Design Your Dream Closet
Mass Hysteria to Multifunction
The entry closet in Margaret McConville’s small New York City apartment has a lot of pressure on it. “It’s the only closet outside the bedroom,” says Margaret, “so it has to handle everything from jackets to detergent to holiday stuff.”
Before: A Cluttered Catchall
With no clear division of labor here, trench coats and umbrellas shared shelf space with bike helmets and bungee cords. Bulky items in front (like a vacuum and assorted plastic storage bins) blocked access to everything else.
Found In (and Removed From) Margaret’s Closet
- 1 old computer printer
- 1 beach umbrella
- 2 half-empty paint cans
- 1 fifth-grade autobiography
- 1 old suitcase with broken handles
- 6 once trendy accessories (mini leather backpack, anyone?)
- 3 folding chairs
After: Smart and Pretty
Now one side is a utility zone for tools, cleaning products, and ironing supplies; the other is a hall closet with jackets, bags, and gym gear. (Off-season coats were moved to a garment bag in the back of Margaret’s bedroom closet.) The upper shelves hold labeled storage boxes for rarely needed items, like photos and Christmas ornaments, along with mesh baskets for things Margaret “needs to see to remember that they exist.” Painting the shelves white gives areas definition. Easy-to-apply self-adhesive wallpaper makes the closet feel polished.
To buy (from top): Cabo Storage Nest wire baskets, $25 each, organize.com. Stockholm boxes in red, $13 each, containerstore.com. Canvas low bins in slate, $29 each, westelm.com. Hangers, $30 for 50, bedbathandbeyond.com. Tacktile metal message board, $30, cb2.com. Tubelor trash can (holding umbrellas), $60, nova68.com. Tempaper Edie Gio Silver GI 016 self-adhesive wallpaper, $75 a roll, tempaperdesigns.com.
After: Surrogate Basement
In an apartment, items like camping accessories, spare wine, and china (in quilted case) have no obvious home. One solution is to place them in the upper corner of an all-purpose closet. Bottles are within reach, and a nearby stepladder offers access to the higher shelves.
To buy: Find a similar chrome wine rack, $25, at bedbathandbeyond.com. Quilted china storage set, $20, containerstore.com.
After: Luggage Corner
Let the dimensions of a nook dictate its use. Here, a roomy (and formerly empty) spot was begging to be filled with a large piece. The suitcase holds guest comforters when off duty.
After: Fully Loaded Caddy
A rolling cabinet gives Margaret’s kitchen drawers some relief by corralling utility objects, like scissors and hardware. The top is a convenient spot for the iron and a first-aid kit. On wheels, it can be pulled out if needed.
To buy: Mechanic’s utility cart, $120, sears.com. Three-step ultra-light step stool, $70, polder.com.
After: Dreamy Drop Zone
Instead of dumping sunglasses, mail, and keys on the table, Margaret can slip them into angled, shallow slots that keep the contents visible and easy to grab during the morning rush.
To buy: For a similar hanging bag, $20, see amazon.com.
Tricked-Out Twin Storage
Ben and Devon LePore, 10-year-old twins from Chatham, New Jersey, barely used their closets (they don’t have a lot of hanging clothes), so the spaces were cluttered with random family items. The challenge: Reclaim these storage spots for the boys, and set them up to handle kid chaos.
Before: Filled With Forgotten Items
Mom’s mementos, like the Kelly green dress Megan wore as prom queen, had taken over the left-hand closet. The right-hand space was littered with baseball cards, outgrown clothes, and old shopping bags.
Found In (and Removed From) Ben and Devon’s Closets
- 2 crib bumpers
- 3 piles of loose baby photos
- 1 Kirby “I want to be a dentist” stuffed elf
- 1 wedding dress (Mom’s)
- 1 pair of golf shoes (Dad’s)
- 2 ravaged rolls of gift wrap
After: Separation of Shirts and Skates
The boys’ clothes live in the left-hand closet—shirts on hangers, pants in lockers (to save precious rod space). The closet on the right holds books, their extensive (and now organized) baseball-card collection, and sports equipment. Orange paint freshens up the room and, with the royal blue of the lockers, pays tribute to the boys’ favorite basketball team (go Knicks!). Hangers are color-coded: blue for Devon, orange for Ben. The upper cubby, previously a no-fly zone, is fitted with boxes for winter hats and holds figurines that aren’t current favorites.
