October 16, 2004
Imagine being in your new house looking for your favorite sweater in a closet the size of a city garden. Your closet is so big you could do cartwheels in it.
But you can’t find the sweater because the closet’s so big, you’re not sure where it ended up. So even though you just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new house, you follow that by spending tens of thousands of dollars to have a closet company organize your closet.
Fantasy? Not really.
‘‘People are customizing their closets like crazy,’’ said Jim Gibson, principal at Gibson Builders, a custom builder in Washington. ‘‘I’ve seen people spend $100,000 on a closet.’’
Gone are the days when the humble 2-by-6-foot closet with its single shelf and metal pole satisfied the American homeowner. Even though closets still take up only a small portion of any home, they have an outsized grip on the psyche of the American homeowner. And homebuilders are starting to wake up to that reality.
‘‘Everyone wants more and more closets,’’ said Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research at the National Association of Home Builders. ‘‘And then after they get them, they’re spending more and more money getting them organized.’’
It all comes down to the fact that Americans have huge amounts of stuff, said Helen Kuhl, editor in chief of Closets magazine, a publication launched last year devoted to home organization. ‘‘We get overwhelmed by it all.’’
And American homeowners have been happy to plow lots of money back into their homes over the past few years of steadily rising home values.
‘‘They’ve already redone their kitchens, and they’ve already bought nice entertainment centers,’’ Kuhl said. ‘‘All of a sudden, they look into their closets, and they’re a mess. So now, it’s closet time.’’
Companies catering to this national domestic obsession have sprung up around the country, ready to help homeowners organize themselves. Kitchen-cabinet manufacturers are also starting to branch out into closet-organization systems, Kuhl said.
Mike Carson, president of the National Closet Group, a trade association of independent closet companies, says there are more than 2,000 closet-organization companies in the country. And that’s not counting such big retailers as the Container Store and Home Depot, which also sell closetshelf systems.
Carson said the 50 companies in his association are enjoying record growth this year, from 10 percent to 35 percent.
It’s not hard to see why. Kuhl said Americans spent $2 billion remodeling their closets last year. And that’s not just buying white particleboard shelves.
‘‘People want their closet systems to be not just functional, but very, very aesthetic,’’ said Ginny Snook Scott, director of sales development at California Closets, the biggest closet company in the country with more than 100 franchises nationwide.
‘‘They want their closets to look more like the furniture in their rooms — so, darker woods, cabinets with crown molding, accessories in brushed aluminum, beautiful lighting.’’ Scott said revenue growth for the company in 2004 has already doubled that of 2003.
The closet companies are offering more than pretty cabinets. They are luring homeowners with nifty organizational features, such as pull-out tie and belt cubbies, vertical dividers, shirt shelves, shoe drawers and mirrors; pull-down ironing boards, hanging rods and slacks dividers; velvet-lined jewelry drawers, shoe drawers and drawers for business cards; hidden safes, hampers and baskets.
Builders are finding it’s good business to respond to customers’ desire for supersized closets.
‘‘A closet can definitely sell a home,’’ said Shawn Evans of Pulte Homes, the country’s largest builder. ‘‘We have one floor plan that comes with a closet that’s the length of a three-car garage plus an additional walk-in closet. That is an extremely popular house, and a large part of that is the master closet.’’
Most closet growth has come in master bedrooms, where many builders offer either his-and-hers walk-in closets or one huge walk-in. (When it’s one big closet, it usually comes with a center island, a half-wall or some other kind of divider.) Some master suites even come with three walk-in closets, builders say.
Kitchen pantries have also mushroomed. Walk-in pantries are a must in a new home these days, said Ahluwalia of the homebuilders association.
If they have the room, homeowners also like a seasonal or cedar closet, in the basement or elsewhere, for the clothes they’re not regularly wearing. And where there was one linen closet before, now there are often two — in the master suite and in the hall.