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How clotheshorses can rein in wardrobes

If fitting a wardrobe into an apartment is out of the question, some designers like garment racks, like Pottery Barn’s Blacksmith Clothes Rack shown here.
If fitting a wardrobe into an apartment is out of the question, some designers like garment racks, like Pottery Barn’s Blacksmith Clothes Rack shown here. Pottery Barn

Urban life and high fashion seem to go together. But the closet space that typically comes with most city apartments is laughable and calls for creative, outside-the-box solutions.

Although the Web is full of storage tips for city-dwelling clotheshorses, the suggestions aren’t always practical. Boxing up off-season clothes in a storage facility can get expensive, and storing them at a relative’s house is only convenient if that person lives nearby. And although Carrie Bradshaw’s sweaters-in-the-stove solution was cute enough on Sex and the City, it isn’t recommended in real life.

Instead, consider buying a slim wardrobe (no, not thinner clothes — a piece of furniture). Wardrobes are similar to armoires but typically have smaller frames and less detail, which means they’re often lighter in weight. Many wardrobes now sold at mass retailers such as CB2 and Ikea are so simple and modern, they could easily be confused with pricey custom built-ins when matched to an apartment’s color scheme.

“When people think about wardrobes, they probably imagine a heavy piece with a large footprint and big doors,” said Janice Simonsen, a former interior designer who is now a design spokeswoman for Ikea. “But that’s dated thinking. These days, they’re usually more contemporary. They can really blend.”

The company’s Hemnes Wardrobe ($349, www.ikea.com) is a prime example of a low-key piece that can double your closet space. It stands five feet tall, roughly the height of a bookcase, and comes with an adjustable shelf for folded clothes and a rod for coats or dresses.

But the real space-saver is its sliding doors, which keep you from having to allow for extra space to make sure the doors don’t swing into another piece of furniture. (Target’s Clothing Armoire, $252, www.target.com, has a similar modern design but will cost you on door space.)

For the Nordli Wardrobe ($349), Ikea this year added valet hooks, which hang over the the top of the unit to hold coats, dry cleaning or the next day’s outfit. Simonsen said the sides of wardrobes were underused — and “in small spaces, every inch counts.”

For a higher price, CB2’s Reflection Wardrobe ($899, www.cb2.com) stands six feet tall and has all the necessary interior compartments — a hanging rod, a fixed shelf and 10 hanging hooks — and is shallow enough to place in tight quarters. But the real value is in the two full-length mirrors, one covering each door panel. Nothing is as effective as mirrors at making a small space appear larger.

If fitting a wardrobe into the apartment is out of the question, Lorna Gross, an interior designer in Bethesda, Maryland, said she sometimes suggests clients try a garment rack. Pottery Barn’s Blacksmith Clothes Rack ($199, www.potterybarn.com) has a stylish black wrought iron finish but doesn’t provide any shelf space. For shoes and bags, try Crate and Barrel’s industrial chrome 3-Shelf Garment Rack ($109, www.crateandbarrel.com) or its expanded sister piece, the Work Closet ($225).

Ultimately, Gross said, it’s crucial to keep clothing storage simple. “When in doubt, go to the Container Store,” she said. “Racks, shelving units, boxes and bins will help you stay organized, whether you’re installing them inside or outside of your built-in closet.”

One of her go-to tips for making any closet look larger is to add strips of LED lights to its interior. “It adds a hint of luxury,” she said. “It looks very stylized.”

For some, the easiest solutions are DIY. Designer Lori Ludwick, who is based in Alexandria, Virginia, said she shies away from wardrobes (too hefty) and garment racks (too rickety), so she recommends crafting an open closet system with a few pipes, shelves and rods from a hardware store.

“Pinterest has a ton of instruction boards for ways to assemble them against a wall,” she said. “When you’re ready to leave the apartment, just patch it up.”

Ludwick frequently uses Pinterest for creative storage ideas. That’s where she discovered the design trick of attaching subtle strips of trim to the wall to hang high heels. And for flats, try Pegboards or narrow pieces of wood with coat-hook knobs, she said. If there’s space inside your closet, such boards can be added there to keep visual clutter at a minimum.

Be careful that your solution not look too crafty. Steer clear of zip-up cloth wardrobe units or anything that comes with mesh — they’re better for dorm living or in-drawer (i.e., out-of-sight) storage. And perhaps most important, make sure the solution you choose is sturdy and will truly save you time while getting dressed.

“If the shelves are flimsy and fall apart on you in the morning, forget it,” Gross said. “That will ruin your day fast.”

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