Interiors

How to Design A Custom Closet in 5 Easy Steps

If you own your home, or can get permission from your landlord, one of the best ways to organize your wardrobe is to install a closet system. A coherent system will optimize your space, create a clean look, and help you keep everything organized for the long term. 

But how, you ask, do I pick from the myriad closet system options available? How do I know what elements to include?

The process can seem overwhelming, but you can break down the creation of your dream closet into 5 concrete steps.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 1: Declutter and measure.

You KNOW I was going to start here! The closet of your dreams will contain only clothes and accessories that make you feel great when you put them on. That, and you need to know how much of each category of clothing, shoes, and accessories you’ll be storing in that closet. Don’t forget to account for the fact that you will shop again in the future - give yourself some breathing room!

Step 2: Choose your product.

There are A LOT of options out there, from big box stores on up to solid wood custom. First, weigh your budget, your aesthetic, and the flexibility you need from your storage to narrow down what type of system you’re shopping for. Then you can look at a couple of manufacturers in that space and select the one that’s right for you.

Whatever you choose, know that a closet will seem way more expensive than it should be - frustratingly so - but once it’s installed, you’ll be so glad you made the investment!

Web_Closet Shoes.jpg

Step 3: Consider your personal wardrobe.

Closet companies all have a recommended basic layout for both men’s and women’s closets that they start with, but to truly get the best solution for your wardrobe you’ll need to have a really good handle on what you own and how you like to store it.

Do you wear more separates or dresses? Do you like to fold your knits on shelves, or in drawers? Is a varied collection of shoes and bags important to you, or do you only own tried and true essentials? What about belts, ties, and hats - are they key parts of your wardrobe or just sometimes pieces? The answers to all these questions will determine which closet elements you need and the appropriate proportion within the space.

Step 4: Save space and flexibility.

Closet companies have developed modular options that are specifically designed for particular items. But sometimes, those mods actually aren’t the most space efficient way to store things! For example, regular old flat shelves fit more shoes than angled shoe shelves.

Also, don’t be afraid to move things around or ask for more pieces! In most systems, the shelves and hanging bars are all adjustable, so you can custom fit each shelf height to the items it stores and add more to maximize the space.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 5: Add finishing touches.

It’s the little things that truly make a closet feel perfectly organized. I generally don’t believe in cluttering a closet with lots of labeled containers, especially when you’ve been able to design the space to your specifications. But one thing I do highly recommend is starting with a complete set of matching hangers. This allows the hangers to recede into the background of your visual field and puts your focus where it should be: on the clothes!

I absolutely love the process of designing a beautiful closet for a client - it’s such a gift to the client every time they get dressed! If you want to create your own dream closet but feel stuck or overwhelmed, I can help. Click here to contact me or schedule a complimentary in-home consultation.

LMW

Just Get Rid Of It! - Couple Struggles Part 4

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

Today, we’re diving into what happens when partners have very different levels of tolerance for the sheer amount of stuff in their space. Some people prefer a really minimal environment, containing only a few objects that have been carefully chosen. Others like to be surrounded by a bounty of things, all of which have personal meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Just like we talked about in Part 2, neither one of these approaches is necessarily the correct one! A minimalist may be missing out on memories, connections with loved ones, or even experiences that they aren’t prepared for. A maximalist may lose time and energy trying to find and use things that they may actually prefer to spend somewhere else.

The commonality is that these types frustrate each other! In particular, I often find that the maximalist partner wants to work meticulously through a space in order to organize it, while the minimalist partner believes that if they just throw everything away and start from scratch, all their problems will disappear.

Now, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you know that I do believe very strongly in the concept of less is more! It’s so important that I start each and every organizing project with the decluttering process. This is a critical step, because it opens up storage space and ensures that the client is surrounded by only the things they love and use.

However, this process is also crucial for a reason many of my clients don’t expect. By going through all of your things and making decisions, you can piece together the story of how you got to this place where the level of disorganization really frustrates you. You can see patterns: what you hold on to that you don’t actually use, the types of things that cause you guilt, the patterns in consumption that have led you to waste things. Decluttering can be incredibly eye opening.

On the other hand, if you were to just throw everything away, you’d avoid that entire critical learning process that informs and motivates behavior change going forward. Also, in the case of a couple, the person whose stuff got tossed might feel betrayal and distrust towards the person who talked them into it!

