Tips to convert a spare room into a multifunctional walk-in closet

In Photo: In this photo provided by Home Depot and Closet Maid, this closet organization system offers a built-in appearance, but can be removed to be used elsewhere if the homeonwer’s needs change. Many homes were built back when a couple’s entire wardrobe could fit in one small closet. For modern homeowners struggling with tiny closets and minimal storage, the solution may be converting a spare room into the ultimate walkin closet.

By Melissa Rayworth / The Associated Press

Longing for a bigger closet?

Remember that rooms in your home don’t have to be used the way they were originally intended. Get creative and convert a small room into the ultimate walk-in closet, said Egypt Sherrod, host of HGTV’s Flipping Virgins and Property Virgins.

“Homes built before the 1980s just didn’t have the room size that today’s buyers have become used to, or the walk-in closets we’ve been trained to expect,” she said. Giving up a room can be a big decision. The trick is doing it on a minimal budget and retaining the flexibility to use the room differently in the future, said Kevin O’Connor, host of PBS’s This Old House.

Choosing the space

Ideally, use the bedroom closest to the master bedroom, Sherrod said: “That way you have the option of opening up the wall to go directly in.”

Creating a doorway in a wall is relatively minor construction and can easily be undone, experts say.

DIY creativity

The simplest way to convert a small room is by lining the walls with clothing racks on wheels and with free-standing wire shelving units. You can customize the space by adding colorful bins and baskets.

Or you can create shelving that expresses your personal style. For a recent This Old House episode, O’Connor worked with a homeowner to build closet storage out of  black metal pipes with wooden shelves. The industrial look brought a dose of style to the space, and the unit was sturdy.

“The few places they anchor to the wall give you nice rigidity,” O’Connor said, but the shelves also are easily removable.

Another DIY project: To fill the center of a room that Sherrod converted to a closet, she brought in two large bureaus of the same height and arranged them back-to-back. She had a sheet of granite cut to cover the tops, creating a work island that combines storage and a flat surface for arranging accessories or stacking folded laundry.

Interior designer Mikel Welch, previously a competitor on HGTV Design Stars, said another option is bringing in a pretty table for the center of the room. “For those who like to lay out their attire to help them choose their outfit for the day, a table would be perfect,” he said. And for changing or trying things on, “having a snazzy upholstered bench or chaise in the space will certainly come in handy.”

The finishing touch: Prop up a framed, full-length mirror on one wall.

“It’s sort of a boutique hotel look,” O’Connor said, and easy to remove if you repurpose the room.

Consider a system

FOR a finished look with no DIY effort, there are many closet systems that offer a mix of hanging space and shelves. Some are free-standing and others are anchored to the walls.

The more permanent systems are made to look like built-ins, Welch said, and “are a great way to maximize the space with a more customized look.” He recommends California Closets and Poliform for portable closets and wardrobe units. He also likes the Italian brand Porro Storage: “They put a chic spin on a typical storage unit,” he said.

Additional pieces worth considering: “A great planning tool is a valet rod, which is a pullout rod that you can lay out your outfit for the next day on or use for staging for a trip,” said Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design at Home Depot. “I use mine all the time.” If you have enough space, she suggests adding jewelry trays and racks designed for belts and ties: “Some spin, and some you can slide out with plenty of space,” she said.

Bonuses and obstacles

A BEDROOM repurposed as a closet has ventilation and natural light that’s lacking in many closets. “For people who care about getting the tie to match the jacket,” O’Connor said, “there’s nothing better than natural light.”

For the best possible lighting, Fishburne suggests adding dimmers to a walk-in closet and choosing lightbulbs carefully (she likes LED daylight bulbs).

One challenge: Closet doors are designed to swing out, but bedroom doors generally swing into the room. So the door to your new walk-in closet will swing in unless you decide to remove it. Adding sliding pocket doors can be expensive, O’Connor said, but they’re a nice luxury to finish off your ultimate walk-in closet.



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