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Messy closets meet match

Tackling storage challenges a professional task

Tim Stauffer says people are always coming out of the closet to him – about their messy closets.

“Every single day, somebody calls and they have a (closet) space that’s not working for them,” says Stauffer, owner of Closet Tamers in Fort Wayne.

“People have a tendency to start out by apologizing about the mess. … I try to reassure them there’s no apology necessary. Who else would you want to see your mess than the person who is going to help you organize it?”

Yes, area organizing experts say, closets tend to be homeowners’ messy little secrets – the last places to get any attention in many homes.

But with an expanding repertoire of organizing options – and we’re not just talking plastic garment bags and see-through shoeboxes here – people are finding that it just might be time to update. After all, how workable can that typical reach-in with a single wooden dowel rod topped by a warped shelf be?

John Ross, president of Closet Concepts in Fort Wayne, says closets that function well are as important to a home as an efficiently laid-out kitchen.

A closet is “something you use every day,” he says. “It’s probably the first thing you use in the morning and the last thing at night. … You want it to work for you.”

Professional closet organizers say it’s easily possible to double the amount of usable storage in a typical bedroom reach-in closet with a few organizing accessories.

Especially useful is a dual-rod system, which allows shorter clothing such as slacks and shirts to be hung on top of each other. In children’s closets, sometimes three or even four rods can be installed – hanging clothing in just a foot or two of space.

Then there are multiple-garment hangers that store clothes vertically; built-in shelving with boxes or baskets; in-closet chests of drawers; and valet systems for shoes, ties, belts and scarves.

For those who want even more customized features, Stauffer shows off lined and compartmentalized jewelry drawers; a pull-out laundry hamper with a removable wire basket; an ironing board that swings out from a free-standing chest of drawers; and motion-sensitive LED lighting above a clothes rack.

One area of the Closet Tamers showroom at 6014-A Hugenard Road, with dark wood cabinetry and sleek brushed-nickel hardware, looks more like an upscale men’s retail store than a master suite walk-in.

And that, Stauffer is finding, is increasingly what customers want.

As new construction becomes pricier and builders downscale to keep houses affordable, many homebuyers are trading smaller-sized bedrooms and bulky dressers and armoires for larger closets, Stauffer says.

But without the built-in organizational elements, he notes, these closets can easily become giant black holes.

“Contemporary design is little more minimalistic, a little sleeker,” Stauffer says. “People are saying ‘I don’t need all these dressers just to hold my clothes. I don’t need a big cabinet if I can hang the TV on the wall.’ They want to store everything in the closet, and maybe have a sitting area or a computer area in the bedroom.”

Ross agrees: “A lot of people don’t get dressed in their bedroom anymore. They get dressed in the closet.”

While many people think a custom closet system will be wallet-draining, Ross says that’s a misconception.

A typical master-bedroom reach-in closet can be redone for $300 to $500 for a wire rack system, he says; one with wood shelves and/or drawers costs about $500 to $800. Those systems, he says, tend to add more resale value.

The redo typically can be done in a day, provided that the homeowner has the space empty and ready, Ross says.

Certified professional organizer Emily Fitzgerald of Fort Wayne says some closet problems can be solved with a minimum of changes.

“It doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles to be functional,” she says of a closet redo, adding that she has even moved a client’s existing dressers into a closet to help with organization and cut down on cost.

Fitzgerald says she’s a fan of a simple shelving system – she bought one made of white laminated board for her own home from a big-box store. She and her dad installed it in a day, she says.

“Shelves hold a lot more,” Fitzgerald says, and they keep clothing visible.

“A lot of people are getting away from using dressers – you can stand in one spot (in your closet) and grab everything you need.”

She likes to combine shelves with baskets or boxes, and sometimes she’s used a sweater organizer that hangs over the rod in lieu of installing permanent shelving.

“For a kid, you can even label the shelves Monday to Friday and load them up with their school clothes,” she says.

She charges $50 an hour.

“A lot of times, we can do a closet in one or two sessions,” she says.

“If you do nothing else,” Fitzgerald says, “ditch the wire clothes hangers and spend $10 and get all new matching hangers. Things slide easier on the rods, and they don’t get tangled.”

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