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Design

Our Primary Closet Plan + Tips On Designing Your Closet For How You Dress

Without systems there is chaos. And while I’m decreasingly into fancy fashion (pandemic + working from home on a muddy farm + moving away from LA + rarely leaving the house) I still need a better system than two rolling racks and a dresser. I strangely still wear three outfits a day – workout clothes + comfy utility clothes + pajama sets. And oddly I need way MORE clothes here than in LA – not in quantity but in variety since we have seasons. And mud. I have what is called “jacket confusion” – and on any given day I wear THREE different coats – the cozy fleece, the rain jacket, the light parka that can also repel rain – not to mention if I want to look more pulled together and cute. Same with boots – I have my boots for cold but dry days, cold but muddy days, warm but muddy days, and finally warm (ish) and dry days (those are the cute ones). The weather makes it so you simply need more options for everyday utility. Regardless of how often I get dressed up, I needed something better than these two janky rolling racks. And while we didn’t need something fancy I didn’t want to be short-sighted and not be thoughtful about how we use our closet or how someone else might use it (should we ever sell). Here’s where we are currently:

I’ve worked with California Closets on our house in LA and frankly loved their customer service, expertise, and product. Also fun fact – the Oregon CC team is 100% women which is just nice to know 🙂 So Amy Bodi (one of their lead closet designers) met with me at the house and asked me all of these questions to help guide the function of the closet (and function leads form when it comes to closets). They take your info and present to you a plan (it’s full service). These are all very lifestyle questions that are obviously very personal to how you live your life. Brian and I are both on the messier side so we need extra help making sure that we are designing it to be easy to maintain and so that things are easy to put away (like literal children – it sucks).

  1. What do you wear on an average day? Me: dog walking clothes/athleisure, then if I change for people to come over and then for shoots (a twice-a-week activity now) I’ll put on “harder” pants (jeans if they fit comfortably) and a cuter sweatshirt. Then pajamas – and I only wear sets.
  2. If it’s a shared space, what is the ratio of your combined belongings? (50/50, 70/30, etc.)  Let that determine each user’s overall “real estate” in the closet. We are probably 70 (me) /30 (Bri).
  3. Do you like to hang or fold? This is hard because sometimes it’s just what you are used to. For instance, we’ve never had a walk-in closet except at our rental last year which was just four big rods (the mountain house is more like a galley but technically you can walk in) so I’ve never had the space to hang my jeans. That’s all to say since I hate steaming or ironing I like to hang most of my tops (not t-shirts) but not my pants. I also like to do laundry with the kids while watching TV on Sundays so folding is more fun than bringing hangers to hang. For us, we wanted ample “top” hanging space but prefer more drawers and shelves.
  4. How many “long things” do you have – aka dresses or coats? I only have about 10 long dresses but I have 7 fairly bulky long coats. Brian has 1 suit and 1 long coat that he never wears but dreams of wearing in December in New York again 🙂
  5. Do you like to display your shoes? Do you want to see them? This was an easy no for us and I hate clutter (because I create it) so I did not want one of those fancy floor-to-ceiling shoe shelves with fancy lights. I’m just not a “shoe person” which is ironic because I have extremely unattractive feet (it’s ok, no self-shame, I think it’s funny) so you’d think I’d want to cover them up. But I think the cute shoes that you want to display are the delicate ones that I can’t wear because they really highlight my bunion and my pale or orange spray-tanned sausage toes. They are so special!
  6. How much of your clothes do you want to see and how many “steps” do you want to have to take to get clothes? At first, we thought that we wanted everything out of sight, but realized that it would A. look boring and B. be kinda annoying to open every single day. Plus covering it all up adds a lot to the cost and while we were partnering on this we didn’t want to be greedy. We had a budget we were trying to come in under.
  7. How Do You want to display your jewelry? I don’t have a lot of jewelry (I think I have a sensory thing because I just immediately take it off and leave it places. So I think some hooks are just fine, but we don’t need a drawer.
  8. Do you need a full-length mirror in the closet? Yes, but we will have this big one from Rejuvenation in our bedroom (better lighting for fashion posts), but a full-length mirror is still nice in here (it would just be super backlit if I were to take photos in it).
  9. Do you want a hamper in the closet, or if real estate is tight, should it be moved to the bathroom, bedroom, or laundry room? We hope to have a hamper in here and ideally not floating around 🙂
  10. Are there any other non-apparel items that you prefer in the closet? (luggage, a steamer, etc.) Nope! We keep our luggage elsewhere and I use small steamers, not full-size. Hats…I do have a few hard-to-store hats!

