Custom closets clear the way for new type of showroom

Jessica Young

Marcella Kritikos has a master closet every woman would die for.

An enormous 20-by-17-foot area, the space is divided by an island with one side segueing into a bench where she can sit to slide on nylons and stilettos. Each side of the counter houses nine sliding doors holding velvet trays with specially sized compartments for earrings, watches, rings and other accessories.

Custom shoe racks neatly separate more than 20 pairs into sections for sneakers, casual footwear and dress shoes. Nearby, a belt frame sits. And, to more conveniently combat a wrinkled wardrobe, a board with an iron anchored to it pops out of a panel in the wall. There’s also a pole that drops from behind a cabinet where the next day’s outfit can be hung.

Decorative knobs, brushed nickel and high-end laminate fill the room, leaving a luxurious finished look.

“People come in the closet and say ‘Oh my God, I can live in here!’” Kritikos said. “I’m just very anal and wanted everything to be incredibly organized, so I decided to have the space professionally done.”

The $8,000 masterpiece was created by All About Closets LLC, a custom-closet company based in Romeoville, that consulted with Kritikos before giving her a 3-D conceptual drawing and installing the structures in her Monee home over two days.

“They give you space where you couldn’t possibly conceive of any. It was money well spent because it’s made my everyday accessibility totally functional,” Kritikos said. “Believe it or not, I had estimates from other places all the way up to $25,000.”

As everything from iPods to entertainment news headlines beamed right to your phone and cars to TiVo have made people accustomed to having the option to personalize their lifestyles — one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter products and services are no longer acceptable. Customization has become the rule rather than the exception. And, naturally, the trend has extended to homes and, yes, even storage space in bedrooms, offices, pantries and garages.

In the 1980s, Goldie Hawn’s yacht-bound heiress character in “Overboard” may have seemed over the top when she demanded the carpenter, Kurt Russell, build her a shoe rack of oak, not cedar. But in the age of MTV’s “Cribs,” where celebrities show off gigantic areas of their homes dedicated to showcasing designer collections, what was once seen as a domestic extravagance is no longer incomprehensible to the average Joe with some extra pocket change.

“With us, the sky’s the limit. There’s no space we can’t customize,” said Lynda Calococci, part owner of All About Closets, which services a good chunk of the Chicago area. “Most builders give you a ventilated or coated wire with slats where you can just hang some clothes and maybe stack some things on a shelf — but not too high cause it will topple over. But our design team can construct something to fit your individual needs based on what you own and where you want to store things.”

A lot of people don’t know how to efficiently use their space, she said.

Designers begin the process with a lot of questions.

“‘Do you want half his and half hers? Do you have a lot of ties or belts? Do you have a lot of suits for work? A baseball hat collection you want to accommodate?’” Calococci said. “We want to understand your lifestyle so we can prioritize your belongings and give you access to important items you need to regularly utilize while maximizing your space.”

The minimum cost for a project is $500, and that will generally buy a customer a revamped reach-in closet with bi-fold doors. But Calococci said more high-end clients have spent between $40,000 and $60,000 constructing a closet paradise.

“Everything can be upgraded, so it runs the gamut,” she added. “You can have a glass surface or marble countertops. There are wicker baskets, decorative knobs, special drawers. Many people like to show off the space like a room.”

Computer software allows designers to work with customers to tweak the configuration, and the image even shows hanging clothes and carpet colors.

The customized organizational systems are built in the company’s own manufacturing facility, so there are not limitations on height or depth of closet pieces. And the structures are made out of melamine, which looks like real wood but is more durable and won’t warp.

Closet Factory, a Woodridge business catering to closet lovers’ desires, builds pieces that rest on the floor like furniture and attach to the wall.

“We can do classic white panels and shelves, stained wood, custom moldings and trim,” said Lori Jerkatis, Closet Factory president. “We build around the shape of a room, windows, the angle of a wall, the size of an object. People ask me how high of a drawer bank they can have, and I say ‘As high as you could possibly want.”

Closet Factory designers can usually double the space in a closet, she added.

First, an inventory is taken of all belongings and a ratio of folded versus hanging garments is calculated. Then the research phase focuses on determining a daily routine, like who gets dressed first in the mornings.

The company markets its services as a way to add personality to a home and express personal style in an often overlooked space. Chrome baskets and valet rods for dry cleaning are symbols of status and project an image of togetherness.

Carole Appel used the Closet Factory for a storage overhaul in her Bartlett home.

“My closet was a disaster. Even though I had a walk-in, I had too many shoes and purses all over the place,” she said.

The floors of her 10-by-5-foot space were covered, stacked with overflow items.

“Within five minutes of assessing the space, Lori knew exactly how to make it work for me,” Appel said.

She got four short-hanging rods and some long-hanging space. Shoe cabinets fit four pair on each of 11 shelving units with a special space designated for boots. A hamper was built right into the structure, which was outfitted for spots for jewelry and hats.

“It’s beautiful — they did an awesome job. It’s amazing the amount of room I have,” she said. “Now, I can see exactly what I have rather than throwing things around and pushing stuff to the side. I don’t have to search for a missing mate with a pair of shoes anymore.”

The closet, replete with granite work, plus an additional organizational system in another room, cost Appel about $8,000.

For less costly alternatives, designers at the Container Store, which has an Oak Brook location, can help remodelers create free-standing closet structures or modular shelving and drawer units with the elfa line to accommodate storage spaces.

The elfa customized options start at about $170 and can go over $1,000, said Olescia Anderson, Container Store spokesperson. Customers simply just take measurements, bring them into the store and start making a blueprint.

“You can figure it out in 15 minutes or play around with it with the help of a designer and be there for two hours. Entirely up to you,” Anderson said. “You have so many options at your fingertips.”

The base of most configurations is a horizontal rack, and the structure is built out from there. The shelves and drawers are usually steel with birch, walnut or platinum accents.

Once the layout plan is approved, customers can install the pieces on their own or opt for an installation service. But there is very little leveling or drilling required, Anderson said.

“Having custom closets made is such a beautiful solution to bring order to your home,” she added. “More and more people are interested in doing it.”