A peek in the right closet will reveal the latest ideas in fashion, but more and more, the closet itself can be a trendy revelation. And right now that trend is upscale and without wires.
Homebuilders who used to allow $500 to outfit all closets with wire shelving are now working with customers who want melamine shelves, at a minimum budget of $2,000.
Steve Jorgenson, who owns Home Options closet company in Robbinsdale, said most of his customers won’t accept wire — or what’s also called ventilated — shelving anymore.
“The shelves fall off the wall within a year because they’re not installed correctly, or things fall through the holes or the wires leave lines on sweaters,” Jorgenson said. “People doing a remodeling want wire even less than new homebuilders.”
Even the Container Store, which has sold tons of well-constructed ventilated shelving, recently added the deluxe TCS Closets Collection, a custom-made system with back panels, thicker materials, integrated lighting and exclusive finishes.
The new California Closets design studio, which opened in November in Southdale Center in Edina, is probably the most extreme example locally of how upscale the closet industry has gone.
Several customers checking out the garage organization vignette at Southdale assumed it was designed by the French fashion house Hermès, said Brandy Ward, the designer of the garage showcase and owner of the California Closets franchise in Edina. It features glossy acrylic drawer fronts and floating aluminum doors that hide ladders and lawn mowers.
“It’s probably the orange and brown colors that remind people of an Hermès box,” she said. “I wanted the new store to have a ‘wow’ factor and be aspirational.”
Ward’s design studio has replaced ordinary panels, wire shelving and baskets with rich, textured wood grain melamine accented with pearl-inlay cabinet hardware and lighted drawers.
She wouldn’t say what the build-out costs were for her new space, but it compares favorably to the company’s flagship store in San Francisco. At 3,800 square feet with 17 vignettes, it’s twice the size of her previous store in the Galleria.
Ward wanted to set her business apart from the competition. “People are watching HGTV, Real Housewives and other reality shows and they’re aspiring to have closets they see on those shows,” she said. “People aren’t as afraid to spend $50,000 on closets throughout their house.”
What can a customer get for five figures? Mudrooms in shades of walnut, graphite and gold leaf with a fold down desk or a two-story Prince-inspired library wall with an electric fireplace fanning purple flames. Both are on display at California Closets in Southdale.
Closet organization is an $8.5 billion business in the U.S., with its own trade shows and even mocked on the TV comedy “Modern Family.” Many closet organizers and hardware stores keep prices low with standard sizes, but the industry is doing more custom work now.
Ward, who is trained as an interior designer and is certified in kitchen and bath design, wanted the new space to show off rooms or designs that many closet organizers don’t tackle.
She’s added gold mesh ventilated kitchen drawer fronts for vegetable storage, glass panels etched with images of doves for the Prince library wall, and a subway tilelike wall that hides a Murphy bed. “Lots of clients who have downsized pull down a Murphy bed in their home office when they have guests,” Ward said.
Rick Lyrek, who owns Closets for Life in Apple Valley, said he’s adding new elements as well. Lighting is a common feature, including LED strip lights on closet rods that light up automatically when motion is detected. He also provides 3-D drawings of what a project will look like.
“Some of my competitors like California Closets won’t leave drawings with the customer at the end of initial meeting,” he said. “We want potential customers to be able to visualize it and live with it before they make a decision.”
Lyrek, whose business has grown annually by about 10 percent in the last decade, said nearly all of his customers have moved away from wire shelving and now want custom-made designs that are multifunctional and look good too.
Shelley Saby of Chanhassen gave up on wire shelving after it fell down three times over time. She priced DIY systems at hardware stores but decided to spend about 30 percent more to have the job done professionally through California Closets with sturdier melamine and lots of accessories.
“Closets have come a long ways,” she said. “From pull out rods to pant hangers to soft close drawers, it’s all good.” She and her husband recently spent $5,000 on their master bedroom closet remodel.
Jorgenson credits California Closets for elevating consumer awareness of closet redesign. “They are my best competitor and we piggyback off them,” he said. While he doesn’t do as much customizing or use designer materials, he said his lower prices reflect that. “We’re like the Buick dealer, and California Closets is Lexus,” he said. “We’re good for 95 percent of the customers out there. We’ll install wire shelving that won’t fall down, but most people have moved way beyond that.”