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The Dressing Room
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

In the closet comes the latest fashion?the dressing room. Recently, the proposal for a 400-square-foot addition to go on an 84-year-old home in the Swiss Avenue Historic District, approved by the Dallas City Council, made controversy because of its modifications to the home?s exterior. But the project generated only passing comment regarding its interior renovations?an exercise area, closet, and dressing room. Popular today, especially in the master bedroom area, is the conversion of rooms into elaborate suites with his/her baths, separate closets and dressing rooms, and sometimes, exercise areas. For instance, the space occupying one bedroom and two baths in Watertown House, a Queen Anne Victorian house built in 1886, was converted into a master bath and dressing room and connected to the master bedroom via a private hallway, a project designed by Fairbank Design, Cambridge, MA, (

Bigger and bigger closets, walk-in closets, and now dressing rooms have become practical luxury items for the home. Dressing inside a room surrounded by wardrobe imbues ambiance akin to retail fashion; yet, in the home, the look is warm and personal, such as the dressing room designed by Hayslip Design Associates, Inc. Opening directly onto the bath, the room bears a marble floor with oriental rugs, marble-top sink, and ample space for leather chairs, ottoman, table, island dresser, shoe rack with recessed lighting, and hanging cabinetry. Add fresh flowers; voila, a very private room looks formal, dignified, and almost public as a clothing store.

These types of rooms appeal to a person who?s concerned, not only with clothes, but with staging the morning environment, according to John Espenlaub, designer with Poliform Wardrobes, a division of Scott + Cooner, Inc. in the Dallas Design District.

?Everyone wants large walk-in closets, separate closets, and big closets. And, as an aside, the ladies side is always a little larger,? said Tom Roberston with Sharif & Munir, architects and builders of the large homes. ?We have a meeting in the closets, called-a closet walk.? During the session, the homeowner?s apparel is sized and a closet designed to fit around the wardrobe. Despite the luxuriousness, these are primarily functional closets, according to Robertson, and often large enough to accommodate chests of drawers built into walls and center islands, customized by the cabinetmaker.

?In most of the older homes, the master has at least one walk-in closet and maybe one other in the house. And generally that?s about it. If you?ve found more than that, you?ve really found something,? said Lori Kircher, agent with Virginia Cook Realtors. Getting a larger closet in an older home can be accomplished reasonably by remodeling if the project involves only moving walls. ?But if you put the money into remodeling the baths so that the closets are bigger the way the new houses are, you?re pretty much putting your house into a different category. You?ll get more for the house. But you have to pay a lot to do the remodeling. I don?t think I?d do it just to sell the house. I?d do it to enjoy living in it awhile.?

People who want glamorous space inside their closets without moving walls have access to a number of local closet-system resources, most having come to the area within the last 5 to 10 years. Poliform Wardrobes brings cabinetry made in Europe, where popular is the concept of armoires and dressers in the bedroom?only, in Dallas the cabinetry is likely assigned to the closet. Esperlaub designs the storage system to fit the individual?s wardrobe and the space, half constructed in new homes and half in older or remodeled homes. Depending on wood, finish, cabinetry, and doors, the closet can take on an open-airy to warm-cozy look. At $500 to $1300 per square foot, a two-foot, ceiling to floor cabinet could cost around $2500; large closets may run from $12,000 to $58,000.

Among other local closet systems?California Closets, Closet Factory, Closet Storage Systems, and Closet Care, is Classy Closets, where closets are designed and installed primarily on existing homes (75%) followed by new construction homes (25%), according to co-owner, Jerry Coldwell.

?Using a closet system such as ours or others that are out there gives you about 30-50% more space,? said Coldwell, who figures in cabinets, drawers, hampers, and dressers although priority is hang space first and shoe storage second. Many people are getting away from putting dressers in the bedroom. Instead, everything goes in the closet, where a person can get totally dressed, even pressed with features such as an ironing board that folds into wall space or into a drawer in a center island. Classy Cabinetry offers systems made from particleboard and melamine laminate in several colors at costs that run about $80 to $150 per linear foot; a 6 by 8 foot closet would require about 20 linear feet, according to Coldwell.

elfa?a ventilated wire shelving and drawer system?has the advantage of being simple and flexible as well as allowing for visibility and ventilation, according to Peggy Doughty, buyer for the Container Store, the original storage and organizational store established in 1978.

?We work with customers in all different degrees,? Doughty said. ?But we still like to approach the entire closet and work out a master-plan?even if that means the customer will be doing one step at a time. Sometimes, solving one problem through storage throws the system out of whack. So, we want to make sure the customer gets the best combination. Everybody requires some combination of double hanging space, long hanging space, shoe storage, shelf space, drawer space, and accessory space.?

Consultations take place in the store, or by phone. And homeowners, most likely, do the installation themselves, according to Doughty. Generally, a claw hammer is needed to take out the old shelving; then spackling and a fresh coat of paint ready the space for the installation?a one-step procedure?placing track strip near the top of the wall, from which hang all adjustable standards, shelves, and rods.

?Customers get very excited about it (elfa) especially after they do their first installation,? Doughty said. Usually, after starting with the master bedroom closet, customers will put elfa in their children?s closets and throughout the house.

?We?re doing a lot of new homes,? Doughty said. ?Customers request that the contractors leave the closets empty and will come to us to plan the spaces.? Even larger closets need to be planned efficiently or they turn into wasted space areas.

Homeowners are also looking for a higher degree of luxury in accessories?beautiful natural hangers and cotton boxes, especially in the closet spaces that are almost dressing closets, Doughty said. ?I think there?s definitely a trend toward people wanting their closets to be beautiful spaces.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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