Designer 101: How to Keep Your Closet Organized in 3 Steps

Designer 101: How to Keep Your Closet Organized in 3 Steps

Designer Kenneth Wingard shares his essential advice for organizing your closet in 3 simple steps.


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By: Kenneth Wingard

In my experience, there are always two competing factors in bedroom design. The first is the need to have it be a beautiful, serene sanctuary to which we escape. The second is the reality of the amount of clothes, accessories and shoes that we are all trying to manage.

Unfortunately, the latter really does have an affect (and most often a negative one) on the former.

If you’ve got a pile of shoes next to your dresser or stacks of sweaters on your settee, no matter how well designed your bedroom is, the clutter will overpower it. What do you do if you don’t have an extra bedroom to turn into a walk-in closet? There are a few simple steps to keep your design and your clothes.

Step 1: Purge
Every organizational mastermind will tell you to get rid of anything you don’t wear on a regular basis. We’ve all heard it and maybe have even tried it, but come on — it just isn’t a reality. I never know when I may need my seersucker jacket for a summer wedding (even though I haven’t worn it in 5 years) and the vintage handbag you bought three years ago could be a showstopper at the right occasion, whenever that may eventually be.

I do agree that there’s lots that can go, items that we know in our hearts will never fit again, items that are woefully out of style (no, don’t wait 20 years for them to come back around again) or things we won’t give away because we still feel guilty about how much we paid for them. Let go of all of those. There are many charities or consignment shops that will gladly take them and you’ll be amazed at the lightness you’ll feel!

Step 2: Separate
For those specialty items — my seersucker and your handbag — don’t keep them in your closet. Your closet needs to be for things you wear at least once a season. If they’re not, then it doesn’t need to be that readily accessible. Move them to containers under a bed, on a protected rolling rack in the basement or in a hallway closet.

Before you move them to what you may consider oblivion, lay each piece on the bed (or better yet, put it on) and snap a quick photo. Organize the photos into albums on your computer by location, that way you can quickly flip through photos to remember what you have or to get inspired about what to wear to that upcoming party.

If you don’t already, separate your wardrobe by season. You don’t need to trip over your sandals all winter and likewise for your wool coats all summer. When the current season draws to an end, box them up and store them out of your bedroom or better yet, out of your living area all together — a climate-controlled garage, basement or attic works perfect. You’ll also be amazed at how fresh things look when you haven’t seen them in six months.

Organize all the like items together. Don’t just have a drawer stuffed with accessories; separate out your scarves, bangles, belts and so on. Do the same with your closets: pants together, dresses together, skirts together. Like items tend to store similarly, so keeping them together tends to be efficient.

Step 3: Design
Now that we have things pared-down to what you need access to on a regular bases and separated into categories, we can design some solutions for keeping them contained.

The Closet: I’m still amazed at how many closets have not been maximized. If you’ve got the standard setup of a rod running across your closet with a shelf above it, then you have a gold mine that has yet to be fully utilized. Two rods (one high, one low) is a no-brainer and can instantly double your space for hanging clothes. If you give up some of your rod footage and add shelves, drawers, bins or cubbies to one side, you can still increase your hanging clothes space by 50 percent and gain additional space for folded garments.

Don’t forget to look up as well. The shelves that usually come in older closets aren’t always the most practical. Replace them with bins attached to the wall to hold shoes, hats or scarves. Consider oversized hooks on the ceiling to hang your bags (just keep a foot stool tucked to the side to make access easy).

The insides of the closet doors are also under-utilized space. You can get everything from hooks, to collapsible rods, to shoe racks, to drop down ironing boards that will simply slip over your door — no tools necessary! Don’t forget your closet’s sidewalls. Although narrow, there may be just enough room for a row of floor-to-ceiling bins or hooks making it a perfect place for rolled belts or hats.

The Room: Once your closet has been maximized, start to get sneaky with designing storage into the rest of the room. There are the standards like roller bins under the bed and footstools with hinged tops, which are great choices, but there are some more deceptive options as well. I had a stack of vintage suitcases in our guestroom act as a side table that no one would have guessed was filled with tweed blazers waiting for the fall.

  • A glass-fronted bookcase can easily have the doors frosted and become the home for 80 pairs of shoes with no one being the wiser.
  • Antique trunks provide lots of storage, but be sure to divide up the inside to make them more practical.
  • Pieces of cardboard notched and fitted together every six inches turns a trunk into great storage for rolled-up sweaters.
  • There are also a multitude of smaller bins and boxes that you can slip under tables and next to chairs to keep the clutter under control.
  • There are all sorts of pre-made inserts for dresser drawers that will not only make them a pleasure to look at, but also dramatically increase how much they can hold.

Now that wasn’t so hard was it? The clutter is under control, your bedroom is back to being the sanctuary you dreamed of and you know exactly where that vintage handbag is for the party you got invited to next week.



Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.

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