I learned early in my career how differently Americans look at proper clothing storage than those in other parts of the world. Many of us are still remodeling "master bedrooms" from the 1960s and 1970s, when sleeping zones, tiny baths and smallish "walk-in" closets were combined.
New-construction builders seem to have simply enlarged these three rooms in many modern homes being built today.
However, many upscale consumers look at closet storage very differently. They want a separate room, not just a hallway flanked with hanging space. In my original bath book, The Basics of Bathroom Design…and Beyond, published in the mid-’80s, I included lists of spatial requirements for hanging and folded clothes to help other designers create elaborate closet/dressing rooms because I viewed these rooms as a profitable business niche.
Twenty-five years later, this interest in large, dramatic personal spaces reserved for dressing, grooming and garment care has developed into a "big business" — stretching from the mid-market through the luxury sector. Kitchen designers have a great new business opportunity today – supported by many of their cabinet company partners – in the design and material specification for storage systems that offer the same fine quality of woodworking our consumers demand in their kitchen cabinetry.
To really understand these spaces, designers first must define them, recognizing the difference between separate simple utilitarian closets and spacious dressing rooms.
- A wardrobe (called an "armoire" in Europe) is a piece of furniture that serves as a clothing storage area.
- A reach-in closet is one where doors conceal the pole and shelf space is accessed only when the doors are open.
- A walk-in closet is a room that one walks into to access two, three or four walls of space organized with hanging poles and storage shelving. Typically all are exposed, although some pole areas and shelving may be placed behind more elegant doors.
- A dressing room is a larger version of a walk-in closet, with a furniture island or seating area in the center of the space. It normally includes built-in dresser cabinetry to store all clothing so the sleeping area in the master suite has no clothing storage responsibilities.
A New Market Niche
Designing dressing rooms is a new high-style market niche. Designers’ talents are valued because there is a focus on the "look" of the space. Consumers are requesting more amenities such as glass closet doors and detailed architectural accoutrements such as crown molding, baseboard and columns – accents designers are already skilled in using.
Such a room also has a "multi-tasking" nature to it. While the storage, dressing and grooming space is the first priority, the space may also be the exercise room, the clothing care center or have other uses that need to be identified. All of these activities have specific storage requirements.
Here’s how I plan dressing rooms:
1. Determine what will be stored in the room.
For these special spaces, a thorough survey must be completed, followed with a clear understanding of how the person stores possessions.
To make the most out of the available space, here are some helpful hints from the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals (www.closets.org).
- Before you begin the planning process, ask the client to take everything out of the closet and evaluate what should be kept. A good rule of thumb: If they haven’t worn something for a year, perhaps it should be given away.
- Get rid of clothes that don’t fit or are out of style.
- Find other storage areas for all items not related to the adult dressing room assignment of the space. Sports gear, for example, does not belong in a clothes closet.
- Weed out unused hangers to create more space.
- The client needs to count sweaters, shoes and other items that are folded so proper shelf space can be incorporated before you start laying out the space.
- Hanging and folding preferences must also be determined. The overall length of hung coats, skirts and slacks must be identified because these dimensions will dictate the placement of hanging double pole storage. Are dress shirts hung on hangers, or folded by the cleaners? Are pants folded on specially designed pant hangers, or hung from the cuff? Everything needs to be visible to be easily retrievable, and while sweaters, casual shirts and sweatshirts will be folded for storage, they must be displayed on the shelf so the client can see them.