I worked with a wonderful couple living in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. He definitely leans minimalist, while she forms a stronger attachment to things and has trouble decluttering. When we first started to work together, he expressed that he just wanted to see her “get rid of” a large percentage of her stuff.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

So, I carefully guided them through a middle ground. By respecting the wife’s attachment to things and being willing to take the time to talk through each and every object, I was able to get her comfortable with reducing the amount of stuff in the space in order to accommodate their larger goals for their home. And by discovering the true meaning and intention behind the things she decided to keep, I was able to help the husband understand how to incorporate those things into their life in specific ways so that it didn’t just feel like “more stuff.”

So if one of you just wants to toss everything and the other can’t bear the idea, know that there is room to meet in the middle if you’re both willing to commit to the process. After all, there’s more to each of you than just being a minimalist or maximalist!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: strategies you can start using immediately to find common ground on the often-fraught topic of organizing your home with your partner.

LMW

Reveal: My Organized Closet

I have been remiss for the last few years: I haven’t actually shared the inside of my own closet with you! What an oversight for a professional organizer!

The main reason is that when we moved into our home in October 2015, we planned to start a major renovation that included an entirely new master suite with a walk in closet for each of us. If you’ve ever done a significant remodel, you know what happens next: the process takes a lot longer than you think it will! The new master suite was finally finished in May 2018.

Yes, there’s a weird short doorway in there. No, I have no idea why!

Yes, there’s a weird short doorway in there. No, I have no idea why!

It’s only fair that I show you what I was starting with. Our house is over 100 years old and has been remodeled countless times over those years, so there are weird nooks and crannies and surprises everywhere. One of those was the larger of the two closets in the original master bedroom, which I took over when we moved in. The previous owners had some custom closet pieces installed to try to make it useful, but it is a truly weird space! And because I knew I wouldn’t be working with it for the long term, I didn’t want to do any modifications.

Shelving and long hang - you can also see bins I put on the floor as a stopgap measure.

Shelving and long hang - you can also see bins I put on the floor as a stopgap measure.

This cheap  shoe rack  got me through many years and apartments, and it works really well!

This cheap shoe rack got me through many years and apartments, and it works really well!

The nice thing about my weirdo closet was that it gave me a really good idea of the kind of closet I did actually want. The hanging space was actually pretty much the right amount, so I made sure to have that copied in the new closet. The shelves, on the other hand, drove me nuts - I like drawers for my knits and lingerie! And I really wanted a nice, pretty, protected place to store my shoes and bags where they wouldn’t get dusty and bumped around, but would still be visible so I could enjoy my collection.

We chose to do semi-custom closets with Bay Home and Window. We selected this product because it was higher quality than big box options but not as expensive as solid wood. And we chose the company because they are local, so we got better service than from the unnamed national company we had worked with in our old condo. I highly recommend them - if you get in touch, please let them know I sent you!

Voila!

Voila!

After having lived in my new closet for nearly a year, I can say that I’m absolutely in love with it. The construction has proved to be durable, the layout is perfect, and the experience of waking up to my dream closet every morning is honestly unbeatable.

My favorite little detail: built in velvet lined trays in the very narrow top drawer for silk scarves and sunglasses (and the sentimental touch of just a couple of my grandma’s old hankies).

My favorite little detail: built in velvet lined trays in the very narrow top drawer for silk scarves and sunglasses (and the sentimental touch of just a couple of my grandma’s old hankies).

Yes, I do the KonMari fold - it really does work well!

Yes, I do the KonMari fold - it really does work well!

 
Pro tip: arranging pairs of shoes toe-to-heel is the best way to get more shoes on one shelf.

Pro tip: arranging pairs of shoes toe-to-heel is the best way to get more shoes on one shelf.

I also want you to note a couple things that might surprise you about a professional organizer’s closet.

  1. There are no labeled containers of any kind. I’ve just never been a label or container kinda girl. I like everything to look unobstructed, and I personally am willing to put in the extra time required to fold clothing, place shoes, and generally keep everything looking neat. Plus, this way I can see my entire wardrobe at a glance, and not forget about anything!

  2. I had a lot of drawers put in. This is less common in closets these days, likely because drawers are not adjustable after the fact. However, I really prefer keeping knits in drawers - it’s easier to keep everything neat and tidy, instead of sloppy stacks on shelves! And for slipperier things like socks and lingerie, I use these fabric covered bins to corral everything.

