In the Closet

Whether your closet is a walk-in or a small section of one wall, if it is efficiently designed and organized, your life will be better. Seriously.

By Samantha Simma

“Functionality, first and foremost.” That’s what Heidi Stephenson, an interior designer at Snake River Interiors, says should drive the design of any closet. Sam Danahy agrees. She’s the founder and owner of Jackson-based In Place, which offers a variety of organization-related services including designing storage systems for closets, pantries, and garages to senior transitions. “You never want to make your stuff fit in a space,” she says. “You want to make your space fit your stuff.” 

Stephenson and Danahy share similar end goals for any client’s closet: to accommodate clothes and accessories in an efficient, organized way, with day-to-day items close at hand and space for seasonal items. And they don’t just work with huge closets. The smaller the closet, the more beneficial organization is. “Organization is important everywhere,” Danahy says, “but it’s extra- mandatory in small spaces.” 

Danahy and Stephenson both take the same first step with every client: an inventory of what will live in a given space. Danahy, who grew up implementing systems to keep her stuffed animals organized, can take this step further by assisting clients in “editing” their closets. Editing a closet involves purging items that are underutilized. (If utilized at all; how many pieces of clothing in your closet haven’t you worn in a couple of years?) “I help people sit down and have the conversation with themselves about why they’re holding on to things that are just taking up space,” Danahy says. She also encourages clients to swap out their seasonal clothes if not four times a year, at least twice. She says this allows people to be reminded of everything they have.

Hang On

Once you know what you want to keep in your closet, it’s time to start designing it. Be thoughtful in determining the heights of your hanging rods. Stephenson recommends “rods at varying heights to avoid ending up with dead space.” She says most people need less space for long hanging than they think, especially here in Jackson Hole where we have far many more jackets than we do formal wear. Kristen Carter, a design specialist at Bison Custom Cabinetry, likes to incorporate pull-down rods so less-frequently used articles of clothing can be hung up high. These rods work best in closets with high ceilings. When planning two hanging levels, Carter makes sure there is at least 33 vertical inches of clear space and a shelf between the upper and lower rods. The shelf prevents hangers on the lower rod from catching on the items on the top rod. 

When it comes to hanging clothes on rods, Danahy likes huggable hangers—nonslip hangers with a velvet finish and a slim profile. Not only do these give your closet rods a nice, clean look, they also “buy you a lot of space,” Danahy says. “They debulk, and things won’t fall off them.” For small closets Danahy recommends hanging multiple items on a single hanger.

Custom Closets

If you’ve got the space and budget, custom cabinetry can be used to creatively store collections of purses, shoes, and accessories. In one bedroom closet, Bison Custom Cabinetry designed and made a pullout cabinet similar to a spice cabinet you might find in a kitchen. In the closet, though, it stored a collection of scarves instead. It “pulled out like a huge panel and had little hooks for all of the scarves,” Carter says.

For shoes, adjustable shelves are most efficient and functional, especially here, where “it’s not all loafers,” Carter says. But shoes are an area where designers often don’t think about only the functionality of how they’re stored: “Glass-fronted cabinetry can turn a collection of shoes into an art installation,” says Danahy. Handbags can be similarly elevated. Danahy advises clients to store purses with paper stuffed inside them. This makes them stand up, rather than flop over, on their shelves and preserves bags’ shapes. Stephenson says, “It can’t be ‘pretty’ if it isn’t organized.” 

An organizational favorite of Carter’s is velvet-lined jewelry drawers. She has also done drawers with cubbies to fit individual rolled up belts and ties. Stephenson says she has more and more clients asking for USB charging ports hidden in closet drawers. 

An important but often-overlooked detail of closet design is lighting, which designers group into three types: overhead lighting, accent lighting, and task lighting. Overhead lights illuminate the entire closet. Accent lighting can highlight architectural details like crown molding. Task lighting can make finding things in your closet easier. For example, in a jewelry drawer: “Have it light up so you can see what pieces of jewelry are in the drawer,” Carter says. Or in a “big, deep cabinet, there might be a light that turns on when you open the doors so that you can see what is inside.”

Better Dressing

Including drawers in your closet eliminates the need for a dresser in the bedroom and can make getting dressed easier. Ideally, when space allows, you would have all of your clothing, shoes, and accessories in your closet. “It doesn’t make sense to go back and forth between your bedroom and your closet,” Stephenson says. Carter suggests adding shallow closet drawers with dividers for storing socks and undergarments and, in a generous closet, having a “center island.” “This creates an ideal surface to stage your dressing for the day and to place a suitcase on when preparing to travel,” she says. Extra credit for including drawers in this island. 

If you don’t have room for a closet island, Danahy says a bench or set of hooks can also function as a staging area. “Anything you can use for temporary stowage to keep often-used or soon-to-be-used items in one place works,” she says. 

Your System

While nice materials and good design can make your closet efficient and functional, sadly the work doesn’t end there. Danahy can spend hours helping you edit your closet and hang your clothes, but if it’s not organized in a way that works for you, it’s not going to stay efficient and functional for long. Danahy believes it is important to base closet organization on “your particular stuff and how you use your closet.” Color coding, for example, looks photogenic, but isn’t practical for individuals who are unfamiliar with their own inventory, where a black shirt can get lost in a section of black. A more broadly beneficial system is to group like items together, whatever that means for your things. “When you’re getting dressed for a specific occasion—whether it’s yoga class or dinner—all those items for that occasion should be in one place,” Danahy says. How do you know when it’s not working? “If you find you’re frequently not putting an item away, then that location isn’t working for you,” Stephenson says.

“Studies have shown that disorganized spaces can be detrimental to a person’s health,” Danahy says.   Disorganization adds stress to an already chaotic life. Carter adds: “Even the smallest closet can put a smile on your face if it is well-organized, functional, and atheistically pleasing.”  

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