Ask a Designer: Closet organization that lasts

Ask a Designer: Closet organization that lasts
This photo provided by Case Design shows a closet designed by Elena Eskandari, an interior designer specialist at Case Design. As you plan out a walk-in closet, consider the size of the items you'll be hanging. This closet pictured has two levels of hanging space which offers room for a large collection of shirts and blouses. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg/Case Design via AP)

Most people don't start out with a messy closet. Even when a closet is carefully organized at the beginning, however, it might not take long for order to turn to chaos.

"It's common for clients to struggle with keeping the momentum going," says interior designer Caitlin Murray.

But there are planning and design strategies to help closets stay as organized as they were on day one.

We've asked Murray, founder of the Los Angeles-based Black Lacquer Design, and two other experts — Delaware-based home designer and builder Marnie Oursler, and Elena Eskandari, an interior design specialist with Case Design/Remodeling in the Washington, D.C., area — for advice on planning and living with efficient and attractive closet space.


The same closet design doesn't work for everyone, so analyze the types of items you need to store. If you'll be hanging a lot of clothes, are they long or short? You may want two levels of hanging space positioned one above the other to maximize storage, says Oursler. Have a lot of shoes? Consider a row of built-in shoe cubbies along the floor.

Then choose a system you'll actually stick with. If you plan to put everything on hangers but that's an extra step that you'll probably avoid, then you'll end up with piles of clothes in your bedroom.

While organizing, pare down: Even a well-planned closet may not stay organized if it's very full. What do you really like and really wear? If you haven't worn something in a while, Eskandari says, chances are you don't need to keep it.

Murray agrees: "You really limit what things you'll actually utilize when you're dealing with a cluttered closet. If you can't see anything or find anything, it might as well not even be there."


"I think the success of any (closet) organization is how you divide stuff and compartmentalize it," Eskandari says.

She suggests separate spaces for everything, with more shelves fairly close together rather than a few spaced far apart. "How many sweaters can you fold without them falling over?" she asks. She's also a fan of shelf dividers to keep one type of clothing or pantry item from another.

If you have compartments for everything, she says, "then everything is going to have its home."

These designers acknowledge that built-in shelving and compartments can be expensive, but they say it's often worth the investment for a really efficient master bedroom closet or kitchen pantry.

Oursler notes that a closet with lots of built-ins may allow you to eliminate dressers and other storage pieces from your bedroom.

"If we can put that storage in the closet," she says, the bedroom will feel larger and more peaceful, and may even have space for a sitting area.

As you plan these areas, focus on what you use most. "Store the items you reach for most often in the places where you have the easiest access, so you're not constantly pushing everything around to find one thing," says Murray.

And use transparent storage (glass-faced cabinets or clear acrylic drawers are great if you're doing built-ins, or clear bins on shelves) to make access even easier.


"Kids have what I call a 'rule of two moves.' If it takes them more than that to put something away, it's not going to go anywhere," says Eskandari. "Don't put as many hangers into childrens' closets. They just won't use them."

Oursler agrees that kids often do better with bins or baskets on shelves and simple cubbies for shoes.

If you'd rather your kids hang things up, hooks are more likely to get used than hangers. "Don't overcomplicate things for kids or teenagers," says Eskandari.


Murray recommends including plenty of light (natural light when possible) and painting closets "in a clean, bright paint, which not only makes any space feel a bit bigger but it also makes the closet that much more functional."

Eskandari agrees: You can improve your closet's lighting with minimal expense, she says. Being able to see what you've got will help you use and enjoy those items more often.

Aim for several different light sources, she says, rather than one overhead light. And cheer up the space with bold paint colors and wall coverings.

Your master-bedroom closet is a space you visit at the start and end of every day. So make it fun. As Murray says, closets will "feel that much more special and boutique" if you add items like "wallpaper, a dramatic chandelier and a luxe rug."