  3. Other than a coat closet where I keep coats and rain boots, this is everything. The sum total of my wardrobe. And I cannot tell you how freeing this has been for me! Everything is right in front of me, all in one place, and I know that something has to be truly worthy for me to want to devote the small amount of space I have left to storing it.

A big thank you to Kelly Vorves, who helped me create the images in my new closet and gamely put up with my insistence that we keep everything looking real instead of further perfecting or styling the space!

LMW

The Joy of Empty Closets

I have empty closet space in my house. 

Does that statement seem strange to you?

If so, let me explain.

For many people, and pretty much all of my clients, there is a direct relationship between the amount of storage in their home and the amount of stuff they have. Specifically, the amount of storage dictates the amount of stuff, and when space runs out, they seek to obtain more storage.

In my personal life, and when working with clients, I flip this around. Forget the storage space you have - whether it’s closets, shelves, a basement, an attic, whatever. Instead, focus first on the stuff. What do you actually need and use? What do you love that brings you real joy? And why would you have anything at all that doesn’t fall into either of those two categories?

Then, only then, do we talk about how and where to store the stuff.

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

Leaving empty storage space is also about acknowledging that time is an important dimension of organizing. The process of living an organized life is ongoing. You need to maintain your home organization systems every day (it takes just a few minutes if your systems work well) , and adapt them as your needs change.

If there's one thing I know, change is a constant in this life, no matter how much we may fear or resist it. So, given that, why not leave yourself both the physical and mental space to accommodate that change? Future You might take up a new hobby and need a place to stash the equipment. Future You might throw a party and want a coat closet to accommodate guests. Future You may work from home and need a place to set up a work station, and Future You may bring home a baby with all of the gadgets, gizmos, outfits, and diapers parenthood brings.

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

By completely stuffing all of your storage space full, you are creating serious problems for Future You! Under likely time crunch and performance pressure, Future You will have to cobble together a solution for their new venture, rather than having the space and energy to comfortably and easily fit it into their life.

In so many ways, living an organized life is about investing time in the present to free up more time in the future to spend on the activities and relationships that really matter to you. What kinds of amazing future projects could you make room for if you left yourself some empty storage space?

LMW

What I'm Organizing: How to Pick a Bathtub

I've referred before to the fact that we're currently renovating our house.  And after 8 months of construction, we've started to accelerate towards the finish and I'm finding that I need to keep my eye on more moving parts than I did during earlier phases.

Last week, for example, I picked out a bathtub.  My contractor was getting antsy to have specs (can't blame him), my architect was busy with other things (can't blame him either), and I knew the best way to get this done was to do it myself.  So, I drove on down to Excel Plumbing, sat down with consultant Irene Lee, and found the perfect tub in about 10 minutes.

This one: the  Liberty freestanding bathtub  by Hydro Systems

This one: the Liberty freestanding bathtub by Hydro Systems

That might sound like I'm exaggerating, but I promise you I'm not.  Add on about 5-7 minutes waiting for Irene to finish with her previous customer and another 10 minutes to peruse sinks and toilets (since, you know, I was already there), and I was in an out in under half an hour.  How did I do it?

1) I know what I like.  Note that I don't zero in on exactly what I want, because this can lead to a wild goose chase for something that doesn't exist - there is not actually infinite choice in the home decor space!  But I'm confident in our vision of how we want our home to look, and I trust my gut.

2) I'm willing to stop the search once I find something I really like.  This one is tough in our world, since there are so many options in every category of things to consume.  But I find that I can minimize stress and save everyone time by sticking to the first thing that really catches my attention in a unique way.  There's very little to be gained through an absolutely exhaustive search.

I honestly cannot recommend Excel Plumbing, and Irene in particular, more highly.  She is a total pro: she has encyclopedic knowledge about everything she carries (which is a lot), gives great advice, and tells you about potential problems before they even come up.  They carry a wide range of products, all of them mid to high end - think Grohe faucets, Villeroy & Boch sinks, Toto washlets - and give everyone who walks in the door very competitive pricing.

We still have a couple more months to go - all I'm hoping is to have a finished downstairs by the time the holidays roll around!

LMW

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What I'm Reading

Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

The 5 Craziest Hours in the White House

When you think about it, there a lot of ways our American tradition of peaceful government transitions is pretty impressive.  But have you ever thought about the nitty gritty logistics?

Image courtesy of economist.com

Chattering Classes

One of my closest friends, who also started our legendary book club, sent us this link the other day.  Groups of women often get accused of gossip and catty chatter, but I actually find many of our meetings adhere to these time honored conversational rules!

