How to Choose the Best Custom Closet Designer – 17 Factors You Need to Know
You thought the custom closet design company you saw advertised EVERYWHERE would be your best choice. However, that was until you met the closet designer they sent to your home.
They were arrogant.
They didn’t seem the slightest bit interested in your ‘small’ job.
They (barely) asked you any questions or took the time to learn why your closets is a ‘nails-on-a-chalkboard’ experience for you.
And to top it off, they ‘presented’ you with a pathetic 2D chicken-scratch drawing. You can’t for the life of you see how this closet will live for you. And to make matters worse, they tried to twist your arm using high-pressure closing tactics to buy today – or you’d risk losing this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ (sarcasm intended) deal.
And as a closet designer myself (and owner of a custom closet company) I’ll share with you 2 indisputable facts you need to know BEFORE choosing a closet company or designer:
- Fact #1) All closet designers ARE NOT created equal.
- Fact #2) All closet designers ARE NOT best for all jobs (yes, that even includes me…. although my mom might disagree with this line).
So, how can you choose the best custom closet designer whether you’re looking for a big, small, uber-fancy, or just plain high-functioning closet? My recommendation is to read the 17 factors below.
Factor #1 – Does your designer ask good questions?
A custom closet should be all about you – and whomever else you’re sharing the closet with. If your designer doesn’t take an interest in you, and what frustrates you about this closet, and what you’re looking to store in it – they’re frankly of no value!
This space must be designed around you and your storage needs. Nothing else matters. Understanding you is first and foremost.
Factor #2 – They teach you ‘closet math.’
Ok – if this factor makes you break out in hives thinking about 7th grade Geometry class (which you actually lived through) – don’t worry it won’t be that bad.
But a smart closet designer knows the ‘math’ of an effective closet design. How tall can they make your closet so you don’t have dead space at the top, but it’s also reachable for you? How wide should the shelving, hanging and drawer sections be to maximize the space? How deep should your drawers be so you can open them without it being too tight?
And if you want to learn more about properly sizing a closet read The Mathematics Behind a Stylish (and cost effective) Walk in Closet.
Factor #3 – They’re not ‘snooty’ and basking in their ‘designer-ness!’
OK – let’s face it. Some closet designers (and interior designers) act like ‘they’re the stars’ of your project. Sure, they can talk fluently about colors being ‘moody’ and something ‘just not working’ and show you fancy ideas, however, in the end this closet should be all about you – not about their ego and design talents.
And I can tell you from experience I know people who design the most beautiful closets in the country yet still don’t have a ‘snooty’ closet designer attitude. As an example, if you’re looking for a down-to-earth closet designer in the New York/New Jersey market WITHOUT the attitude – check out the work of my friends Patty Miller and Wendy Scott of Boutique Closets and Cabinetry. They’re living proof you can design an A-MAZ-ING, high-end luxury closet and not be full of yourself!
Image Source: Boutique Closets and Cabinetry
Factor #4 – They’re sensitive to your feelings.
OK – I’ll tell you I’ve had so many people apologize to me about how messy their closet is. It’s usually not the place you’re tooling people around your home to impress them. And sometimes (if we’re being honest), it’s a downright disaster.
And no matter how disorganized it is, I think a key thing for a closet designer is making you confident they can help you get things the way you want them, without making you feel your current closet is the disaster you think it is (and the reality is, they’ve likely seen way worse than your closet anyway).
Factor #5 – A smart closet designer is an ‘unstructured problem solver.’
Designing custom closets is like playing chess. The more you’re ‘in the game’ (and know the best way to design a closet and products available to make things work), the smarter you are recommending ‘moves’ to improve the space.
When you bring in a custom closet designer into one of the most intimate spaces of your home (your closet), a good one will be able to ‘see’ the space in a way you can’t. And to top it off they’ll ‘show you’ (more about this later) a new layout which will make your closet work like it never has before.
And they’re even smart enough to know how to ‘work around’ the craziest windows, soffits, dormers – you name it. And if you don’t believe me, read How to Organize Your Odd-Shaped Closet.
