Large closets are what everyone wants. Large closets and many of them. All you have to do is watch one home design show on cable and you’ll see people just oozing with ecstasy over large, walk-in closets. I agree. Large closets are nice. Large closets mean you can have more stuff. Who doesn’t like to have more stuff? Who doesn’t love the idea of having more shoes? One can always have another pair of shoes.
But the reality is that not everyone can have a spacious closet. People who have older homes may find that they don’t have any closets at all. Since the closet seems like such a fabulous thing, why wouldn’t there be a one in every home from the begriming of domestic architecture?
Closets are a relatively new architectural phenomenon. Historically, poor people wouldn’t have had enough stuff to stow away. Everything they had would have served a daily purpose and would have needed to be easily accessible. In medieval times, everything a family owned would have had to been portable as possessions were not something you left behind when you moved and this included what you put your possessions into. Wealthy people wouldn’t have wanted their possessions shoved into a closet as possessions were how you displayed your wealth. They would have have beautiful pieces of furniture built to hold their possessions such as linens and china.
The quantity of clothing people own has changed too. A hundred years ago, the average person might have had one formal outfit and maybe two or three outfits for everyday wear. There was no need to have a huge closet for such a few articles of clothing. Mostly, you would simply hang items that needed to be hung on hooks and fold everything else. Aside from a few particular fabrics, most things can be folded with care just fine. Certainly, everyday fabrics like wool and cotton fold well and there are plenty of folds, probably lost over the years, that limit the wrinkles. Rare early closets were very small enclosed areas with nobs for hanging clothing front to back rather than side to side like today’s closets.
Another reason for the lack of closets in older homes, particularly those that pre-date the Revolutionary War, was thought to be a “Closet Tax,” a tax imposed by the British on every room in a home. They considered closets to be an additional room, so few people built closets they’d have to pay an additional tax on. However, according to the records at Historic Williamsburg, this is a myth. Instead, it is just customary that an armoire would hold all a persons clothing.
History aside, it is entirely possibly to find yourself in a house either without closets or with inferior closet space. If this applies to you, there are some options. One, the most costly of solutions, is to build yourself some closets. California Closets is one place that specializes in custom closet construction but there are several companies that do it nicely. Expensive, yes, but you end up with a truly fabulous closet that will end up being a regular stop on your house tour. It is important to remember that if you’re going to build something as prominent as a closet into a room, make sure you
take special note of what is historically appropriate for the room. Do not put 1980s lacquer doors on a closet in your 1880s farmhouse. Instead, research and visit some period homes to make sure the doors match the period of your home.
The next option is slightly cheaper. You can buy an armoire or free standing closet system. The PAX series from IKEA can be outfitted with a variety of doors and has many drawer, door, and height options. The nice thing about a free-standing system is that you, like the medieval home-owners before you, can bring it with you when you move.