The nation's closets have never looked so good. Shoes are lined up on custom-designed cherry shelves; sweatpants are folded on German beechwood hangers; cell phones are recharging in specially designed niches; pearls and cuff links are nestled in built-in quilt-lined drawers.
Pressed for time and swamped with stuff, Americans will spend more than a billion dollars on improving their closets this year. Why? They can't afford not to: Time is money.
Do you think Michael Jordan or Madeleine Albright can waste precious seconds hunting for sneakers in the bottom of a closet?
Nobody can. Call it time and stress management through wardrobe organization.
"I was wasting so much energy looking for the clothes I needed for all my different lives," says Suzanne Hillman, a CPA who hired interior designer Victor Shargai to design the elegant cherrywood and cream Formica dressing room and adjoining walk-in closets in the McLean, Va., home she shares with her husband, David Hillman, owner of Southern Management Corp.
Now, her "leathers" have a special closet with temperature control, and she can reach for her favorite white T-shirt because she knows exactly where it is. "When you work and you have kids and you have charity events, gardening and whatever sports you do, you need to have everything available," she says.
"The closet area has exploded," says Kristen Bryceland, an editor at HFN, a trade publication that covers the home-furnishings industry. "With bigger homes and a good economy, people just keep buying more things, and they need a place to put them."
The billion-dollar-a-year residential-storage industry has grown 300% to 400% in the past decade, according to Greg Alford, senior partner at Peachtree Consulting Group in Atlanta. Alford says consumers in all segments of the economy believe that "an organized home makes people feel more in control of their lives and allows them to efficiently discharge tasks and save time."
And in the general upgrading of the American lifestyle made possible by the prosperous times, more consumers think they deserve to have a top-drawer closet.
Builders are paying attention. "A million-dollar house today has to have two walk-in closets adjoining the master bedroom suite," says Josh Baker, a principal at Virginia's Bowa Builders, which specializes in high-end residential construction. Other upgrades: motorized conveyors, like a dry cleaner uses, to move clothes to you, custom wood cabinetry and moldings, plus dressing rooms the size of small bedrooms for those who want to create a junior haberdashery.
Home builders and even owners of rental apartments are hiring companies like Closet Stretchers to outfit closets with shelves and baskets to enhance the marketability of a property.
Some of today's dressing rooms are so huge they even have center islands, which Morry Ghoulian, owner of Maryland's Closet Stretchers showroom, says are perfect for packing suitcases or throwing your briefcase on at the end of the day.
Ghoulian says he's presented with a lot of unique challenges, like the custom shelves he had built to house Miami Heat basketball superstar Alonzo Mourning's size 18 1/2 shoes.
Closets today are more than just a place to cram your khakis. "Our product is made to simplify our clients' exits in the morning and their return home," says Vincent Sagart, designer for Poliform, an Italian-made closet system whose richly appointed custom designs cost from $6,000 to $100,000. "People are so busy and so successful, every 10 minutes saved counts."
And make no mistake: Having your closet "done" is no longer a luxury reserved for CEOs. International franchises like California Closets and regional companies like Closet Stretchers build laminate systems starting at about $400. At Wal-Mart and Home Depot, do-it-yourself customers are filling their carts with plastic, wood and wire racks, drawers, shelves, boxes, bins and two-level hanging poles in the hope that all of this will encourage slobs and neatniks alike to keep things organized.
What's more, Americans are willing to stand in line to get organized: At last month's sale of the Elfa wire-based ventilated storage system, clerks at the Container Store in Rockville, Md., handed out pagers to customers waiting for their shelf brackets to be custom cut. The Dallas-based home-organization chain, which offers more than 100 styles and colors of coat hangers, is expecting total sales of $237 million this year, says a company spokeswoman.
"You wouldn't expect people to get this excited about such a mundane thing as closet organizers," says Ian Pennell, a closet expert and sales associate at the Rockville store. "But some people just go into rapture about it."
Help comes in all price ranges.