The DIY Walk-In Closet

Written by reagan alexander
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Less of a Vanity Project, More of a Sanity Project

The DIY Walk-In Closet
Walk-in closet (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

If you have the space --- and many people don't realise they do --- you can have a walk-in closet. Probably the most important reason for considering a walk-in closet is organisation, because the mere fact you're considering turning a closet or room into a walk-in will prompt the desire to reorganise.

— Eduardo Xol, design, entertainment and lifestyle expert

Most conventional closets aren't sexy. They're usually dark, windowless rooms that serve no purpose beyond simple storage. The back of a closet is where we banish our fashion gaffes and hide the unsightly aspects of our lives, both literally and figuratively. A walk-in closet, even in name alone, is another story: roomy, inviting, a place free of the clutter and confusion that threatens to overrun our day-to-day lives. It's a place where we celebrate our belongings rather than simply store them. While some would view turning a perfectly functional closet or small room into an evolved, organised showcase as an act of ego, the modern walk-in closet is not so much about vanity as sanity.

Why Walk-In, Where Few Dare to Tread?

Deciding to go the walk-in route may seem like a fool's errand. Who has the time, the money, or the space to indulge in Carrie Bradshaw-esque closet fantasies when we stack our clothes and shoes more like Terry Bradshaw?

What most don't realise is that a walk-in closet is more about finding order in your home and less about finding a way to display shoes that you knew you never could afford in the first place.

"If you have the space --- and many people don't realise they do --- you can have a walk-in closet," said Eduardo Xol, a Los Angeles-based design and lifestyle expert. "Probably the most important reason for considering a walk-in closet is organisation, because the mere fact you're considering turning a closet or room into a walk-in will prompt the desire to reorganise."

It may be a stretch to say that turning your simple, seemingly functional closet into a walk-in will help give you peace of mind, but there's little question that optimising the space that you have will lead to bigger and brighter things.

Clearing clutter and finding space in your home where you thought none remained will reap benefits far beyond a nifty shelving unit. Think of it as a life choice, but with hangers.

"If your closet feels unorganised, difficult to keep organised, or if you find yourself wearing the same clothes because you can't get to everything, you should consider turning your closet into a walk-in and reorganising," Xol advised. "Reorganising is something that I feel strongly we should all be doing from time to time with everything in our lives."

The First Steps

You want that walk-in, you need that walk-in, you can see it in your mind's eye. Regardless of whether you're going to fill it with your Payless plunder or Manolo Blahniks, you're sure that it can happen in your home.

The first question to answer is, where?

"In the end, it's all about assessing your needs," Xol said. "A true walk-in closet is one that is big enough to walk into and get dressed in. Basically, it's a small room, which is why it makes sense to consider turning an odd shaped room into this kind of closet."  

And if room (or rooms) are at a premium, you can always start by thinking small, safe in the knowledge that proper (and inventive) planning and organising will lead to something big.

"Walk-ins are infinitely more elegant, and there's something very comforting about entering a space that's devoted to nothing but what you wear, but really any space larger than 5 feet across can be made into a walk-in closet," Los Angeles-based designer Matt Locke said. "Basically, clothes on their hangers take up two feet, and you want another three feet to manoeuvre yourself.  A lack of windows in a room is the first clue, but follow that gut instinct that tells you that a space is too narrow or too uninviting to be used for anything but storage."

After the "where" comes the "what". What stays, what goes, what ends up in the trash and what ends up going to charity? The walk-in may open more space, but part of the reason it does so is because it forces you to make tough choices that a cluttered closet turns a blind eye to.

"I believe that the most important step in making the move to a walk-in closet is cleaning, organising and going through what you have to begin with," Xol advised. "Do it as part of your fall or spring cleaning, and if you haven't worn or used something in the last year and it has no sentimental value, consider donating the items to charity.  Once you've done that, you'll have a better idea of what your needs will be."

The Nuts & Bolts

You've organised. You've shipped off those parachute trousers, acid-washed jeans, and clogs to a charity that will repurpose them as costumes for community theatre. You've chosen your space, be it that corner room that fought you every time you tried to make it into a coffee nook, or a closet that had been overwhelmed by the casualties of fashion's fickle trends.

Now it's time to get to work, and as appealing as the end result may seem, this is the time to remind yourself that there is no such thing as the walk-in magic wand.

"Give yourself at least a weekend to create an amazing walk-in closet," Locke advised. "It's a project where the little things may trip you up, and you want to make sure the shelves and hanger bars are installed securely, so planning is key to a successful transformation."

It's the truly masochistic who rush in with a hammer and a dream, so before you start banging nails and hanging lopsided shelves, map out your journey to wardrobe Shangri-La.

"Buy some grid paper and pencils, then take measurements and make yourself a little floor plan, using the squares to help you keep the scale," Locke said. "Then, start playing around with the layout, keeping in mind the clothes need 2 feet, and pretty soon, you'll have an idea of how to set the space up, and what to buy to bring it to life."

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