Two additional tips from California Closets: Where is the door opening? Let that determine where drawers, bins and/or baskets land. Drawers and bins/baskets are the nicest to look at and will function best if they have to open within the doorway (in a reach-in closet for example.) For a walk-in, try to keep hanging items along walls that have the most depth (and preferably away from the doorway.)    

If you don’t have enough space in the closet for all your apparel, prioritize what’s in season, along with your daily undergarments.  Use a dresser in the bedroom for off-season items and reserve a couple of bins and/or drawers in the closet for undies, bras, and socks so you can 1-stop-shop in the closet, rather than ping-ponging from the bathroom to the bedroom, to the closet, to the bedroom…you get the idea.

So here’s the process – they come to you to take measurements, you have long conversations about finish and style (which is better to do in their showroom so you can really experience everything) then your designer takes a stab at it and presents you the design. It’s WONDERFUL. Once again I was EXTREMELY impressed with their speed, knowledge, and expertise. When you only do storage design all day every day like they do, they bring such expertise that ensures long-term function and enjoyment.

Version A – Open Shelving With A Drop Zone

So Amy (our closet wizard) sent two options the next week and we became just so excited.

This version is a lot of symmetry. Mirror in the middle (with my taller boots behind it). In this version (and others I think) I get the left side and the back side, Brian gets the right and some drawers along the back. Before you think I’m somehow steamrolling Brian (which literally never happens), Brian takes pride in how few clothes he owns. So yes, we both quickly agreed that I get more space than him.

This version allowed for a “drop zone” for both of us – to unload pockets and throw our wallets. We weren’t convinced we would keep them looking nice and they would get a lot of attention.

I think our feedback for this version was also that Brian doesn’t have that much to hang, so he wanted more shelves than hanging space.

Version B – All enclosed

Now this version was based on our initial request to not be able to see as much mess as possible. Once we saw what that would look like though we decided that they were right – that the “two-step” process would be annoying and that this is just less visually pleasing.

Version C (Final Version)

So Amy took our feedback and did a final version.

This felt perfect for us – a nice mix of hanging, shelving, and drawers.

The shelves on the left were going to have to be set back due to an outlet, but we are cutting out the wood instead to expose and integrate the outlet. We kept it there because I use a steamer a lot so I need to plug it in easily. The space under the shelves is for a hamper – I just bought this one, which admittedly now that it has arrived it might be too tall – not because it won’t fit, the dimensions are good, but it’s so deep that if you want to get out something you threw in at the bottom, you have to take it ALL OUT and make a huge mess. We’ll see if that annoys us too much or if it’s okay.

In this version, there is room for 16 pairs of shoes on the bottom, and obviously more room for seasonal shoes in the bottom of the hanging areas or above in shelves (like a bin of summer shoes). And again, my tall boots (that I have a lot of strangely) are behind the mirror.

In this version, Brian doesn’t get his own “full-length” section but I have too much of it so he’ll throw anything that is full-length (possibly just a nice coat and his only suit) on the back wall.

We chose the light natural wood – mostly because I loved it in Joy’s closet and felt that it had the most warmth (but they have a ton of different tones or woods or painted colors to choose from).

So we approved this design (and are so excited).

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🥰 Rusty
24 days ago

This is closet aspiration on steroids!💗
How wonderful to be able to plan it specifically for how you use it and what your clothes actually are.
It looks super-practical, too.

My closet is a 1960 blonde wood, bespoke built-in.
I don’t have that many clothes: capsule-wanna-be-ish. It’s all hanging space, with one smaller part relegated as ‘linen cupoard’ coz I took the door off the original 100 yr old built in linen cupboard (in the “woman’s work room”) and turned itinto a bookshelf, since this room is now a casual family sorta room off the kitchen.
I’m investigating how to retro-fit some drawers inside the closet at the moment.