To buy (from top): Medium-size solid canvas blue bins (in cubby), $25 each, pbteen.com. Spring Collection Semikolon document box in sun yellow (in cubby), $25, containerstore.com. Primary Tubular hangers, 32 cents each, containerstore.com. Kids’ storage lockers, $93 each, stacksandstacks.com. Industrial mesh wall-mounted basket (inside left-hand closet door): Unfortunately, this item is no longer available.
After: Bright Laundry Baskets
Open bins in can’t-miss-it orange keep the parental battle cry (“Pick that up!”) to a minimum. An unused closet bar works as a hamper holder (the bar lifts up, and the tub slides off) and reminds the boys that there’s a place for those dirty towels. A previously unused outlet in the closet allows a wall-mounted lamp to shed light on a stack of books.
To buy: TubTrugs in orange, $16 each, tubtrugs.com. Kvart spotlight, $7, ikea.com for stores. Display-It corkboard rail, $25, pbteen.com. Piegato One magnetic wall shelf in orange, $160, sleekidentity.com.
After: Play Things Off the Floor
Once scattered everywhere, the baseball cards are now kept in labeled blue binders behind door number two. Sweatshirts are tossed into a tub (no folding necessary), and magazines and DVDs sit in a drawer.
To buy: Better binders, $15.50 each, staples.com. Besta bench on casters, from $85, ikea.com for stores.
After: A Spot for Schoolbags
After: Over-the-Door Storage
Unearthing the Inner Dressing Room
Mia Pollard’s bedroom closet in Brooklyn was packed so tight, she could barely wedge in another hanger. “The rod was starting to bend—I was afraid it would snap,” says Mia. Purging came first, then shifting a few pieces to her dresser. Finally, zones were crafted for clothes, purses, shoes, accessories, and makeup.
Before: Crammed With Clothes
Sweaters, dresses, and tops were crammed together (many hadn’t been worn in years). Shoes were piled on the floor—some loose, some in boxes—and purses teetered on top of the footwear. Sweaters overflowed from bins. Dry-cleaner bags (which can trap fumes and harm clothes) made it hard to see what was what.
Found In (and Removed From) Mia’s Closet:
- 1 pair of butter cream–colored leather pants
- 2 bins full of linens she had forgotten about
- 1 hooded hair dryer from the 1960s
- 1 long-lost ring
- 4 oil paintings
- 1 handmade splatter-painted T-shirt that read "Ms. Onyx" on the front and "Hot & Groovy" on the back
After: Neat Nooks
Starting fresh included white paint, cream rug tiles, and a new aluminum bar. Bulky shoe boxes were ditched. Now Mia’s most used pairs stay in floor cubbies, while dressier options live in clear boxes up top (they hinge open in front). Mia used to put on makeup while standing at her mirrored doors; a new wall-mounted vanity is a more comfortable place to primp. The white storage ottoman, which conceals workout clothes, tucks under the vanity but blends in with Mia’s decor if left out. The room doesn’t get much natural light, so a battery-powered spotlight mounted under the upper shelf lets Mia distinguish her black pants from her navy ones.
To buy (from top): Rite Lite Wireless 9-LED Tri-Accent light, $17, amazon.com. Lewis storage cube, $209, potterybarn.com. Flor Rake Me Over carpet squares in bone, $17 each, flor.com.
After: Makeup at the Ready
A foldaway vanity holds (and hides) cosmetics and a battery-powered lighted mirror without taking up floor space. When closed, the unit (sold as a laptop desk) is just eight inches deep and looks neat and crisp. Jewelry is draped above; scarves hang on a clever mod rack. Even sunglasses have a home.
To buy: Laptop workstation, $60, ikea.com. Home vanity lighted mirror, $29, conair.com. Jewelry organizer, $35, belledangles.com. Komplement hanger (holding scarves), $8, ikea.com for stores.
After: Pants Condensed
After: Accessories Contained
After: Work Shoes in Reach
Open cubbies make it easy to see options on a busy morning and kick pairs into place at night.
To buy: Twelve-pair shoe organizer, $38, containerstore.com.