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Press } Articles } Nov 2006 - Business Week

A $40,000 Home for Your Clothes

Shouldn't your clothes live as lavishly as you? Custom closet makeovers stress space, organization, and, yes, luxury

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Once the kitchen and bathroom are shiny and new, what is an insatiable home improver to do?

Closets, some say, are the next remodeling frontier. Custom closet designers and do-it-yourself closet retailers combined represent a $2 billion industry that has grown by 25% every year for the last five years, according to the Closet Storage Professionals Assn. in Wheaton, Ill. In homes across the country, closets are becoming bigger, more organized, and stocked from floor to ceiling with lavish amenities.

"Well-appointed closets are very popular and something sought after by many homeowners. After they have spruced up their kitchens, bathrooms, and rec rooms, homeowners are wanting to spruce up their closets as well," says Helen Kuhl, editor of Closets magazine. "And everyone nowadays has too much stuff and is very anxious to find ways to store it efficiently and attractively."

Taking Stock of Storage

A tip-top closet is a substantial investment, so it is wise to enlist the expertise of a closet-design specialist. On average, a professionally designed closet will cost around $2,000, but depending on the size of the space, the size of your wardrobe, and the amenities you choose, you can easily spend $40,000 or more.

The first step in any closet design is tabulating inventory. To ensure the most space-efficient layout, every tie, earring, and pair of shoes must be accounted for. "We want to see it," David Linda, president of SpaceMan Home & Office, always tells new clients. "We don't want you to tell us, we want to see what [clothes] you have." The average person, he adds in his defense, has no idea how many clothes he or she actually has until they come to him for an audit.

Storage preferences also play an important role in the design process. Jennifer Williams, president of St. Louis Closet Co., never overlooks any lifestyle detail when considering a new design: "Are your pants hung over the hanger or by the cuff? Do you roll your ties or hang them? Are sweaters folded or hung? Do you want drawers for your undergarments?" Those are a few of the detailed questions she asks clients.

How Much Room?

The space itself is the next major concern. In new homes, designers typically have a lot more control over the size and shape of a closet. David Linda's SpaceMan Home & Office is based in Houston, where a good chunk of business comes from newly developed high-end properties. "Everything here is new and more modern, and they actually plan for closets, as opposed to old houses," he says. "They frequently have 15-by-20-foot closets."

Often, these bigger closets carry a hefty price tag. SpaceMan's average sale is about $4,000, though the company frequently undertakes projects worth $50,000 to $60,000, and will usually do one or two six-figure projects in the course of a year.

Many people in the market for a closet makeover don't have the luxury of a newly built space—particularly those in confining urban apartments. Some closet designers, such as Melanie Charlton of Clos-ette in New York, specialize in making efficient use of small spaces. For one job in a tiny loft apartment in New York's Tribeca neighborhood, Charlton brought in a library-style rolling ladder and added a roll-out shelving system to take advantage of the closet's vertical dimensions. Though the room was very small, Clos-ette's elaborate storage setup cost the client $40,000.

Filled With Frills

Many existing homeowners looking for a new closet turn to the leading franchise in the industry, California Closets, a $300-million-a-year business with 104 franchisees in 31 states. Anthony Vidergauz, the company's president, says about 80% of business comes from existing homes—so they have plenty of experience in smaller spaces where "crooked ceilings and floors" present challenges. "The closet used to be the last place in the world you would show your guests, now it's the first stop on the tour," says Vidergauz.

With the kinds of upscale amenities that are beginning to populate closets, the room of the house that was once synonymous with "secret" is becoming an asset to show off. Once luxuries, pull-out racks for ties, belts, slacks, dresses, shirts, and shoes; adjustable mirrors; and retractable top shelves, are becoming standard features. Finishing touches like crown molding, decorative woodwork, and granite counters make the room all the more luxurious.

In the closets of the wealthy, islands, wet bars, flat-screen TVs, sinks, complete bathrooms, and chandeliers are only some of the extras you might find.

Closets Close the Deal

Most designers agree that while it may be hard to measure the return to be had from an investment in a luxurious closet, the room could very well become the one detail that makes or breaks a future sale.

David Dixon, architect and member of the American Institute of Architects' regional and urban design committee, says around 70% of people in the market for a home don't have children, and this factors largely into demand for master-suite commodities such as large closets. "This segment of the market has more money and more space, and they're not spending it on backyards or extra bedrooms," he says. "These aren't just changes in taste. They are changes to society."

Click here to see closets ranging from $400 to $40,000.

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