Whiletucked away in a closet last weekend, I was reminded of the quiet appeal of these small, dim spaces.
A good closet is a sanctuary. A refuge where you can close the door on your troubles. A place you can mull life over. Just you, the quiet and your shoes.
Most of the closet literature I have read misses this point. The field is dominated by closet reform types.
Authors who tell you, for example, how to use every available inch of closet space for storage. First they instruct you to arrange your clothes so the longest garments hang at one end of the closet rod and the shortest hang at the other. Next you are supposed to plug up the space under the short garments by shoving some modular shelves in there.
The ideal closet shelves, we are told, are 9 inches tall, and no more than 32 inches wide. When you get above shoulder level things get hard to reach, so closet shelves should be no more than 20 inches deep.
Moreover, these types are forever plotting ways to fill in open space. They grab a length of lightweight chain and some "S" shaped metal hooks, and before you can say, "Where's that old sports coat," they have suspended a new clothes rod from the old one running through the closet.
Hard-core closet renovators advocate "segmenting" the space. This is an exacting procedure, in which a scale model of the closet and the clothes is drawn on graph paper. Then clothes are measured, partitions are installed, geometry skills are flaunted, and a plain ole closet is somehow transformed into a series of tailored, functional rectangles. These rectangles don't merely hold clothing, they ward off clutter.
I suppose these attacks on dark, old-fashioned closets are justifiable for folks who regard this space simply as a place to hang an ensemble. But for me, a closet has always been more than that.
As a kid a good closet was a good hide-out. It was a place to escape from an enraged big brother, to read a "forbidden" comic, to wrap a secret present, and to sulk.
It hurts me that my old, prime sulking space, the spot under the coats, is now supposed to be filled with modular shelving.
And closets with doors were terrific places to play. They were the spots to hold clubhouse meetings, for members only. If you were denied admission to a closet club, you pushed a clothes dresser in front of the closet door. This tactic usually resulted in great howls of protest from the trapped club members, and some serious admonitions from a parent. But it was still great fun. Ever since then I have wanted to deal with exclusive adult clubs the same way: seal them up and force the members to spend hours dealing with each other.
Another reason I like old, cluttered closets is that they are one of the few private rooms left in my life. Like most parents of young children, I have learned that once private domains like the bedroom and the bathroom are subject to unannounced visitors. But if you go in the closet, and shut the door, nobody bothers you.
This all came back to me recently as I stood on a stepladder in my wife's closet, repairing the light fixture. Out in the hallway I heard our kids engage in their usual "discussion" about who was bigger, stronger, tougher, smarter. I insulated myself from this taunting by shutting the closet door. Being closeted away, I did not have to answer the phone, or go to the door, or arbitrate any dispute. I had found an asylum from household life.
The final reason I am fond of big old closets is that our big old house doesn't have many. Actually we only have one such closet, my wife's. The rest of the family members make do with pieces of furniture called either a wardrobe or an armoire. Both are cabinets designed to hold clothes. After buying several, I can say that the significant difference between a wardrobe and an armoire is about $500. That is about how much more an armoire costs.
I will grant that our oak armoire is handsome. And I know that the plywood wardrobe with sliding doors was, for a time, used by the kids to "play elevator." Then the doors broke.
But on the whole, I believe you can never replace, or reform, a good old closet.