Factor #6 – They’ll ‘size you up,’ but not in a bad way
No, I’m NOT talking about a closet designer getting judgmental with you. What I’m talking about is a smart closet designer will talk (gently) about the size (and physical abilities) of the people using your closet.
If you’re 5’1” and your partner is 6’3” this WILL affect the design.
If your spouse has mobility issues this closet must be designed to work for you (and them) as you age in place. And if you want to learn more about how size and mobility affects a closet design, read How to Design an Age in Place Closet.
Factor #7 – They’ll ‘paint a picture’ for you.
If you can’t ‘see’ and understand the design, how will it be possible being comfortable plunking a deposit down on a custom closet?
To me – it’s not possible.
And for this reason, you should insist on a 3D custom closet design. You’ll be able to see colors, depth, height and how your design works around windows, light switches, and outlets.
The bottom line is this….
Do not buy a custom closet design without a 3D drawing.
Factor #8 – They don’t limit their solutions to what you think you need.
Here’s something as a custom closet designer I’m going to ‘come clean’ and tell you. I don’t always listen to the customer. Hey- did I actually say that? OK – yes, I did.
There are times when I’ll recommend solutions the prospective customer has never considered and is 180 degrees different from what they think is the best storage approach.
For example, you may store your shoes under hanging clothes – and think this is the way it should be done. However, I’ll recommend shoe shelves so you can easily see them and NOT have to bend over in the dark crevasses of your closet to find your missing pair.
Or you’ll think you need a ton of hanging rods, but not understand you can get 2 to 2.5 times more clothes folded in a drawer than you hanging them (and your closet will look neater).
A smart closet designer will have the guts to make recommendations (based on their experience) you may not have considered (or are opposite what you thought was best).
Factor #9 – They stop you from spending stupid money.
Just because you (think) you want something, doesn’t mean it’s money well spent.
For example, I can’t tell you how many times people ask me for cool-looking raised shoe shelves and I’ve ‘sold them out of’ buying them. You see if you’ve got a packed closet – and a H-U-G-E shoe collection, the dumbest thing you can do is spend extra money for raised shoe shelves which have dead space behind slanted shelves. This won’t allow you to maximize the number of shoes in the design.
Or you want to use cabinet doors to hide hanging clothes, but don’t realize you don’t have the depth (or funds) to make it work.
Smart closet designers – will (gently) guide you when they see you’re going down ‘stupid hill’ and spending money foolishly.
Factor #10 – They’ll tell you ‘Where’s the beef’ (‘er cost) in your design.
While I hope this hasn’t happened to you, I know there’s cases when people get closet estimates and (figurately) drop off their chair when they get the price. You had NO IDEA custom closets cost that much. And you (secretly) wondered, how can it be this expensive? And, more importantly, is there a way to get costs down?
Well – if you work with a custom closet designer with the right 3D closet design program, you’ll not only be able to see where the cost is, but also to redesign (on the fly) changes (maybe going with a basic white color or switching from a floor based to wall hung closet for example) to get the price down.
Know ‘where the beef is,’ so you can invest your money where it matters most to you.
Factor #11 – They’ll have displays you can see, touch, and feel.
I’ve never seen a closet brochure which DIDN’T make a company’s closet systems look wonderful. These brochures are pretty. They’re staged. They’re photographed to make you want to buy them RIGHT NOW!
However, the quality of custom closet systems is not all the same. Materials matter. Drawer boxes are made from different materials. The pins which hold the shelves can be made of steel or inexpensive plastic. You WILL NOT see the differences in a brochure.
To know what you’re getting, see if your custom closet company has displays you can see, touch and feel. Then you’ll know how the slow-close drawers and doors work. And how the drawer boxes and shelf pins are constructed.
You know, seeing is believing, and this is certainly true in custom closets.
Factor #12 – They professionally measure your closet.
Does your custom designer use a laser to measure at the top (and bottom) of each wall to see if it’s out of square?
Do they locate each outlet, window, and soffit in the design?
Do they plan how they’ll work around a register grate?
Closet professionals, take the time (and use the right tools) to get the details right.
Factor #13 – They’re students of their game.
The best closet designers I know have one thing in common. They’re constantly learning. And here’s why.
