Behind Closed Doors

While “thinking out of the box” is a common enough concept, actually taking that thought process and putting it into practice is a challenge for many businesses. When it comes to thriving in a tough economy, however, embracing and implementing new ideas can mean the difference between a promising future and the end of the road.

For kitchen and bath designers, thinking outside of the box often means extending beyond their comfort zones to make their mark in other areas of the home. One of those areas – the master closet – is proving to be a fast and lucrative answer to lagging kitchen sales.

“Designing closets has helped us diversify our business and provide some additional revenue for our firm,” comments Jay Young, v.p. for Toulmin Cabinetry, in Tuscaloosa, AL. “We’ve sold some $30,000 closets, which is a pretty nice package.”

Toulmin offers a closet package with every kitchen it designs, according to Young. “It is a way of getting the word out there that we do closets. It’s something that we do that’s a little different from our competition.”

Customers have responded well to Toulmin’s closet designs. “We can get so much more storage for most of our customers than they have now – sometimes double or triple their current storage. That’s one of the most important ways of how we use the tool to sell,” adds Young.

Service is also part of the package, as the firm actually goes into the home and takes everything out of the closet to be remodeled. The company then does a paint touch up, installs the new closet system and puts the clothes back.

“Of course, the customers need to organize it the way they want it, but it’s a nice service that a lot of our clients take advantage of,” comments Young.

The Essentials

Many kitchen and bath designers who have embraced closet design approach it the same way they would a kitchen project. In fact, the closet often acts like a kitchen, according to Cynthia Adams, president/owner, KB Studio, in Denver, CO, with the cabinets around the perimeter and furniture in the center.

While there will be those clients who will go crazy over closets, Amir Ilin, president, Kuche + Cucina, in South Paramus, NJ, warns that, for the most part, people are not spending the same kind of money behind closed doors that they are in their kitchens.

“Only 25% of the clients we work with want to customize and see the closet be like a Ferrari in the garage,” notes Dmitriy Daraselia, manager and part-owner, Knopka Design, in Brooklyn, NY. But he says that’s okay, “because those kinds of closets are not really as profitable as regular, simple closets due to the time involved.”

Time is money, after all, and the profitability is there, even for the simplest closet designs. “While we doll them up and make them super nice, the design time you spend on a closet once you design two or three is amazing,” comments Young. Toulmin works with ProClosets and John Lewis Home to create its closets, and Young reports that his firm can design a closet in minutes using ProClosets’ software.

“While some clients are very specific about what they’re looking for – where they’ll measure their husband’s slacks down to the quarter-inch” remarks Adams, “for the most part, they’re looking for hanging – especially double hanging – drawer storage and shoe storage.”

Daraselia asks to see his client’s clothes and what type of things will be stored in the closet. “Then I recommend a certain percentage of hanging space, drawer space and shelving,” he comments. At this point, he mentions other items, such as pull-out baskets, though he stresses that these do take up space.

“The goal for us is how many drawers can we fit into a space,” reports Young. “Drawers offer much better storage than anything behind doors for access, and of course we use full-extension drawers.”

Adams also likes to include a lot of drawers in her designs because “I don’t know where all of the dust comes from, but you want to keep things behind doors or in drawers to keep it clean.” She will even put drawers on the floor for shoe storage.

And speaking of shoes, there appears to be no item in the closet as important for customers and designers alike.

“We do purse storage, and shoes, shoes, shoes,” stresses Young. “Shoes are the main thing. In remodels, I’ve taken a bedroom and made it into a closet, and it was all shoes!”

“Sometimes we need to create shoe closets for 100 to 200 pairs of shoes,” comments Daraselia. “We will do drawers, but also put in moveable shelves so that the customer can pull out the shelf to see the shoes.” It’s a small detail that is appreciated, he adds.

“With shoe storage, it’s nice if you can pull it forward because, if you’re doing a deep shelf cabinet, you can’t see what’s in the back,” comments Adams.

While novices would consider racks to be an obvious choice for shoe storage, it is not the choice of most designers.

“Everyone wants shoe racks, and then they realize that they don’t work very well. They really limit the amount of shoes that you can store,” Ilin states. “The best shoe rack is actually no rack – it’s just the bottom of the closets where you’re actually hanging clothing, or under shelves.

Other amenities, such as mirrors and hooks, are indispensible to a good closet design, designers believe.

Hafele has a lot of little things for the closet, notes Adams, such as valet rods, “where you can hang clothes that you just brought back from the cleaners or the outfit you’re going to wear.”

“Every closet I sell, I do a valet rod,” adds Young. “People don’t think it’s essential, but when they have it, they love it. It gets a lot of recognition.”

Larry Falk, owner, CabinetWorks & Design, in Ridgway, CO, sees great promise working with the new Closets Plus system from Canyon Creek Cabinet Co., and reports that both he and his customers view its tilt-out hamper as a favorite essential.

