Walk-In Wonders

Closets in today’s master suites are all dressed up and ready to show

Walk-in Wonders

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Closets in today’s master suites are

all dressed up and ready to show.

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by Deborah Mead


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We used to ask: “What tony Westchester home would be complete without granite countertops, rich wood cabinetry, a dedicated beverage cooler, and a state-of-the-art cappuccino maker?” Today we ask: “What tony Westchester closet would be complete without them?”


“Large, well-designed, and well-equipped closets are a high-demand item,” says Laressa Gjonaj, marketing manager for California Closets in Hawthorne. “Homebuyers look at the bathrooms and the kitchens, but they also want to see the closet space. It’s got to look great.”


Today’s closets are upscale, with custom-made, built-in cabinetry, walls of mirrors, central islands, and upholstered furniture. “It’s no longer accepted to build a custom house and just put in a rod and a shelf in the closet,” says Sharon Gallerani of the Closet Factory of Bridgeport, Connecticut. “People are looking for the accessories and custom storage options that can best organize their possessions.”


And what are those extras? Industry experts are seeing four major trends in closet design today. Read on to see what’s in storage.







cool customer


Available at Today’s Kitchen in Hartsdale, Poliform offers a modern take on today’s closets. Its Senzafine wardrobe of melamine oak (drawers and trays are composed of oak woods) work well with contemporary designs. 






Bigger, Better, and Smarter. As new homes expand, the closets within them grow accordingly. “People aren’t even calling them ‘closets,’” Gjonaj says. “They’re calling them ‘dressing rooms,’ which is a pretty big indicator of what they want.”


And why not? Most new construction comes complete with a well-appointed master-bedroom suite with a comfortable, living-room-size sitting area in the bedroom, and, in the bathroom, separate vanities, a two-person Jacuzzi, and a steam shower. His-and-her walk-ins or a dressing room in rich wood tones completes the picture of spacious luxury. Aesthetically speaking, a reach-in closet can’t compare.


But aesthetics don’t explain it all. Indeed, today’s demand for big custom closets were inevitable: we just have so much more stuff. Before dual-career couples became the norm, most suburban women stayed home to raise the kids, and their wardrobes, consequently, were not as plentiful. Today’s woman takes on many roles calling for multiple wardrobes—both professional and casual attire, plus evening wear and work-out clothes. Men, too, have become more interested in their wardrobes (the buzzword “metrosexual” didn’t come from nowhere). The reach-in closets of old simply aren’t equipped to accommodate this much clothing and accessories.


“People have more stuff, and they also have better stuff,” says Alan Spiegel, a designer at Transform, Inc. of New Rochelle. “They need to store it in a better-quality environment,” He points out that the organization of the new closets allows you to “inventory” and get a handle on everything from undergarments to outerwear.


It’s not just owners of new residences who are in pursuit of a closet the size of a home office. Jan Quartner, a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty in Scarsdale, says that many people in older homes are reclaiming unused bedrooms, converting them into closets with dressing rooms. “Our village doesn’t have the new developments that you find in other communities,” she says. “People want the dressing room, but they don’t want to leave Scarsdale, so the extra bedroom is the place to turn.”


Nevertheless, today’s closets aren’t just about being bigger; they’re about the intelligent use of space, too. In planning a client’s closet, custom builders assess and measure what needs to be stored—how many dresses, how many shoes—and allot space accordingly. A woman who frequently attends formal functions will need more full-length hanging sections, while someone who loves bulky pullover sweaters requires extra-deep drawers. Even the physical size of the client has to be taken into account: a man with broad shoulders may need deeper hanging sections for his suit jackets, and a woman with size 12 feet may require extended shoe cubbies.






cool customer


Available at Today’s Kitchen in Hartsdale, Poliform offers a modern take on today’s closets. Its Senzafine wardrobe of melamine oak (drawers and trays are composed of oak woods) work well with contemporary designs. 





A Place

for Everything. When it comes to big-ticket items, everybody wants to get away to the islands—dressing-room islands, which, much like their kitchen counterparts, are custom-made to match the woodwork of the rest of the room and often topped with granite or marble. In it, you’ll usually find smaller, subdivided lingerie drawers, velvet-lined jewelry drawers, and sometimes a safe. A cushioned bench at one end of the island makes a convenient seat while pulling on socks or fastening sandal straps—or while perhaps enjoying a tall glass of Pellegrino just pulled from the mini fridge beside it.


No longer relegated to a jumbled heap on the floor, shoes find an elevated status in the “new” custom closet. They’re often arranged in cubbies or on slanted shelves, with tabs to keep them in place. “If you have fifteen pairs of black pumps, you need some way of finding the pair you want—and knowing that you do, in fact, have a matching pair,” Gallerani says.