To have a walk-in robe (as we call ’em in Australia) would be amazing!
Had one in my last house and everything was sooo easy to keep organised.

I especially lurve the hidden storage for your tall boots behind the mirror.
Bring it on … can’t wait!🤗

LL
24 days ago

Looks really great! I am curious: will the peloton stay there? In front of the doors and mirror? If not, where will it go? Thank you taking us along your process! So appreciated

Amanda
24 days ago

This is so fun and I can’t wait to see the results. I love a good closet.

I do want to say for the record that wanting to see your stuff + wanting it to be very easy to put away isn’t childish at all. It’s actually the best setup for a lot of neurodiverse people, like folks with ADHD. For us, creating visual systems with minimal “steps” to put something away is a form of accessibility.

I know your comment about this being childish was typical Emily-Henderson-style self deprecation and I’m not offended by it, just wanted to add this to the conversation around organization methods.

Michelle
24 days ago
Reply to  Amanda

Thank you for this insight.

🥰 Rusty
24 days ago
Reply to  Amanda

Good observation Amanda.
My bestie is ADHD and her clothes are evvvvverywwwwwhere!!!
I never thought about it this way before.

Rachel
24 days ago
Reply to  Amanda

Love this but also want to add that I have ADHD and talk about myself in this way – things that work for a child work for me because my brain is underdeveloped in certain areas!

Bretta
21 days ago
Reply to  Amanda

Totally. A lot of things work for a child because they…work lol. Most people – neurotypical, neurodiverse, whatever – are more likely to routinely engage in behaviors that have fewer barriers, whether those are physical or task-related or even mental. So an easy-to-use closet will likely be kept tidier and more functional for anyone!

A.B.
24 days ago

Would you share what budget you are trying to keep to? For reference?

🥰 Rusty
24 days ago
Reply to  A.B.

It’s sponsored/partnership, free.

Carrie
23 days ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Yes, but she mentioned they had a budget nevertheless. “We had a budget we were trying to come in under.”

Hadilly
24 days ago

I recommend two hampers, one for whites and one for colors.

Tracy
24 days ago
Reply to  Hadilly

I agree! We have a three section hamper. One for delicates, one for things washed on hot and then one for my husband’s work clothes that are gross. It makes washing so much easier!

Juanita
24 days ago

Hello closet organizers (pun intended 😉) ! A happy accident in my first home in 2000 led to this realization: If you can, plan mirrors that will FACE each other, so you can see the backside of your outfit. We lived in a small town house that had 2 , side by side 3ft wide closets. Not a lot of room, right? When the doors to both closets were open (a regular swinging door with a knob), the full length mirror mounted on the INSIDE to each door would FACE each other. Because the doors swing freely, you could move them to get whatever angle you needed to see!! So fabulous. Many years later I was in the position to design a closet— and the ONE thing I made sure of was that whatever design we ended up with, we would have two mirrors facing each other (I did it again with two full length doors that would open up with a mirror inside). I’m sure it would also work with one mirror to the outside (like Emily’s Boot Covering Mirror above) that can swing open, and then have another mirror across from it (fixed, out in the open— or… Read more »

Shannon
24 days ago
Reply to  Juanita

Great idea Jaunita! I really wanted a three-way mirror in my new dream closet, but was afraid it would take up too much wall/storage space. The geniuses at California Closets designed it as cabinet doors, and hinged them so they could be opened like a dressing-room three-way mirror. This way I don’t sacrifice storage because there are shelves and hampers behind the doors. I also put the mirrors on the opposite wall from the entry so the room feels bigger when walking in. Another trick I did was to paint the walls a pretty color that will coordinate with my eventual wallpapered ceiling. This was way less expensive that opting for CC’s closet backings, which provide a finished look but also take up a little space and again, are super pricey.

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priscilla
23 days ago
Reply to  Shannon

Shannon, your closet is enviable! But, I don’t understand about “closet backings”. You mean you don’t get a full box when you order from CC (sorry, i’m a CC newbie), just 3 sides? How does that work?

Shannon
23 days ago
Reply to  priscilla

Hi Priscilla! At CC You have the option of getting a full box or just three sides. Adding the backs comes at a significant cost. To me it seemed like a waste given that clothes will be covering most of that space anyway.