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com (Tony Cenicola)

The Banned Books Your Child Should Read

This looks a lot more like my childhood reading list than a banned book list!  Sometimes people like to protect children from certain less pleasant realities, but to a kid that can feel like dishonesty - and what these books have in common besides high quality writing is honesty.

9 So-Called Home Décor Rules That You Should Break, According to These Interior Designers  

I was sort of nodding along absentmindedly while reading this, until I got to the last point.  A striped ceiling? As an unabashed lover of stripes, that sounds pretty fantastic to me.  Now I'm wondering how it would look in my living room... or maybe our kitchen/great room!

Just Enough Clutter

Sometimes, I dream about a perfectly pristine home office. Did I say sometimes?  I mean all the time. But in reality, a completely clear desk is kind of like Email Inbox Zero: a goal that you may achieve temporarily and occasionally, but not a maintainable state.  And it turns out that science backs this up, as Seth Porges recounts for Bloomberg: Why You Should Clean Up Your Desk, But Not Too Much.

I think the most important take away from this article is the differentiation between temporary and long-term storage.  My home office clients often have lots of piles that overwhelm them because each item does have a task attached but those tasks very so widely that they feel that they can’t clear anything away.

So, I usually use the concept of an inbox combined with a to-do list and an organized filing system.  The filing system is long term storage: every item that goes in is something the client might need again someday, but no action is required.  The to do list is medium term: it contains the projects or larger tasks the client wants to get done but that don’t require immediate attention.  This can take the form of a written list, an Evernote notebook, or a physical vertical file on the desk depending on the personality and needs of the client.  Finally, the inbox is short term: these are the things that require immediate action and need to be top of mind.  The key to a functional inbox is that is be open for visual impact, large enough to hold paper, but small enough that it can’t be filled to the point of creating another pile problem. The inbox literally goes on the desk right next to the computer to demand the client’s attention!

Here’s an example of the inbox at work (plus the decorative touches mentioned in the article that make my desk an inviting place to work).  My inbox is a clear acrylic tray, and currently contains paper I need to deal with, gift cards I need to spend, tickets to events that I can’t forget to bring with me to said events, and my current needlepoint projects. 

I organized the desk, but it was my fabulous designer friend Liz Curtis of Table + Teaspoon who found the pieces that made it come together and look like something special.  I’m especially loving the little rose gold and acrylic stand for my printer, which fades into the background while still looking elegant.  And I’m absolutely obsessed with the electric standing desk!  I’ve wanted one for awhile and with such an important and frequently used purchase Liz wisely advised me to go big or go home.  We were both concerned that it not look too cold or corporate, and I think the white with glass top is clean but still works in a warmer, girlier space.

The only thing on my desk that’s bugging me right now is the device situation, but I’ve ordered a simple charging station and hope this will solve what’s left of my cord spaghetti problem.

Create an inbox for your office or home work space and let me know how it goes!

LMW

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you (somewhat belatedly, thanks to a temporary technological snafu)!  I hope you and your loved ones enjoyed your holidays.

We ended 2016 with a bang: hosting a NYE dinner party for some of our closest friends.  it's a tradition among my girlfriends that dates back to approximately 2007, when we couldn't really afford to go out on NYE and decided to make our own fun via potluck and cheap wine instead!  We've added friends (and courses, and pairings) over the years, but what stays the same is a relaxed good time with people we love, someone(s) staying over on an air mattress, and a bunch of hungover people in sweatpants eating whatever my husband can find in the fridge to fry the next day.

I'm starting 2017 on a great note both personally and professionally with some wonderful clients coming on board, interior design for our upstairs rooms really coming together, and major construction for our basement well underway.  Plus, the ski season is off to a great start (quoth the avalanche report: "snowfall now being measured in feet across the forecast area") and we have a couple of fun trips planned.  

At the same time, outside my bubble 2017 threatens to upset current stability where it exists and intensify problems that already plague our world.  The human rights of each person on this planet - regardless of race, gender, sexuality, citizenship status, religion, or any other identity that can divide us - are extremely important to me and I intend to use that principle to guide me in thoughtful action this year.  

I hope 2017 is getting off to a great start for you, and would love to hear about your dreams and goals for this year!

