Closet Makeover Tips for Every Budget

If you vowed to get more organized in the new year, reconfiguring your closets can go a long way toward achieving your goal. Installing a system where everything has a place and things are easy to take out—and put back—makes staying organized effortless. Lots of companies offer solutions to help you create a more functional closet. Here’s what you need to know before you begin.

Closets 101

Closet makeovers can be expensive, but industry insiders report that, in addition to renovated kitchens and bathrooms, home buyers want updated closets. When it comes time to sell, your redesigned closet might make the difference. Master bedroom closets are the top candidates for makeovers, but children’s closets, pantries, linen closets and hall closets also benefit from better organization.

All closets fall into two categories: reach-in or walk-in, and either type can be customized to suit your needs. In both cases, you want to position the things you use most frequently in the most accessible places. For walk-in closets, that means at eye level. For reach-in closets it’s in the center, since the corners of these closets are harder to get to.

Your goal is to maximize the space in your closet, and that means using all the vertical space as well the horizontal space. Store less-frequently used items in drawers, bins, shelves or racks below eye level and items you reach for least often on high shelves.

Evaluate What You Have

Before you do any closet makeover, you need to assess what’s in there. Sometimes things migrate in that don’t belong, like sports equipment that would be better stored in the garage or serving pieces that don’t fit in your dining room sideboard. First decide what you need to store and where you want to store it.

Once you know what belongs, evaluate what you have. Most professional organizers suggest taking everything out of your closet and sorting it into three piles: keep, toss and donate. Be tough on yourself. If another resolution was to lose weight, and you’ve been hanging onto a pair of pants for when you fit into them again, ask yourself if you might not want to buy a new up-to-date style when you get in shape instead, and get rid of the old ones. You don’t want to design your new closet around things you never use, so as painful as it may be, force yourself to do this step before you go any further.

As you put things back into your closet, think about how you like to store things. For example, do you prefer to fold your clothes, but you hang them because you don’t have enough shelf or drawer space? These are things that are important to know as you enter the next phase of your closet transformation.

Choose Your System

Once you know what you’re dealing with, you need to explore the different types of closet systems and vendors available. It’s a good idea to get referrals from friends and neighbors regardless of which of the three types you choose.

Out of the Box. Available from companies such as Rubbermaid, ClosetMaid and Martha Stewart, these do-it-yourself systems are sold through retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target and IKEA. They offer the least expensive option, ranging from about $90 to $250, depending on the size, configuration and materials in the kit. Keep in mind that some of your cost savings with these systems will be balanced out by having to do your own measuring and installation, but if you are comfortable with that, these systems get the job done without blowing your budget.

Many of these use wire shelving, which can leave marks on folded clothes and allow small items to slip through. Some out-of-the-box systems use solid shelving, which avoids these problems and provides a more sophisticated look, but you will pay more for these kits, up to $600, and they are not the same quality as semi-custom or custom shelving.

You need to determine which system will work best for what’s in your closet and measure your clothes to make sure you buy an adequate system. Measure your longest items to make sure you have rods high enough to hang them and measure the width of your clothes on hangers so you know how much rod space you need. Don’t plan to stack folded clothes any higher than 6 to 10 inches or you risk them toppling over, and allow 14 inches of shelf space for each stack. Allow 7 inches of shelf space for each pair of women’s shoes and 9 inches for men’s shoes.

Semi-Custom. These systems can cost a little or a lot more than the out-of-the-box options, but the quality is better, the options greater, and you can get help deciding what works for you. Semi-custom options include Elfa, available from the Container Store, and online retailers Closets To Go and EasyClosets, which promise custom results for less.

These companies have online tools to help you design your closet and online or in-store design help if you need it. With these systems, you install it yourself, or most of them also have professional installers available to do the work for you if you prefer. Expect to pay approximately $500 to $3,000 or more for a semi-custom closet.

Debra Mastronardi of Vienna installed Elfa systems in most of the closets in her home. “The best thing about Elfa is it is configurable,” she said. She has been able to change her kids’ closets as they have grown and their needs have changed. Her advice for people going this route is to “measure twice, do research into the features that Elfa offers, block off enough time to spend at the store configuring the closet and wait for the annual Elfa sale in January.”

Custom. As the name implies, these closets are completely designed for your needs and to your tastes. A representative will meet with you, take measurements of your closet, count your shoes and handbags, measure your hanging and folded clothes and design appropriate storage for your dream closet. You pick the colors, finishes, drawer handle styles and features you want. These companies use computer-aided design programs to configure your closet on the spot and show you a 3-D rendering. After you finalize your design, the company returns to install it for you.

The Closet Factory, Eco-Nize Closets, Capitol Closet Design and California Closets are just a few of the companies that create custom closets in our area. Visiting the showroom of the company you plan to use to familiarize yourself with the styles offered will help your design process go faster. Most companies offer the design estimate for free, but be prepared to pay from $700 for a reach-in closet, more than $2,000 for a small walk-in with basic features or $7,000 to $8,000-plus, depending on the size of your closet and the finishes and details you choose. Custom closets generally use better materials such as laminate shelving or even wood, which is the most expensive option.

Former area resident Jennifer Ross went with a custom closet for her master bedroom. “Working with a professional really takes the guesswork out of planning a closet. They ask all the right questions and are so good at helping choose what works best.”

No matter what type of system you install, and whether you have a small reach-in or a large walk-in, a closet makeover will help you be more organized and increase the resale appeal of your house.

Closet Features Worth Getting Excited About

Today’s closets are more than just a place to store stuff. Sometimes a spare closet becomes a small home office and a master bedroom closet becomes a dressing room. If you’re designing your dream bedroom closet, here are a number of features to consider:

  • Pull-down rods that maximize space and accessibility
  • Jewelry trays and Hampers
  • A bench so you can sit down to put on socks or shoes
  • An extended valet rod for hanging dry-cleaning or assembling outfits
  • A fold-down ironing board
  • Tie, belt or scarf racks
  • Good lighting to help you find things as well as see the difference between navy and black
  • An island that provides counter space as well as additional drawers
  • Slide-out racks for pants
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