Megan
24 days ago

Have you considered a rolling hamper from Steele so you can just roll your laundry into the laundry room? I just bought one from Crate and Barrel to use with my main floor primary bedroom and new main floor laundry. It seems really nice and gets great reviews.

Shannon
24 days ago
Reply to  Megan

Thank you for sharing this Megan! We are moving to a ranch house and this will be perfect for gathering everyone’s laundry. Love the retro look, too!

Amber
23 days ago
Reply to  Megan

I have one of these in my laundry room – the kind that’s raised – and it’s so wonderful. I don’t use it as my hamper, but for clean clothes. Then I can roll them into the bedroom or closet and fold in there.

Michelle
24 days ago

I also had. Great California Closet experience, working with Minneapolis area branch. Even doing research on cost, brace yourself for sticker shock. If it’s just not a budget reality for you there are other options, including The Container Store, which offer design services. That said, for me, CC was worth every dollar. Four years on my closet’ deigned around a corporate dress up every day in all four seasons has morphed easily into the same routine Emily has. I work out and sleep in different clothes than I work or play in. My only regret is that I was more constrained in space. Upside, it’s mine alone. My husband keeps his clothes in the bedroom turned office upstairs from where we sleep. He says he doesn’t mind… I’d love the measurements on this closet in case I ever build or remodel. It looks perfect for two. Oh, final thought on CC. I didn’t find the price worth it for shallow reach in closets, which we have a lot of. Just my opinion but they excel at exactly this scenario… when your closest is more of a dressing room and, like a bathroom, needs function and style.

Jennifer
23 days ago
Reply to  Michelle

Hi, hoping that providing info about what my custom CC closet cost will get others to chime in too. I live in the Portland area and had them convert the smallest of our 3 bedrooms (it’s just the two of us so we still have a guest room, in addition to the primary) into a walk-in closet. (We live in a modest but very cool 1970s ranch house so it’s much smaller than Emily’s farmhouse.) This was before the pandemic, around 3.5 years ago, and it cost about $15k. We bought our house which was under our budget to account for renovations and upgrades like this. Again this was before the pandemic-fueled crazy residential real estate market. The CC closet was totally worth it and sparks joy everyday–I joke with my partner that I want to be buried in this room. From the consultation at their store in the Pearl District all the way through installation, CC was amazing to work with. I also consulted with The Container Store but didn’t feel they had all the options I wanted (but they may have expanded their offerings in the past several years). Keep in mind that you’ll also likely need to… Read more »

Tarynkay
23 days ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Thank you so much for sharing the cost! I’m glad that you love it so much and have found additional use for this space as well.

Shannon
23 days ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Jennifer, please share some pics, sounds amazing!

Sheila
24 days ago

Good food for thought. My clothes are still arranged as if I got nicely dressed and off to work every morning. I don’t have a walk-in closet but should still plan a re-org to suit my stay-at-home life.
I also had an excellent experience with California Closets in setting up a home office/sewing area in my last place. I really couldn’t imagine how to make things fit but the designer gave me two separate workspaces with cord management, outlet cut-outs, file drawers, book cases with enclosed cabinets below and tons of storage. I could only afford the white laminate particle board that most people would put in their garages but it was so functional, I just loved it. I’d use them again in a minute. Now….if only I had walk-in closets in this house!

Roberta Davis
24 days ago

I don’t have a closet company to give me a lot of free stuff, but I have a closet the size of a small bedroom, and it already had those coated wire shelves and hanging rods. I think it’s a blessing, actually, because it’s so configurable. My goal is to have fewer clothes- only the ones I wear frequently. We do have a few long things (that we almost never wear but don’t want to part with- I guess because they were expensive and “important”) I have found that I prefer to hang things and have open cubbies for things rather than drawers for most things (other than underwear, socks),

KJ
24 days ago

I have serious closet envy- looks awesome. My only question is why you would keep your coats in here? I keep mine in a coat closet by the front door.

Megan
24 days ago
Reply to  KJ

I suspect that Emily needs the mudroom space for her kid’s coats and things like her vacuum. Since she has such a large closet, it makes sense to store her lesser used coats in her primary bedroom closet instead of the mudroom. Emily doesn’t have a coat closet near her front door or her back door, only the mudroom space off the bedroom.