Upscale Add-Ons

In addition to the basics, there are countless add-ons that can be incorporated into a master closet that will make it function more efficiently as well as provide additional revenue for the designer. Beware, however, of adding on too many unnecessary elements at the outset that could break the deal, design professionals caution.

“With any custom feature, the way to sell it is [to recognize] that the clients need to benefit from it,” stresses Adams. “The closet needs to work for them.”

To maximize the use of space, many designers are incorporating pull-down devices for easier access.

“A lot of people like the pull-downs if they have height in the closet,” notes Ilin. “If you have 9' or 10' ceilings, then this is a must. You can really use the full height.

“The nice thing about it is you don’t have to switch between seasons,” he continues. “People often switch out their summer and winter clothes, but when you have pull-downs, you don’t have to. You have the same closet 365 days a year, because you can always pull down whatever you need.”

Islands are also a key extra in master closet designs – if space allows. The island can be a simple table, or an elaborate storage facility or seating area. Whatever the function, it can signal a significant contribution to the bottom line.

“We like to put an island in the closet – an area where you can set clothes while you are dressing or undressing,” notes Daraselia.

Ilin believes that an island is not only an ideal place to lay out an outfit, it can provide seating, as well. “It also gives you extra storage, which can be for shoes,” he offers. “An island can have shoes all around it if it’s just open shelves, and you can sit there and put them on.”

“The island is a great place for shoes – little cubbies underneath the seat tend to make great storage for shoes,” adds Young.

He adds that islands are an ideal place for drawer storage, and he commonly tops the island with granite “so that we have another material in the closet.”

Visual Appeal

Lighting is critically important to the design, since closets are naturally dark spaces and clients need to be able to tell the difference between blue and black.

“You can do a lot of creative things in the closet with regard to lighting, so it’s important to talk with a lighting consultant,” comments Adams. She likes to incorporate cans and sconces in her designs to provide different types of lighting. “You can also use lighting to illuminate the items that are housed behind glass doors,” she reports.

“When we do an island or a full-length table, we do a chandelier as well as canned lights,” offers Young. “Since there usually is no window in the closet, you need to really get some good light, because there is nothing worse than a closet with dark shelving.”

Ilin’s firm recently designed a closet that was very dark, so they installed a light fixture into the back wall. “The entire back wall was frosted glass with lights behind it, so everything lights up, making it very easy to see,” he remarks.
Daraselia sometimes uses a rod light – a light that is embedded in the hanging rod – to help illuminate the space.

While many associate upscale closets with dark wood finishes, kitchen and bath designers note that white is increasing in popularity.

“With light-colored closets, people can see their clothes better and really concentrate on them,” Daraselia notes.

Adams agrees, noting that some people prefer lighter colors because they are more reflective, making the room brighter.

Still, the classical style is wood, with earthy or even dark colors, acknowledges Daraselia.

With custom cabinetry, a client can choose any finish and wood species. However Adams notes that, depending on the choice, the price goes up. “But, when people are investing thousands of dollars in their clothing, they want their closet to look like a store or their favorite boutique,” she states.

To achieve the look of furniture, Adams often customizes her cabinets with furniture legs and other trims. “The more you embellish the cabinet, the more it looks like a French armoire,” she states.

“I see a lot of people coming in who want traditional-style closets. But, when they realize how much space it’s going to waste, and all of the details and moldings and the added cost, many of them end up switching to a more modern looking, minimalistic design, just because it’s a lot more practical inside the closet,” notes Ilin, who uses clean-lined systems from Italian manufacturer Pianca for many of his closet creations.

Minimalistic design often goes hand-in-hand with full access, which means the spaces will be open and easily viewed. However, some clients want doors to hide their storage.

“The clients who want doors are usually concerned about dust,” notes Ilin.

Falk adds that he currently has a client who wants doors because his wife is concerned about moths getting into her clothes.

Glass doors and drawer fronts are another solution because they provide both the protection and easier viewing of items inside.

“Women often have a lot of bags, and they work well behind glass doors,” notes Adams. “They won’t get all dusty, and the customer can see what she has.”

Glass enclosed storage can also be used to house jewelry for easy viewing. “I’m always looking for a creative way to hold jewelry so you can see it, because oftentimes we don’t wear some of our things because we don’t remember we have them,” notes Adams.

But display isn’t the choice for everyone when it comes to jewelry. In fact, many people prefer to have their valuables hidden away in a locked area. As a result, many clients are asking for safes to be incorporated within the closet.

“People like it there because it’s hidden – even inside the house, it’s hidden,” notes Ilin. The closet is also a convenient spot for the safe, he continues, since that’s where people get dressed up for a big event. “It makes it easy to open the safe box and take out expensive jewelry. Even the maids or the kids don’t see you when you’re in there.”

Overall, the design and installation of closet systems have been a positive for kitchen and bath designers – in both income and exposure.

Young notes, “It’s been a good deal for us, and we hope to continue to grow with it and be able to use it as an additional income generator.”