on with your day.”

One adjustment involves replacing the traditional single shelf and hanging rod with two rods installed one over the other, a system that allows shirts to be separated from pants and skirts. Longer items, such as coats and dresses, can be placed on a single rod in a smaller section of the closet.

The space above the clothes can be used for shelving and the space below for storing shoes and purses, along with other items, in modular storage units, says Gail Davidson, academic director of interior design for the Art Institute of Washington in Arlington.

“Go vertical,” Ms. Davidson says, recommending against storing short items on shelves, wasting the space above them. “Infrequently used items can be packed on the top shelf of your closets all the way up to the ceiling,” she says.

Sarah Purdy, owner of SPI Design in Alexandria, recommends looking for empty wall space or any shallow areas to add storage implements, such as shelves and hooks.

“People go into closet design assuming everything needs to be 24 inches deep,” says Ms. Purdy, an adjunct professor with the interior design department at George Washington University in Northwest.

She recommends 24-inch storage on one wall of the closet for hanging rods and drawers and 12-inch storage on the opposite wall for smaller items that can be placed on shelves, such as sweaters or shoes.

The inside of the door is another storage place, best for storing shoes in over-the-door shoe bags and hanging frequently used items, such as robes and accessories, on hooks, Mrs. Stieff says.

“It saves you time and frustration,” she says.

Shoes can be placed directly on the floor or in clear plastic boxes, pull-out shelves and shelves divided into squares for easy viewing.

If not on the door or on hooks in the closet, accessories such as purses and briefcases can be put on a shelf equipped with dividers to stack the items and save space, says Justine Sancho, owner of Justine Sancho Interior Design in Bethesda.

Anything stored up high should be placed in open shelving or clear bins so the items can be seen and accessed easily, Mrs. Sancho says.

“The things you don’t use as often would be at the highest point,” she says.

Out-of-season items and those used less frequently can be placed in cabinets above the closet door, accessed with a step stool, says Lisa Adams, owner of Adams Design Inc. in Georgetown.

“When you need them, they’re on hand,” Ms. Adams says.

Lighting also should be considered when organizing the bedroom closet. Interior designers recommend painting the closet interior white. They suggest installing light fixtures that are activated when the door opens, using florescent bulbs instead of a single incandescent bulb.

“It’s great to make your closet more efficient and to get as much storage as possible, but if you can’t see what’s in there, it’s not efficient,” Ms. Purdy says.

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