LMW

The Halls are Decked

I love the Christmas season and everything that comes with it, I always have. And when it comes to Christmas décor, I’m very much a traditionalist: I like simple, homey touches in red and gold.  It’s a literal and obvious style, especially given the current trend toward subtle holiday decorations in muted tones, but it feels more welcoming and cozy to me.  And if I want my home to be one thing, welcoming is it!

On the left, my dream advent calendar: a solid wood replica of Fortnum & Mason, schlepped back to the US by my doting sister and sister in law!

So, I’ve accumulated my collection of ornaments, nutcrackers, figures, and other festive items over the years, rather than trying to create a total look from scratch. I did buy large boxes of inexpensive red and gold ball ornaments before our first married Christmas just to tie everything together, and there were so many that I now use them as vase filler and even made a garland for our family room fireplace with them!  That is literally the only DIY you will see in my house, I promise.  I am so not a crafty person!

In foreground, a traditional German Christmas pyramid I picked out in Berlin, with a bakery theme instead of the traditional nativity!

I keep it simple with the greenery, too.  Costco has everything but the tree that I need, and I’m there once every couple of weeks anyway: cedar boughs for the hearths, a fresh wreath for the front door, and ribbon to add a little extra zing to said wreath.  Some years I get poinsettia plants, but I still haven’t figured out the best place to deploy them in the new house.  

We always get our tree from Delancey Street - great service, and their trees are always fresh and beautiful!

The centerpiece, of course, is the tree. To me, the tree has to be real, and it has to be a Noble fir.  The smell of the tree takes me back to childhood, when I would literally stand among and branches, stick my nose into the tree, and sniff… I was kind of a weird kid.  I also love to have an eclectic tree filled with memories, rather than a pristine themed tree, so every ornament we have ever been given goes up.  It all started in 2009, when one of my mom’s best friends threw us a Christmas ornament shower.  Plus, my mom signed me up for an annual silver bell ornament – they’re a beautiful addition and a sentimental record of our Christmases together.  And then there’s my husband’s best friend, who makes it a point to give us a so-ridiculously-ugly-it’s-awesome ornament every year!

Sad photobombing dog in cone is confused about why I'm standing outside in my slippers in 49 degree weather.

Finally, I love adding some lights to the outside of our house.  I am uncoordinated at best so I’m not about to be climbing on ladders to trim our doors and windows, but we do have a little magnolia tree next to our front door that can accommodate a few oversized ornaments and light garlands.  I’ve always loved these lighted balls for outdoors, and found them this year at Costco – brilliant!

This evening, we’re going to light a fire in the fireplace and kick back in the glow of the Christmas tree.  I hope you find similar peaceful moments during this holiday week!

LM

Organizing as a Couple

Most of my clients are women. For what I’m sure are myriad and complex reasons, women feel pressure to have organized homes, that they are responsible for said organization, and that they need to research how to do it best.  Men, on the other hand, tend to fall into two camps.  Either they are self-professed neat freaks, or they don’t really seem to care.

Home organization can be a huge pain point in a relationship, and mine is no different. I’m, well, me, and my husband is the second kind of guy. 

Things came to a head early in our marriage. We had purchased our first home, decorated it as best we could on our budget, and were enjoying entertaining as often as possible.  And it was driving me absolutely nuts that my husband would leave stuff everywhere and stall when I would ask him to take care of it. Getting mad wasn’t working, so I started asking some questions, and the answers were seriously illuminating.

Question 1: Did you have to pick up after yourself as a child? 

The answer: no.  My husband had chronic health issues as a child and his mom took care of him the best way she knew how, which included cleaning up after him.

Question 2: Do you want to live in an organized house? 

The answer: yes!  My husband was incredibly proud of our home and actually rather hated when it was messy. 

Question 3: Who should be responsible for organizing our home given that we both want it that way?

The answer: ohhhhhh…

I’m not going to tell you that my husband was cured of his messy habits overnight, because that would be a total lie.  But he started to realize that the more effort he put in to creating organizing habits, the better our house looked and felt to live in.  That was also the point at which, as he says to anyone who will listen, he became my first client.  He realized he didn’t actually know how to get organized and he wanted to learn.  To this day, he will periodically come to me and ask for my help organizing his closet or home office.

Last year, on the West Highland Way in Scotland

All that said, let me be 100% clear: just because I’m more organized doesn’t make me a better person than my husband.  I mean, if we’re talking intelligence, drive, integrity, listening ability, and a million other things that make a wonderful person, he’s way ahead of me.  Organizing is a skill, not a value judgment, and I can teach it to you!

LMW