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Hanging Out in the Closet

Forget mere organization, think design. It'll make you want to change clothes again and again.


You can take a relaxing soak in the bathroom, zone out in the bedroom or party in the hall. But how much fun can a closet be?

It ought to be the most fun room in your home, says Mark-Alan Harmon, a Fullerton-based personal shopper, wedding dresser and closet visionary.

The reason is simple--you go in there every day.

"You don't have to go into your dining room every day. You don't even have to go into your kitchen every day. But you have to go into your closet every day and find clothes. You can't go naked," Harmon said.

After four years as a personal shopper, Harmon, 23, has been in so many people's closets that he's become something of a clothes storage guru. He's negotiating with a book agent for publication of his workbook ("Closetry: Your Closet, Your Life") and is scheduled to be videotaped for appearances on Home and Garden Channel's "Simple Solutions," and on E!'s "Fashion Emergency" show.

Now he's designing closets and adding his own spin to a growing trend in home improvement projects: closet organization.

The industry has become so hot that many new-home buyers have their closets done before they even move in, said Mike Houghton, who started Custom Closets in Costa Mesa 19 years ago.

"It's become a very trendy thing to do. People moving into a new house will say, 'This was on our list of things to do and we're going to go ahead and do our closet because everybody else has,' " he said.

Over the years, the concept of closet organization has changed from making the best possible use of a small storage space to creating a dressing area that holds it all, Houghton said. Everything from underwear to earrings is just a step away, in built-in drawers that make bedroom dressers and dressing tables passe. Free-standing islands with drawers have migrated from kitchens to dressing areas, and home builders are making those areas bigger and bigger.

Your closet can look like a boutique--glass enclosed sweater cases add glamour. Larger closets can be turned into more formal dressing areas by putting everything behind closed doors. And wood grain--dark rich woods and mahoganies--is making a comeback in more exclusive homes.

"It looks more like what you would see at a nice clothier. But it's your personal wardrobe," Houghton said.

Harmon embraces the closet-as-global-storehouse concept and adds another element--funky fun.

His closet designs make a statement about the owner of those threads.

Take Diann Santilli. Her Laguna Niguel closet, once a standard dressing area with open shelving and mirrored sliding doors, is now an exotic walk-in closet with a swinging door made from an antique Japanese screen. A Moroccan goatskin lamp dangles beneath the new skylight in the recently raised, 20-foot-tall ceiling. Teak flooring glows underfoot. The closet rods are black bamboo; there's an African mask on the wall. Big baskets sit on overhead shelves and hold Santilli's fabric and craft supplies.

"Anything ethnic, I like," said Santilli, who lined wicker baskets with rich fabric for the jewelry box on wheels that Harmon designed for her closet.

Her new closet, painted a soft green, includes built-in corner shelves for folded clothes and velvet-lined shoe drawers that can be rolled open with the touch of a foot. There are space-saving double-rods for separates and an ingenious rounder that fits in a corner and revolves to display a full-length mirror as well as belt, purse and tie storage.

Santilli project sources include Plantation (contemporary Asian furniture), Los Angeles; Not So Far East Trading Co., Los Angeles; Wolcott Asian Antiques, Laguna Beach; Pier 1 Imports; Marshalls and Ikea.

"People live a very fast, fast life today. They need to have the closet space be clear and easy to get to. Most of my clients get dressed at 5 a.m. and go out for the day, and the thought of going into a dreary space is just no fun," said Harmon.

Drawer pulls shaped like butterflies and daisies, colorful lining papers, framed pages out of Vogue magazine, stars and moons cut into the end of a clothing unit and a curvy full-length mirror are a few of the elements Harmon has used to spice up closets.

At Karen Castro's home in Orange, Harmon took the master bedroom closet doors off and replaced them with dramatic tapestry-patterned draw drapes held back by giant silk tassels. Lighting tucked behind swag valances, a pastel sponge-painted finish, new flooring and curving shelving for folded clothing and shoes add to the fun factor.

For Castro, getting dressed in the morning is almost like going shopping, she said.

"My favorite thing about it is that you can actually see everything you have. Nothing is hidden. It's like my own little boutique," she said.

How much does it cost to have one of your own?

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