Create a closet out of a spare room

Men laying new hardwood flooring

She’s a mother of two and her youngest child moved into his own home a month ago. She now has two empty bedrooms—one filled with outdated rock posters, the other decorated in bright purple with empty dressers and a bed that has been vacant for years. Her next step—if she’s following suit with today’s empty nesters—is to downsize to a smaller home, or renovate, making at least one of the bedrooms a large spacious closet, called a “closet room.”

“After sacrificing time, money and household space for the sake of children, clients are expressing an ‘it’s my turn’ attitude,” says Barbara McCandless, senior designer with Closet Factory. “They have money available for home improvement projects, and are willing to spend it to get their closets the way they want them.”



Move over, Carrie Bradshaw … we’re talking BIG

Empty nesters are creating closet rooms worthy of Sex and the City fame. “Because empty nesters are typically moving from much larger homes and downsizing to smaller living quarters they are often focused on maximizing whatever storage space is available in the home,” says Jeff Lewis, president and CEO of Closets and More. “They usually want to make the most of their space, using it for storage of clothing, but also as a dressing room. Islands are a  popular component, and may house everything from safes to pull-out ironing boards, packing tables and more.”

And like Bradshaw’s closet, decadence abounds. Consider the luxurious trend of including fixed safes in the closet. “Security is becoming such a key issue in this economy that many Atlanta luxury homeowners are re-designing closets to include fixed safes. Some homes’ closets are being installed with fingerprint (biometric) technology to prevent thieves from entering them,” says Tom Ellicott, marketing manager for PalmerHouse Properties.

But unlike Carrie Bradshaw’s closet, these closet rooms aren’t just for clothing and accessories.

“We are seeing empty nesters transform these spaces into a home office, along with a wall bed. This still allows for a place for children to come home and stay, but also allows new space for a home office,” says Ryan Vannoy of SpaceMakers Closets.

“When a bedroom is converted to a “closet room,” it can become a multi-purpose room as well, and one of the more popular uses is for crafts, sewing or even a gift wrap station, with a portion of the closet becoming a gift closet,” Lewis says

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Elements of excellence

Amidst the variety of customized add-ons in closet rooms, there are some key elements that are both classic choices and trendier than ever:

  • Vanities or staging areas. Staging areas are often used to apply makeup, accessorize and style hair. “Some customers like to place vanities with lighted mirrors in the closet, where the lady of the house will use the closet as a dressing room. Another popular option is shoe storage behind mirrored doors that also function as a three-way mirror,” Lewis says.
  • Built-ins. From laundry hampers to tie racks, belt racks and valet rods, built-in accessories are paramount to keeping the homeowner organized, according to McCandless.
  • Islands. Used as a space to fold clothes, pack suitcases or place a cup of coffee and the newspaper while preparing for the day, islands have become the most popular feature of a spacious closet. “We see many [homeowners] today doing away with furniture in the bedroom and moving everything into the closet. Having the additional space in an island creates more opportunity for drawers, a hamper or even additional shelving,” Vannoy says. He does warn homeowners who are a designing a closet to be practical, however. “The thing to be careful of is trying to put an island into a closet where there is not enough space, limiting the amount of walking space. They can make a closet feel smaller than it really is.”
  • Seating/lounge areas. “In such large rooms, clients want to sit down!” says Debbie Wiener, author of SlobProof! Real-Life Design Solutions. “Benches and chaise lounges are a great place to put on and take off shoes or lay out the clothes for the day.”
  • Shoe shelves. “Adequate storage for shoes is missing from virtually every ‘before’ closet I see,” McCandless says. “Could this be because most builders and architects are men? The average woman has between 30 and 50 pairs of shoes!”
  • High-end decor. From chandeliers to expensive artwork and oversized freestanding mirrors in vintage or modern frames, closets have become their own stand-alone rooms deserving of impressive accessories, fresh flowers and “wall candy,” as Wiener calls it.
  • Purse shelves. As designer handbags grew in popularity, women’s purse collections grew, as well. McCandless says the best purse storage is on shelves with Lucite dividers to organize and display the purses.

