Inside Out

For kitchen and bath designers interested in maximizing space in their next design – and maximizing profits at the same time – creating a master closet system may be just the right project.

Closet systems often work seamlessly with bathroom remodel projects and provide an upsell opportunity. The result is a win-win situation for designers and their clients.

“Even if you’re not doing a big master bath, you can still update the closets,” stresses Roy McClain, v.p. of Mechanicsburg, PA-based Advanced Kitchen and Bath.

However, it is the master bath project that often leads to the creation of a closet system.

“Most of our closet projects come when we’re doing a master bath, where we’ve knocked out walls and enlarged the master bathroom and incorporated the dressing room and the closet into that area,” reports McClain. “Once you start the master bath and ripping out walls, you are often also destroying the existing closets. As a result, you are also asked to provide a new design.”

Lori Jo Krengel, CMKBD, president of Kitchens by Krengel in St. Paul, MN, offers: “What I see is what I call value engineering. If you are talking about a master bedroom or bathroom en suite ensemble, the closet is an easy transition into the completion of those areas.”

Mastering the Transition

If a designer is proficient at kitchen design, much of this knowledge translates to wardrobes, according to Kevin Farrell, AIA, NCARB of Farrell Design Association in Encinitas, CA and Captiva Island, FL.

“The key for kitchen and bath designers is to become well versed in correct space planning for cabinetry dimensions and capacity required for apparel,” stresses Tom Shirley, designer, Cabinets & Designs in Lexington, KY. “The designer must be familiar with the special hardware and storage items that are available, as well.”

“The ability to estimate the owners’ use by establishing a program will help assure success,” adds Farrell.

In addition to material adjustments, there are structural considerations with these projects that designers should familiarize themselves with as well.

“You have to make sure you don’t have any supporting walls,” stresses Shirley. “A lot of times, you steal a foot or so out of the master bedroom that really isn’t needed and is more of a benefit in the walk-in closet because it allows it to have open air in that space.”

But, he notes, designers also have to understand the structural requirements of the space before that can be done.

“Overall, the key is to look at every bathroom and see what other opportunities there are besides doing the floor, the vanity, the water closet and the tub,” Shirley continues. That’s where the opportunity for the master closet often presents itself. “The bottom line is to always try and pick up a new trick,” he notes.

Just as a master bath can be enhanced by a dynamic closet system, often a closet system can be enhanced by a master bath, reports McClain. “It simply requires thinking outside the box,” he notes.

When creating a master bedroom closet, customers often expect the overall design to coordinate with the adjacent bath suite.

“The level of sophistication in door style, finish and details found in the master bath needs to be carried over into the dressing room,” states Shirley.

“Obviously, the more high-end things you include in the closet design, the more you boost your bottom line,” stresses McClain.

What’s in Store

Of course, closet systems are nearly synonymous with storage, so a quality closet design needs to start with the basics.

“Many people don’t want clutter in their master bedroom, so the walk-in closet is the place to put [things like that],” McClain explains.

“Often, clients are looking for more storage for shoes, hats or ties, for instance,” he continues. “It’s similar to the kitchen in that you have different areas you concentrate on when it comes to storage.”

“Storage is definitely a big one for people, especially shoe storage,” concurs Stephanie Samara, interior designer and Allied ASID for Karlovec & Co. in Shaker Heights, OH. “I am also seeing a lot of demand for space for hanging items. The idea is to try to condense things so that you can add more storage.”

“Most people want organized storage space,” adds Linda Evans, CKD, CBD, CAPS of Portland, OR-based Square Deal Remodeling Co. “If they are in a town house or condo, then the houses aren’t as big. When you organize that closet with drawer space, it kind of opens up a smaller sized bedroom space.”

Many kitchen and bath designers who regularly work on closets like to use cabinetry with doors to help conceal stored items.

“The ability to hide clothing cleans up the view as you enter, thus giving the feel of ‘custom,’ ” Farrell points out.

“When creating the design, first we look at the necessary space required for hanging, shoes, undergarments, socks, shirts, sweaters, folded and storage,” explains Shirley. “With this information we begin the layout to determine the room size.”

Shirley stresses the importance of doing this separately for both spouses. “Depending on the project, we may design separate spaces, but typically it is achieved in one,” he says.

“One project I did has a dedicated his and hers area, so they were lucky that they had the space to separate the two areas,” reports Samara. “When two people are sharing a closet, it is usually divided up so that the male will have one side and the female has the other side.”

Farrell continues: “We try to utilize space for a hamper or storage and have a dedicated place for jewelry, wallets, watches and loose change.”

