Closet Confessions

Experts tell how to organize your space

This closet by Closet Connection uses an island to give homeowners space to fold and organize; the company’s products come in more than a dozen wood grains, plus white. Photographed by Allie Burke.


A closet done by California Closets in maple works around a window and leaves space for personal touches.

An organizational system done by California Closets uses the Ecoresin “Fairy Tale,” a recycled accent designed to give closets a design boost.


The designer for The Closet Connection has a standard line he gives most homeowners: “I can get you everything you need to get organized, but training is extra!” Earl Spruce says.

But with shoe cubbies, divided sock drawers, tie hangers, jewelry drawers, islands for folding laundry, and more, it is hard to imagine that a custom-made closet could not keep people organized, no matter their inherent disorder. In a well-designed closet, everything seems to have a home: a rod for each tie, shelves for every shoe and boot, and space for hanging clothes, both folded and long.

For Spruce, who has been doing this on and off for 26 years, starting a closet design means meeting with the homeowner and taking inventory. That includes everything from finding out how tall the husband is to seeing how a person puts clothes away. “If they want to fold their clothes, I like to get an idea of how they fold,” he says. From there, he also takes measurements of the existing space, including windows, light switches, baseboards, and baseboard heaters. “I do a sketch first and see if it works for them,” he says. “It’s got to work for them. Then I do it on the computer.”

Spruce says one of the most important pieces of information homeowners can bring to the conversation is a budget, which lets him know where to start and where to go. The Closet Connection does closets that range in price from $900 to $15,000. Its closets are built with melamine surfaced in numerous different wood grains, including 15 different types of cherry, as well as in white. Drawer boxes are dovetailed wood with full-extension steel slides. All of their products are manufactured in Dover, New Hampshire.

Becky Record, a homeowner in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, who had her closet done in the fall of 2010, did not have many specifics for Spruce. “It was, ‘What can you make for us?’” she says. “It worked great.” Record was doing a major home renovation, so the newly expanded closet was a blank slate for Spruce, who says the company works both in new construction and existing homes. Given Record’s large closet space, Spruce installed a center island with open-sided drawers, which come out in two directions for folded sweaters, as well as a drawer with an insert for jewelry and space on top for folding. Record was especially pleased with retractable rods on either side of her new closet that make planning and hanging tomorrow’s outfit a thing of ease. Coming back into her closet nearly a full year after it was installed, Spruce is like a proud parent, checking that things are placed as they should be, pleased to see the clothes hanging the right distance from the ground and folded properly in their drawers.

Spruce’s background as a marine engineer—and he previously taught at Portsmouth High School—may be part of his success in sorting out people’s closets. “After 26 years, I am pretty good at taking an inventory,” he says. While he is not there to clean, Spruce says he does suggest places people might donate clothes that do not look all that recently worn. 

A tie rack designed by The Closet Connection. Photographed by Allie Burke.
A children’s closet done by Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Closet Masters provides space for hanging and folded clothes, plus shoes.

Melanie Gordon, head designer at Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Closet Masters, says that there is one line she gets over and over from homeowners: “Please excuse the mess!” Her usual response? “Please, I’ve seen it all.” For Gordon, a messy closet is the exact reason she is in a person’s home in the first place.

Closet Masters uses custom laminate from Closet Works, as well as wire. The laminate comes in 16 different colors and is guaranteed not to peel or chip. “We pride ourselves on using a better quality than other places,” she says. Gordon says it is common for homeowners to start with no idea of what they want. She helps them determine how much hanging, shelving and even basket space they might need. “Keep in mind what you’re using your closet for,” she advises. “I like to use as much space as possible.”

For Gordon, the trend she is seeing the most does not have to do with colors or materials—it is the actual act of becoming organized. “People are talking about it on television,” she says. They want to exert some control over their busy lives by organizing them. Other trends the experts note include the installation of built-in hampers and turning entire rooms into dressing rooms.

California Closets, which has a New England franchise and eight showrooms throughout the region, says it is seeing more homeowners use a variety of finishes. “Whether it is combining wood tones with solid color laminates or adding pops of color via high-gloss doors,” homeowners are using a wide array of materials, designer Stephanie Scharr Bonini says. California Closets also has green products it promotes, including a “fossil leaf Ecoresin,” which uses real leaves pressed into resin material and is one of the company’s most popular design accents.

For homeowners in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the seasons take on a need of their own in relation to closet space. “Many homeowners tell us that they not only need more space, but visible, easy-to-access space,” Scharr Bonini says. “After we have worked out a configuration that suits these essential tasks, we delve a bit deeper into the specific needs of the clients. In New England, we usually address the change of season as it applies to the closet.” Some homeowners include shelving that is out of daily reach but can store out-of-season clothes, for example, or shelving can be made for shoeboxes, which hide away winter boots in the summer and sandals in the winter.

Not surprisingly, the busiest times of year are March through June and September through December, around the times fall and summer wardrobes get switched around, Spruce says. For those inspired to finally do something about their closets, organizing in the slow summer and winter months might be worth considering. All three companies provide free initial consultations, and all are also able to work on garages, pantries, home offices, and entertainment centers. Scharr Bonini of California Closets recommends honesty from homeowners. “New clients seem to get the most out of our process when they are very open about their needs and wants with the designers,” she says. “The more we know, the better we can truly tailor a design that will function and look amazing.” 

The process is faster than most homeowners think, say the experts. “Most clients are pleasantly surprised to know that their closet can go from a disaster to the favorite space in your home in three to four weeks from final design selection,” Scharr Bonini says. The Closet Connection’s Spruce says once a deposit is made, the company can typically get the installation done in just two to three weeks.

For people out there lamenting the state of their closets, which seems to be almost everyone, it appears that help is not far away. “I always say there is nothing better than opening the door to a well-organized closet,” Gordon says. “You feel so much better when everything is in its place.”

A drawer set with a jewelry insert by Closet Connection. Photographed by Allie Burke.