A Tale of Three Closets
I have always lusted after the perfect closet—spacious, well-executed with rollout shelves, double hanging space, where I can see my clothes at a glance. My dream recently came true when, after a major renovation on my Litchfield house, I have a real dressing room with space for all my clothes.
Closets mean different things to different people. To some, it’s merely a place to store clothes. It doesn’t matter if the hangers don’t match or if the contents are not arranged by color or by season. Jam-packed, once the door is closed, the space is forgotten. For others, a closet can become another room, a place to enter and transform oneself merely by donning different outfits.
When most of the stately houses in Litchfield were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, life centered around family and entertaining. Large parlor rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens were important. Bedrooms were purely functional, many unadorned and modest in size. Nowadays the “bedroom suite” has become a focal point of the house. Rooms large enough to accommodate a small family encompass not only a bed—king-size, of course—but a giant flat-screen TV, seating area, a fireplace, bathroom with walk-in shower, huge bathtub, and double sinks. And most important, big closets. In past centuries, people housed their modest wardrobes in armoires. Tall, imposing, sometimes-ornate wooden cabinets were moved in. If there were built-in closets, they were small and uninspiring. And back then most people did not have the wardrobes that many of us accumulate nowadays.
Martha Green and Alan Cohen live in a 1933 cape, extensively renovated with extraordinary grounds, including a drop-dead open-air pool house with a European stucco fireplace. In the house, they added a bedroom suite upstairs with a sitting room, and, of course, his and hers closets, across the hall from each other. Because they are built under eaves, there is a coziness about the spaces. Each closet is roughly ten by 11 feet—a combination of shelves and hanging space, with room for a chest of drawers and, in Martha’s, a place for a chair and ottoman. Closets, these days, tend to be multipurpose, and hers is an inviting space that would be a perfect one in which to curl up with a good book on a rainy day. Clothes are arranged seasonally and by color and use. “My casual tees and cotton pants share one space, followed by my dressier pants and tops,” Martha explains. Shoes are displayed on open racks, again separated by occasion.
Alan uses the same principle, although the size of his wardrobe pales by comparison to his wife’s. His pants are hung from the cuffs and fall straight down—eliminating that crease at the knee. Sports coats and suits hang in single file arranged by color and weight. Shirts, arranged by color, hang on identical hangers. “We made the best of the space we had, without disrupting the master bedroom or bath,” says Alan. Each closet also has a window, adding to the warmth and comfort to the space.
Nancy and Bill O’Shaughnessy live in one of the great 19th-century houses off the Village Green. Its rooms are beautifully decorated and spacious. Bill is owner of the Whitney radio stations in New Rochelle. Nancy’s closet is the kind that every woman dreams of having, not only for its size but for its contents as well. Having the luxury of so many rooms, Nancy has turned one of them into a home for her clothes. As one enters the 12-by-15-foot dressing room—larger than some studio apartments—to the right is a row of floor-to-ceiling slanted shoe racks, filled end to end with Manolo Blahniks, with a few Jimmy Choos and Chanels thrown in. The shoes are arranged by color and season. Facing the shoes is a wall of mirrors that conceal the wall-to-wall closets. A collector of Chanel, Nancy arranges clothes seasonally, focusing on clothes that are appropriate for her weekend life in Litchfield. “These are basically the clothes I wear on weekends. Everything from my workout clothes to my Saturday-night-out clothes.”
The upper shelves of the closets are where Hermes, Chanel, and Bottega Veneta handbags share space. She has a tray full of silk lapel flowers below. Drawers slide out to reveal scarves and other accessories. Chanel suits are arranged by texture and length. The lush fabrics create a tableau of texture and color. The closets are spacious enough so that every garment has breathing room. This is the way all clothes should be treated.
The starkness of Barbara Dente’s closet in her Breuer house is in sharp contrast to the coziness of the Green/Cohen spaces. Often a closet is defined by the clothes that inhabit the space; the atmosphere is user-friendly, businesslike, austere, warmly and snuggly, or just plain utilitarian. A long, narrow space of 50 square feet, her closet is meticulous and every inch is relevant. The garments are arranged seasonally by color and by fabrication within clothing categories. Barbara makes it easy for herself by choosing to wear only black and white (with an occasional touch of gray). The monochromatic wardrobe is hung on matching black hangers; rows of pants, shirts, and jackets lined up like uniformed soldiers on parade. The shelves house current season shoes and handbags. All other accessories are stored in matching black quilted zip bags that line the upper shelves. Knitwear is folded in pullout boxes arranged by color and weight.
“The space is 11 feet high, so I have the advantage of being able to store out-of-season clothes in the same space. While the hanging space is at a premium, storage bags make it workable.” Barbara is a big fan of places like the Container Store, where one can have a field day choosing exactly the right enclosure for one’s inner sanctum.