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Streamlining the storage space

Empty nesters who choose to move out of their homes and downsize to a smaller space are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum regarding closets—they don’t have enough space to store everything from their old home. So, they have to make the most of the space they have.

“Although empty nesters give up space when downsizing, they are not willing to give up style, quality and functionality,” explains Ben Giles, owner of Giles Properties, a company that specializes in single-family custom homes. Using the same mentality of those that create closet rooms, downsizing empty nesters are looking to treat themselves to upgraded storage options, often hiring a professional to design and install closet systems, or asking their builders to hand-tailor their closets to include certain details.

Compact closet components
On a smaller scale, the closets of downsizing empty nesters offer many of the same features as closet rooms, but also offer qualities unique to scaled-down spaces, including:

  • Adjustable elements. Because closet space is such a hot commodity in downsized homes, the items stored in those spaces will likely change as time passes and possessions are cycled through. “One of the most important storage issues is shoes and easy access,” says John Banks of John Banks Interiors. “Most of my clients love built-in drawers in an island and adjustable elements within the closet to ensure the area is organized and neat.”
  • Packing-table drawers. Serving the same purpose as an island countertop in a larger closet, Banks recommends a packing-table drawer in smaller closets. “When the drawer pulls out, it provides a surface top for packing, folding, etc.,” he explains.
  • Valet rods. Using very little space in the closet, valet rods are quite functional for empty nesters, who often spend their kid-free time traveling. “A valet rod allows you to stage clothing when packing for a trip, or just to put out what you are wearing the next morning,” says Lorrie Marrero, chief executive organizer with “They are also great for bringing in dry cleaning and removing the plastic to put the clothes away.”
  • Pullout mirrors. Taking up only 2 inches of width space, a pull-out mirror (similar to a pocket door) becomes a swivel mirror when fully extended. “A pullout mirror is great when you need it, but being able to put it out of sight when you don’t is even better,” Lewis says.
  • Pullout ironing boards. Bringing the nostalgia of college dorm life, pull-out ironing boards are a great way to use space efficiently.
  • Pegboards. Used to hang simple hooks, pegboards can organize jewelry, belts or purses, says Lorrie Gazette, certified professional organizer with the National Association of Professional Organizers.

Whether they’re downsizing or upgrading spaces to closet rooms, today’s empty nesters seem to have a knack for making closets reach their full potential—with the help of professionals.

Giles Properties19


5 Tips for Selecting the Right Closet Design Professional

Look for a professional who listens to all your needs, desires and concerns.

Select the professional you feel you can trust and who makes you feel you are their most important customer.

Experience is invaluable. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, it takes some time to become a truly talented closet designer. Look at the professional’s total years of experience in the business.

Invest wisely. There’s no substitute for experience and knowledge.

Last, but most importantly, always check references.

—Jeff Lewis, Closets and More

Thinking outside the box—unusual ideas for dressing up your closet:

Closetsandmore2Add accessories and a continuous top shelf, varying the height and depths of the unit and upgrading color and finishes.
—Ryan Vannoy, SpaceMakers Closets

My favorite idea for a children’s closet is to design the closet doors to remain open and “a part of the room.”
—Christel Giles, Giles Properties

We’ve seen closets where one wall houses a coffee bar for that first cup of morning joe.
—Jeff Lewis, Closets and More

Utilize highly ornamented metal clad doors to offer secure entrances/barriers to your closet.
—Tom Ellicott, PalmerHouse Properties


“Whether you’re downsizing or just streamlining your possessions, donating items to a nonprofit organization, such as Goodwill, makes a difference not only to the environment (by diverting items from a landfill), but also to your community. Eighty-four percent of the revenue from Goodwill’s stores goes toward job-training programs, placement services and other community programs that put people to work.”

—Lorrie Marrero, national spokesperson for Goodwill Industries International

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