Beth Kirchner has a nickname for the old, cramped walk-in closet she and her husband shared for three years before building their dream walk-in last year: the cave.
"It was like a tunnel," says Kirchner, who lives in a large colonial near Clarkston's Deer Lake with her husband, Mark, and two children. "There was still a girl's side and a guy's side, but it was hard to both be in there at the same time. You couldn't walk past each other."
So when the couple decided to renovate the upstairs of their home last year — gutting the master bedroom bathroom and adding another upstairs bathroom off their daughter's room — the master bedroom closet was on their to-do list. They tore down a wall to make it bigger, worked with a professional closet company to design the new space, and today, "the cave" has become a "Mack Daddy" closet where everything has its place.
"I have 12 drawers for myself, hampers, built-in cabinets, shelving for 100 pairs of shoes — all sitting there, and I love it. I look at my shoes and decide what I'm going to wear for the day," says Kirchner, 43, a stay-at-home mom.
With a new year upon us, many are making organization a top priority. And is there a bigger organizational black hole for the clutter-prone than the bedroom closet?
Greg Parsons, owner of Clarkston-based Clever Closets Inc., who designed the Kirchners' dream closet, says most people adhere to the 80-20 rule: They wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time. If you can't see what you have, you won't wear it, he says.
"Have a place for everything, and the floor isn't one of them," advises Parsons, whose business includes his wife, Barbara, and son Russ. "I can't stress that enough. … The floor has no boundaries or discipline. It just grows."
The Kirchners started working on their closet more than seven months ago. Beth, who admits that organization has always been "a downfall," turned to Parsons for help after being referred to him by their builder.
Their first order of business: making the closet bigger. The couple decided to tear down a wall to an adjacent bonus room that wasn't really being used to add square footage to the closet.
At their first meeting, Parsons spent five hours with the Kirchners, going through their closets, assessing their wardrobes. Using special design software, he designed three possibilities for the closet layout.
They considered putting an island in the space, but it would've taken up too much room. Beth says they also contemplated putting up a wall in the newly expanded closet to create separate closets for her and Mark, but "we would've lost space."
Instead, the roughly 250-square-foot space has ample room for both Mark and Beth and still feels roomy. Each spouse has a custom 71/2-foot cabinet with shelves and drawers for items such as T-shirts and sweaters. Both have space for shoes (60 pairs for Beth, though there's room for 100). There are built-in hampers to hide dirty clothes. And atop a full-length mirror is a little area for a small flat-screen TV.
Mark, 40, a financial advisor with UBS, "likes to watch TV before he goes to work. He likes to watch the news," Beth says.
Beth worked with interior designer D'Ann Colombo of Heart of the Home Interior to decorate the space. A rubbed bronze chandelier adds light and warmth to the closet and also ties with all the bronze hardware in the room. In the middle of the closet is a plush, circular ottoman. Sheer beige curtains with some embellishments hang from the closet's two windows.
Throughout the closet are little details and touches to personalize it — framed family photos, picture boxes and two pheasant figurines — and keep everything in its place. A narrow row of shelves holds Beth's purses. An ironing board is tucked away into a narrow custom cabinet with its own door. And next to Mark's shirts are what Parsons calls premiers — devices that hold ties or belts that can be pulled out and pivot so the choices can be fully seen.
"Whenever I design, it's all about the flow and the function," says Parsons, who also designs storage areas for mud rooms, kitchens, home offices and garages. "You've got to see your stuff."
Having the bigger, more organized closet has freed up room in the Kirchners' bedroom, which is what the couple wanted all along. A dresser in the bedroom is now used for ski gear.
"Everything has a spot," says Beth. "I can find everything."
Parsons says creating and designing a revamped walk-in closet can cost around $2,500, though the Kirchners spent much more. Beth says they decided to go all out because they had the space and "we'll never do this again."
"We plan to raise our kids in this house," she says.
Beth says her designer Colombo warned her that the new closet would change her life — and it has.
"I consider it almost like another living space," says Kirchner, who eventually plans to tap Parsons to help her organize her garage. "Everyone wants to come over to see the closet."
Tips for organizing your closet
Clear it out: Empty out your closet and separate clothes and shoes you wear and those you don't. If you haven't worn it in a year or are waiting to lose weight to wear it again, get rid of it.
Get rid of mismatched hangers: Irregular shapes take up more space, and wire hangers are hard on your clothes.
Remove out of season items: Clean your winter gear or summer gear and then box or store it somewhere else.
Smart storage: Use clear bins with labels to hold accessories, scarves, nicer shoes or hats.
Keep items you frequently use at eye level: Put items you rarely use higher up. Move snow boots, rain boots or other outdoor gear to your front hall closet.