KJ
23 days ago
Reply to  Megan

Thanks for the info – I guess you’ve been paying better attention to the details of the new house.
I cannot understand renovating and not having a coat closet by your entryway- whether that’s your front or back door. I’ve always been confused by the mudroom off the bedroom and not by the main entrance. I have 3 kids (older now) and that is a lot of coats to not have storage for on your way in or out.

Tamara
24 days ago

This was inspiring to see! I’m now awaiting the post with photos to see how you store all of the mud/rain/dry/mild/extreme weather-related gear for the whole family. (Do you hang it somewhere to dry out… all of the lovely practical things!) 🤗

Patricia
24 days ago

It’s the ‘thinking through how you use your clothes’ step I find fascinating. I’m mentallyanswering those questions for myself. I have a step-in closet with a long skinny inaccessible section for seldom used clothes. I have two sets of shoe cubbies, one for summer sandals and one for winter booties and closed toe shoes. I actually have a full-sized dresser in there with all my underwear, pjs and workout clothes. No other drawers so I store sweaters and casual tops in bins over the hanging space. All my jewelry fits in a mirrored cabinet from Wayfair, that way I can see everything at once. On the back of the door, I have a dedicated rod to most frequently worn tops and pants. Helps to simplify my life. My husband has the bedroom closet for his use.
I try to follow a one in, one out policy to keep the closet under control. Could I do better? Yeah, get rid of more clothes!

Andie
23 days ago

You tempt me to branch out as I also live in Portland but have had only one pair of boots and one rain jacket that I have worn year round for the past 5 years 🥵

Mariele
23 days ago

Ahhh, closet design always seems funny to me because I only wear dresses (aside from a few sweatpants for exercise and a few PJ sets)… only! So the most optimal design for my is just a long, hanging rod… aka, the standard design for a reach-in closet. 🙂 Oh well. Even if they’re not applicable to me, I can still enjoy reading these posts.

Kimberly
23 days ago
Reply to  Mariele

Out of curiosity, do you only wear dresses…as a religious thing? Or do you just prefer dresses?

I had to wear dresses every day for 2.5 years (as a missionary for my church, and then at a job hay required it) so now you’ll always find me in pants, ha ha. Preferably soft pants.

ATT
22 days ago
Reply to  Kimberly

I only wear pants, but the reason is thigh chafe with dresses! 🙂

Mariele
21 days ago
Reply to  Kimberly

Nope, it’s purely a comfort/preference thing for me! 🙂 Only dresses and heels in my wardrobe.

AzureSongLA
20 days ago
Reply to  Kimberly

I wear mostly dresses because I have size 6 hips paired with a size 10 waist. (Basically, my waist is only slightly smaller than my hips in diameter.) Size 6 dresses fit fine, but I haven’t found any jeans or pants that don’t uncomfortably cut in on my waist. I can wear very stretchy leggings, usually in a size 8. Women’s sizing is so crazy! Any jeans recommendations for a wide waist and narrow hips welcome.

22 days ago

Am I correct that you decided to lose the drop zones with the final design? I know you said you thought they would be messy but I always feel like dedicated drop zones help keep the messy out of the spaces where you don’t want to see it. Seems like the closet would be the perfect place for a wallet/purse/phone drop zone for you both, because if any space is OK to be a little messy, it’s a closet. 😉
Just curious how you’ll deal with that, i.e. is there another space that feels more natural as a drop zone for the way you’re using the house?

Nicolettte
18 days ago

Tips from someone who just did their walk in closet last year. Both my husband and I have a shelf plus a hook or two for clothes we are currently wearing. Think pajamas you will wear again, the sweatshirt you throw on every morning, etc. My husband also has a shelf for his daily hat, wallet, keys and glasses. It’s his drop zone. We also have a space with a number of baskets I use as hampers (I am a little crazy when it comes to laundry and separate everything). I find storing clothes on shelves almost always looks messy so we hang just about everything we can. Last, think about your accessories, purses, scarfs, gloves, beanies, belts, etc. Happy organizing!

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