Closet products change. You need to know what products can solve customer problems.
Interior design trends change. You need to know what colors and textures are in (and out).
Closet design systems change. The software to create 3D custom closet designs is evolving and providing better tools everyday to help you visualize what you’ll get.
The best custom closet designers are active in industry associations (including the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals and the Closet Institute of America).
Insist on a closet designer who is a student of their game.
Factor #14 – They’re ‘bankable.’ They follow up and follow through.
A friend of mine (Nancy Whetstone) coined the term (yes, bad pun intended) that the best people are ‘bankable’ (‘er they’re people you can count on). And if there’s anything we all know in life, there’s tons of people who talk a good game, but few who deliver on it.
And it’s obvious the actions of your closet designer are much more important than their rhetoric. Do they follow through with the detailed design when promised? Did they look into your special requests on a timely basis? Did they call you back to see if you were comfortable with the design? Do they have systems to stay on top of their game?
Factor #15 – They’re closet specialists, not woodworking generalists.
Some people may think closets are simple. They’re just a bunch of shelves, rods, and drawers. And while those are the key elements in a closet, there’s much more to an effective design than simply throwing in these components.
For example, where do you put your most stylish elements (like your drawers)? How deep and wide should you make the sections and ensure nothing sags over time (OK – a closet designer can’t guarantee anyone’s bodies won’t sag, but they can for a closet system).
And while people working with remodeling contractors or new home builders may think they’ll just have the trim carpenter on the job design the closet – they may learn (after the fact) a carpenter (or wood ‘generalist) will often not deliver an exceptional and efficient closet design like a closet ‘specialist.’ And if you don’t believe me read 9 Reasons You Shouldn’t Choose a Trim Carpenter to Design Your Closet (and 3 reasons you should).
Factor #16 – They’re not afraid to offer ideas on how you can store differently to improve how your closet lives.
I’ll tell you I see it all the time. The way people store is half the problem (and yes – I also realize the fact that 50% of their clothes NEVER get worn isn’t helping matters either).
For example, many people insist on hanging everything (probably because when they grew up, they only had hanging rods in their reach in closet).
Or they insist on hanging pants from the hem – which takes more room vs. folding them over.
Or they insist on keeping shoes inside the shoe boxes (or plastic dollar-store containers) which eats up room.
An effective closet designer does more than just create a design. They’ll also offer tips on how to store better and gain space (even if you can’t bear to thin any of your clothes out).
Factor #17 – They’ll thoroughly explain your options, show alternatives, and NOT get mad in the process.
It’s hard not knowing what you want, until you see the designs (and know the price). It’s for this reason, a more understanding custom closet designer is open to showing you more than one design so you can compare options.
Does this take your designer extra time? It sure does.
Will it help you ‘see’ what makes sense for you? It ABSOLUTELY does.
So, are you better prepared to choose a custom closet designer? How can me – and my team- help you next?
I hope this article has helped you identify what a fantastic closet designer looks like vs. someone whose biggest concern is closing the deal quickly, getting their commission and moving onto the next job (irrespective of whether their design works for you).
And when it comes down to it there’s really only critical factor to find the best closet designer for you. And that factor is….
An excellent custom closet design has your back!
And to figure out if they do have your back, ask these questions:
- Does this designer care about me?
- Are they willing and able to educate me?
- Do they understand my closet frustrations?
- Will they show me options and not get mad when it takes them extra time?
- Will they tell what will (and won’t) work (even if it doesn’t match what I had in mind)?
And because I know finding the best custom closet designer can be difficult, I’d love to help you. If you’re looking for a custom closet design in Columbus Ohio, me and my team would love to meet with you. Click for a Free 3D custom closet design or call 614-545-6888.
And if you don’t live in Columbus (which is likely most of you)– I may be able to refer you to a friend in the industry across the country.
Thanks for reading,
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I want to convert a condominium guest room into a sewing room/office space with a murphy bed for the occasional guest. I live in Indialantic, FL. Can you recommend someone in this area?
Ann – although I don’t know anyone in your area I’d recommend you look up my industry trade association – the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals and see if there’s a company close to you. Thanks for reading my article – Mike