Jill LaRue, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer for California Closets, joined The Washington Post for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I want to create my own custom closet but cost is a concern. What are the absolute must-haves when building one and what features can you probably skip?

A: The basic “must-haves” in a closet are hanging and shelving. Make sure you end up with as much as or more hanging than you started with, and use shelving to maximize the rest of the space. Drawers and pullouts are highly functional but aren’t necessary, and if the space is designed properly, they’re accessories that can be added later.

Q: Our main bedroom was built in the former attic of our 1939 home. The closet is small and under the eaves, because the ceiling slopes down to the wall, which is about waist height. There’s a narrow shelf at the top and a rod across, but it’s a shallow closet. Do you have any suggestions for how to organize or systems that would work well, considering it’s not super deep?

A: Old houses pose unique challenges, and this is one of them. In this instance, you should maximize all of the height you can on the flat back wall, even if it is only waist height. Then, be sure to maximize the available space or height on other walls with hooks or a wall organizer. These are the types of closets that really benefit from a custom system, because the height and depth can be cut to your needs.

Q: What are the best inexpensive storage solutions for shoes?

A: There are benefits to both shelves and boxes for storing shoes. Boxes are a nice solution because they keep your shoes free from dust and you can stack them. Shelves are perfect for seeing all of your options at a glance. To save space, you can also store unboxed shoes toe to heel. The most inexpensive solution for shoes is keeping the boxes, because you can stack them and they stay neat and organized.


Q: Do you have any best practices for buying drawers, baskets and other in-closet organizers? I keep wanting to get something to wrangle all my items, but when I look at the mess, I get overwhelmed.

A: Boxes and bins are the solution to taming this clutter. I start by measuring my shelves to determine what sizes of basket or bins to choose and how many to purchase. I like to combine open and closed bins. The closed bins are great to keep dust off items, and open bins are for pieces you need quick access to, such as sports bras and leggings. Label your closed bins and color-code them for seasons: white for summer, dark for winter. This makes it easy to switch out your wardrobe and keep track of seasonal items.

Q: What feature should all closets have?

A: A valet rod is the most functional accessory. You can use it to pack for a trip, coordinate outfits or hang a pair of jeans by the belt loop to wear again. And even better, it extends when you need it and retracts when you don’t. The second must-have is lighting. Lighting can help you see, which makes the start and end of your day a bit easier.

Q: What’s the best way to store handbags? I’ve received several beautiful designer bags as gifts and hand-me-downs, and I would like to display them so I can see them.

A: The ideal solution for handbags is storing them behind glass doors. This way, you can admire them without them collecting dust when not in use. If you don’t have the space, other options for keeping handbags dust-free are to keep them sitting on shelves in their bags or tucked neatly into drawers.

Q: Is it nicer to have a carpeted closet instead of other flooring?


A: I prefer carpet for comfort in a walk-in closet, but if you don’t have carpet installed, a rug will warm up the space. Rugs also make for nice decor in the closet, and they help personalize the area.

Q: I am so surprised at how often I saw wire shelving in closets in homes selling for $1 million during my recent home search. Am I just being fussy, or should homeowners update those basic closets?

A: Most people don’t realize that a great closet design is an investment in their home. It adds value and helps the home sell more quickly. This has become a feature that buyers want. I agree with you that it is disappointing to see basic wire shelves. The great thing is that closets can be installed and customized to your needs after you close on the property.

Q: I have a small system in my open closet that was installed by the previous tenant. It’s a white wire system from Ikea, and it has two side-by-side pieces that are attached. I’m not sure whether it was installed incorrectly or has become crooked through a lot of use, but the system seems to lean to the right. It’s annoying, and I want to fix it, but the closet itself doesn’t have a rod, so I would have to rip out the whole thing. Is that worth doing? I just want a level closet with a higher rod so I can hang my coats.

A: It sounds as if the current system isn’t working for you, functionally or aesthetically. Tearing it out would require you to install something new, but there are many options in the market, including a simple closet system of shelving and hanging or a replacement with drawers or pullouts.

Q: What’s the best way to organize a closet that is long and narrow with one small door? We have a hall closet that is 6 feet long, but it’s hard to use, because the door shows only 2 feet of space.


A: It sounds as if most of your closet is hidden behind return walls on the left and right of the space. A simple way to solve this is to organize your belongings so the items you wear frequently are in the center and items you wear infrequently are tucked away on the sides. A closet system can help compartmentalize these items and maximize the space. Another way to solve your small-door situation is to hire a contractor to blow open the wall and install bifold doors. This is more elaborate, but it may be worth the investment.

Q: My house came with hideous wooden bifold doors. They’re annoying and noisy, and I want to replace them with something else or have my closet be open, but I’m a little nervous about having all my stuff out there for everyone to see. What should I consider before going for an open closet? If I don’t do that, I’m thinking of installing a sliding door.

A: Having an open closet does mean that you may need to step up your level of organization. Open closets can be really pretty, especially to show off a closet system. Sliding doors can be a perfect solution, but keep in mind that your visibility into the space is reduced to half at a time. You also could consider hanging curtains to cover the space, which is a soft look and an opportunity to bring texture with textiles into the space.

Q: How do you prevent closets from getting dusty? I had some open drawers that I switched to boxes, because I hated how dusty it would get, but now those are dusty, too.

A: Your solution of boxes with lids is the best way to keep dust off your clothes and shoes. If dust continues to be a problem in your closet, you might want to consider a small air purifier that removes dust.

Q: My linen closet is awkward and doesn’t have good storage. Its depth is 8 inches and the width is 16 inches, but one of the walls is at a steep angle. Pretty much the only item I store in it is toilet paper. How can I make this closet more functional?


A: This is a difficult space. It sounds as if this “linen closet” isn’t the best place to store linens, but it could be a great closet for small toiletry items. Because the closet is shallow, you could add additional shelves closer together to store smaller, shorter items, such as toilet paper, medicine and first-aid supplies.