The marble- or granite-topped vanity also is a standard component in chic dressing rooms, complete with a cushioned stool and beveled mirror. Mirrors also find their place as inserts in doors or even as an accordion-style pull-out. Fully extended, this type of mirror allows viewing on multiple sides, much as you would find in a department-store dressing room.


Although washers and dryers usually are located in a separate laundry room, hampers are almost always incorporated into the design. Multiple hampers may be used for sorting darks from whites or regular laundry from dry cleaning. Either as a roll-out basket (preferably matching the room’s hardware) or as a drop-down cabinet with a removable bag inside, these hampers offer convenience without being an eyesore. In another nod to wardrobe maintenance, designers frequently include a built-in, pull-down ironing board. The ironing-board cabinet can be installed behind a door, on the back of a door, or on the wall, with the actual iron housed in its own niche or within the ironing-board cabinet itself.


For frequent travelers, retractable suitcase platforms come in handy, as does a retractable valet rod for holding dry cleaning before it’s put away or outfits that you plan to pack. Transform’s Spiegel has a valet rod in his own closet and jokes that half of his wardrobe currently hangs on it. “Most people don’t know about valet rods when they call us to do their closets, but once you have one, there’s no going back,” he says. 






cool idea (right)


Pamela Brunderman of Organized for Life made room for refreshments in this master bedroom closet.




oh tie! (left)


Transform’s functional drawer neatly stores ties for easy viewing and selection.




Fine Finishes. When people think of luxurious dressing rooms, it’s the darker, gleaming woods that come to mind. Cherry and mahogany are both favorites for those who want a look of Old World elegance. This look often comes with a sizable price tag, however, and many clients opt for the more economical, man-made melamine for the less visible cabinetry interiors.


Although you may balk at the idea of using synthetic materials, the quality of melamine, according to Spiegel, has dramatically improved over the last decade. “The melamine we use today has a natural wood-grain appearance that is truly as good as you could want,” he maintains.


For people in older homes, it’s often the whites and creams of painted wood that are in demand, particularly in English cottage or French Provincial-style homes. Another trend Gallerani sees is a growing interest in supportive cabinet “feet” that make the cabinetry look like furniture. Her clients like to coordinate the master bath, bedroom, and dressing room, and creating cabinetry “feet” that match is one way to achieve a seamless décor. Compartment doors and drawer fronts often feature beautiful raised panels, while others incorporate glass inserts that keep dust out but allow you to see what’s inside.


The subtle gleam of hardware on drawer pulls and handles, valet rods and basketry, helps define the dressing room’s style. Black nickel, also known as black pearl, is increasingly in demand for hardware, blending well with the darker woods. Burnished copper and brushed bronze also remain popular choices. Their muted tones, as well as the richness of the black pearl, exude a warmth lacking in stainless steel. 




A Haven within the Home. With double-tiered rods and specialized compartments, the modern closet cleverly tackles most storage problems. But dressing rooms are more than just oversized storage areas: they’ve really become an extension of living space. And with such a well-designed space, it’s little wonder that its owners might want to spend more than five minutes in the morning in it. Furniture, such as a small settee, is often added to the dressing room to personalize it. Pamela Brunderman, owner of Organized For Life in White Plains, even incorporated a captain’s bed into one mahogany dressing room. “The client simply wanted a quiet place to lie down when his grandkids visited,” she explains.


For the ultimate luxury, some people adopt the idea of the dressing room as a sanctuary and create a truly livable space. Designers are creating cabinetry to house flat-screen televisions and hiding mini-refrigerators behind matching wood veneers.


Lighting is an important element in any interior space, and although natural light is highly desirable, it’s often not available. Some people opt for chandeliers in their dressing rooms, but, more often, a combination of recessed, track, and ceiling lighting is installed. Whether you use a single pendant or multiple sources of light, lighting needs to be considered early in the planning process and not be an afterthought.


“It’s important that we work with a particular lighting in mind,” Gallerani says. “We try to avoid shadows that would impede clothing selection or cast upon the finished wood tones of our product.”


Granite-topped coffee bars and speakers wired to the home’s stereo system are becoming more common as people realize the efficiency of starting their day in their own dressing room. After getting up, starting the espresso maker, and popping in a yoga video for a few stretches, the homeowner can contemplate her clothing options through glass-paneled doors. She might then hang the day’s outfit on the valet rod, pull down her built-in ironing board, and slip into the master bath for a shower while the iron heats up. The strong appeal of this image of order and tranquility helps explain what’s driving the high-end closet trend.


“There’s a lot in life that we can’t control, but we can control our possessions,” Gallerani says. “It gives you a sense of serenity to know what you own and to be able to find it easily.”


Deborah Mead is a Boston-area freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor and the Boston Parents Paper. Her own closet features a rod, a shelf, and a mountain of shoes.


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