Farrell adds that his firm will use glass doors to make locating a desired item simpler as well as making the space feel larger.

Closet Islands

Islands, although typically reserved for kitchen applications, can also be effective in closets, the designers note.

“I am seeing a lot of islands in closets,” says Samara. “It’s good to have options for drawers that pull out, and have a space where you can lay suitcases while packing or unpacking.”

“Anyone who has the space to put in an island will typically want to do that,” agrees Krengel. “It can multitask as a bench area, or a space to lay out a suitcase.”

“In larger designs, we will create an ‘island’ in the middle that is flanked with drawers and storage,” adds Farrell. “The top of the island can be used for layout of clothes, art display, etc.”

“We are also seeing benches attached to the island so people can sit down and put on their shoes,” Samara continues. This also provides a space for compartmentalizing ties, hats, purses, etc., she adds, explaining that this way, “Everything has its space.”

Upsell Items

Closets provide a range of upsell possibilities, sometimes with some intriguing results.

“We’ve designed many closets with ‘clothes chutes’ that go directly to the laundry room,” reports Shirley. “We’ve also incorporated stackable washer/dryer systems, built-in ironing stations and even turned the space into a storm shelter in hurricane or tornado prone areas.”

“I have seen small refrigerators for drinks and water,” inside the closet, says Samara.

“I have even had requests for a wet bar in the corner of the closet – depending on the size – or maybe an undercounter refrigerator,” reports McClain.

“We put safes in some of our closet designs,” he states. “They are usually camouflaged by cabinet fronts, so nobody even knows they are there.”

“We did a closet that had a safe,” offers Samara. “It was full-height and it stored all of the client’s jewelry. We put a panel on it so that it is sort of integrated into the space. In that same closet there was an island, and she had a three-way mirror and a little stand – it was a large closet!”

Full-length mirrors are also a must for the upscale closet.

“Closets are becoming more like dressing rooms. Full-length mirrors are a very popular item, so the person can see what they are wearing as they get dressed,” remarks Samara.

Shirley agrees: “A full-length mirror is useful in dressing, and it expands the apparent size of the overall closet.”

Finishes and mouldings represent another area for expanded profits.

“The profit centers lie, in my opinion, where there is a lot of what I call ‘white space’ in the closet. You don’t have to have finished cabinetry backs on the open shelving portions of things. So the places where they are going to hang their clothing do not have the same woodworking costs as in some of the more linear spaces,” says Krengel. “In other words, you are profiting from spaces that don’t require the expense of drawers, hardware, etc.”

To that end, she says designers will likely be able to introduce some additional elements, such as additional countertop materials and crown molding, as well as paint colors.

She adds: “Every bit you get is going to be value added to the overall space.”

In the Dark

Of course, storage is only effective if the client can easily access what he or she needs – and that means proper lighting, says McClain.

“Lighting is important in closets. We see that LED lighting is often requested, for instance. The key is that it needs to be efficient lighting since that is the hot topic right now. A lot of clients like a simple switch, but others like lighting that turns on when you open the door, or perhaps an entry light coming on automatically,” he continues.

“We always try to provide filtered natural light when possible. This helps the space from becoming too claustrophobic and minimizes energy costs,” adds Farrell.

“I have only come across a few that have actual windows in the space,” says Samara. “A lot of people, if they want a countertop or vanity-type element in the closet, will have some sort of undercabinet lighting along the perimeter.”

McClain adds that other options include a sensor light that turns itself off after it detects no motion in the closet.

“A lot of designers don’t think about things like this, but it really does set you apart from other kitchen and bath firms,” he says.

Setting your firm apart from the rest is the name of the game, Samara adds. “My advice is to try designing closets if you can. Some [closet system] companies will even work with the designer as far as cutting a commission check if you refer their company and you work with them directly.”

Krengel believes the best way to sell such spaces is through an inclusive design program incorporating the master bath.

“If you can wrap it up and bundle it within the master suite, then I feel like there is definitely an opportunity to say there is some cost savings for the homeowner, but there are also some adjacencies of cost that make it doable to them that will add additional bottom line profit for you as a business owner,” she adds.

“It makes it one-stop shopping for the client,” says Evans.

“Sometimes the homeowners don’t always think about the possibilities with closets. Closet systems can be fairly expensive because of the finishes – so you must look for the biggest bang for your buck,” Evans says. She notes that her clients have found closet design worth the expense. In fact, she says: “If they do spend their money on a closet [system], they typically say that is the best money they’ve ever spent.”

McClain concludes: “Designers who do not include closet design in their service offerings are definitely missing out."