The Dream Closet You Already Own
An unused spare bedroom can find new purpose as a spacious closet and dressing room.
photos by laura petrilla
Michele Beier loved her large master bedroom, and she envisioned a perfect walk-in closet to go with it. But merging her room with a nearby spare bedroom to create that dream space would have required completely rebuilding the master bath and rerouting the plumbing.
That kind of project involved more construction than this busy mother of two young boys wanted to undertake.
So Beier, 44, of Shadyside, found the perfect solution: Turn that spare bedroom into a walk-in closet, but without construction that would connect it to her bedroom or make the change permanent. Like a growing number of homeowners, she simply gave her guest room a new identity.
Many older homes in Pittsburgh, even large houses with four or five bedrooms, have tiny closets, says designer Catherine Davin, founder of South Hills-based Davin Interiors. Converting a spare bedroom into a spacious closet is a great solution, especially for empty-nesters or young couples who aren’t, at least yet, using all of their bedrooms.
“On one hand, it’s great for homeowners to have a space for guests to retreat to during their stay,” says designer Bethany Williard, founder of Studio 1049 in Bridgeville. But if you host guests only occasionally, Williard suggests that space may be better used as a dressing room or as the ultimate his-and-hers walk-in closet.
“By removing dressers, overstuffed nightstands and extra clothing-storage solutions from the bedroom,” Williard says, you are “opening the bedroom up to become again what it should be, a stress-free sanctuary and space for relaxation.”
For homeowners who want a huge closet now but may want to convert the room back to a bedroom eventually (or who want to make sure the house will appeal to future buyers who want more bedrooms), here are tips for creating a cool closet without permanent change.
Storage: For freestanding storage, search your house for spare furniture you can repurpose. Davin says bookcases work well for smaller items such as shoes and purses. Old hall trees are great for hanging items, as are any type of hooks. Embrace a mismatched look, or paint all of these pieces one color to unify the look.
To create a center island, place two dressers back-to-back in the center of the room. If they aren’t identical heights, place something underneath one to get the heights to match. Then securely attach a granite slab or other solid surface on top to create one large workspace. Arrange your jewelry boxes here.
If you’d like something slightly more permanent, choose a closet system that attaches to walls but can be removed without too much trouble. Beier custom designed her system online, adding shoe shelves as well as compartmentalized lingerie and jewelry drawers in the center island.
“Rather than going through one of the more expensive companies, I designed it all online .... and had my dad do all of the installation,” she says, adding that some closet companies help customers to customize to their needs.
“The contact I worked with suggested a hidden ironing area which looks like a drawer but folds out as an ironing board,” Beier says. “She also suggested jewelry trays in the drawers and drawer spacers for socks and lingerie, which are some of my favorite features.”
As you choose pieces you already own or order new ones, consider your wardrobe as you plan.
“Think about how many hanging items versus folded items you will have,” Beier says. “I do wish I had added additional hanging rods for long dresses.”
Add mirrors but don’t feel obligated to hang large ones on your walls. A full-length, framed mirror looks great leaning against a wall.
What You'll Love
Sunshine and fresh air: Natural light from windows is a rare treat in a closet. It makes matching outfits easier. Closets also don’t usually have vents for heat or air conditioning. Because rooms do, you get fresh, temperature-controlled air for your clothes.
Your closet has a closet: The bedroom that has become your new walk-in closet likely has a closet of its own. Take the door(s) off and turn it into open storage space, but keep them handy in case you or another owner one day will convert the space back to a bedroom.
Accessories: If you have enough space, add a dressmakers’ form or mannequin for displaying potential outfits or storing scarves, hats and shoulder bags, says Davin. Or add a coffee and tea station, along with a plush loveseat and a vanity table, to create a luxury dressing room space. Beier included a fluffy shag rug to make her closet even more cozy and comfortable when getting dressed on a chilly morning.
Challenges, And How to Fix Them
Windows: That lovely natural light from bedroom windows can fade clothes if it hits them directly day after day. Install thick shades that shield your items from sun and also provide privacy.
Lighting: Bedrooms tend to have minimal overhead lighting, and some have no ceiling fixture at all. You’ll want to install good lights to really see your clothes in the evening or early morning. Adding new lighting also is a great opportunity to add some style. Beier included an elegant chandelier in her closet for a dose of beauty and brightness: “The chandelier I bought has eight lights,” she says, “and putting it on a dimmer light switch allows me to put the lights up super-bright when getting dressed or searching for an item, or to dim them for ambiance.”