The closet set

Stylish walk-ins like the one seen in the movie 'Sex and the City' fit the script for some homeowners

June 29, 2008|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

When Jodi and Clark Lare were renovating and enlarging their Stevenson home, Jodi made a request:

"I always dreamed of having my own dressing room."

She got it - a 15-by-17-foot cream-hued room with a shoe wall and broad cabinets where her sister and friends can sit and assess an outfit she tries on by the angled dressing-room-style mirrors, where good light shows the true colors of the hanging clothing, where the accessories organization is efficiently built into drawers and where conveniences are hidden. Everything has its place, and everything is in one place.

Big, stylish walk-in closets like this one are hot. They're being fueled by big wardrobes, big homes, downsizers making the most of smaller condo space, empty nesters sick of unused home gyms (instead of hanging shirts on handlebars), the trend toward streamlining the bedroom within a master suite - and seeing movie and television walk-ins.

Outfitting closets is now a $3 billion-a-year industry, excluding do-it-yourselfers and custom cabinetmakers, said Helen Kuhl, editorial director of Closet, a five-year-old trade publication. Homeowners envision a master suite with a bedroom devoid of stored clothing even as they shop for more, Kuhl said.

"People don't want dressers anymore," she said.

Early in the recent movie Sex and the City, as Carrie and Mr. Big decide to wed, he asks Carrie if he should get her a diamond.

"No. Just get me a really big closet," Carrie says.

Danny Black, sales director for Chesapeake Closets, said his wife told him the line resonated with the mostly female audience. "She told me Carrie said what they've all been thinking,"

When Carrie opens the new closet, they gasp. It is a sleek and chic space of white, with glass and tall doors, with angled racks for all her Manolos, a space larger than the average Manhattan walk-up.

But more women have closets that more closely resemble Carrie's in the TV series - chaotic. It took a New York minute for Sex and the City to inspire closet envy, some closet specialists say.

"Starting the next day, the calls started," Black said, with potential clients saying they wish they had the big space and Mr. Big's bucks for Carrie's closet.

Reminiscent of her closet are the wood-framed glass doors and bright, open look that are stylish now, he said. "They don't want it to look like Grandpa's study," Black said.

Five years ago, Oprah's closet, an expansive walk-in, had TV viewers' attention.

"Women called and said I want Oprah's closet. For more than a year, they called asking for it," said Pam Hillebrand, who with her husband, Gary, owns the Closet Factory in Baltimore.

Jodi Lare wanted her closet to be fun and functional. She installed leopard-print carpeting underfoot, feminine capiz shell chandeliers overhead and delicate ecru drapery panels on huge windows. It's where she plops down on a settee in between part-time work at her family's pharmacy and running after her two small children.

It is, she said, a personalized and stress-busting blend of utilitarian space and sanctuary, from telescoping valet rods for preparing the next morning's clothing to the mini-fridge that holds beers and midnight-feeding baby bottles.

"I love the way it looks, but it's really functional," Lare said, noting that it helps her to start her day organized. "You just don't have that sense of calm when things are in disarray. It definitely does make life easier - you know where everything is, you see something, you can grab it."

It also can be peaceful: "Sometimes I just kind of chill out, shut the doors and relax up there."

And it's fun with friends: "You buy something, you bring it home, you try it on with different things. Does it look flattering with this jacket? Does it match this? And your girlfriends there can say, uh, you might not want to keep it."

And, with mirrors, a television and DVD player, it's a space to entertain a baby while dressing: "I can play SpongeBob at any time."

Patrick Sutton of Patrick Sutton Associates, an architecture and design firm in Baltimore, which counts Lare's among its walk-in decors, says couple dynamics typically have men butting out of the intricacies of a woman's dressing room.

"This is where she goes to transform herself into the princess she wants to be," Sutton said.

Cabinetmaker Gary Harvey, president of Henry Harvey & Sons Inc. in Baltimore, designed and built the closet last year based on Lare's requirements when her home was being expanded by Design Alternatives Inc. of Hunt Valley.

Lare has a three-mirror cove with separate recessed lighting. In front of two stationary stacks of shoe cubbies and boot stalls is a third stack, a slider with 27 shoe cubbies "so you can make use of the space," Harvey said.

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