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Seeing what others in your field are doing is always interesting. You find common ground. Or you find inspiration. Or maybe you see a solution to a problem you’ve had for years.

And then there’s just the fact that, when it comes to the field of closet design, it’s just plain fun to gain insight into a colleagues design process.

So I put together a list of questions and asked them of ten people I feel are designing at the top of the game. Here are their answers.

They’re not in any sort of ranking or special order.


Donna Siben

Closet Organizing Systems, Bartlett, Illinois

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I sold office products for tons of years. I liked the space planning part the best so closet design seemed like a good fit.


Number of years designing closets



Special designations or memberships

Four 1st place Top Shelf Design awards and a couple of honorable mentions


Does form follow function or function follows form?

Function follows form.


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

Fixer Upper and Property Brothers – mostly because my husband likes watching them.
Least favorite is the one with the squeaky voice – Flipping Out. The voice just gets to me.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects

Oh goodness. The last time I won Top Shelf – the “L” shaped closet with windows. Because of the challenge involved in it. It was the biggest space I’d ever had to design. Not the most expensive but the biggest. What I loved was working with the people. They were decisive but let me run where I wanted to . They didn’t go over the top but still got a great result. There was lots of engineering to fit all the clothing. I liked being right there at the beginning to decide where the islands were going to go, etc. We took it from infancy through college.


What’s your design philosophy

I would say I’m different than other people because I don’t think about selling it until I have given them the best possible design for their money. I know lots of people think about the sales process all throughout. I don’t. I want to make sure they’ve got the best design possible.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

A wall in the center of a huge space that the client insisted was not a retaining wall. When they pulled it down it ended up being a humongous post that had to support the wall. So we ended up with this big ugly pole. I had the epiphany that we had to balance that, so I had them build another post to balance it out and we built an island in between. Inside the post we put in a safe that was accessible from the other side that just looked like it was a decorative piece.
It was a big challenge that we had to address and we did it with such design and production skill that the additional post looks intentional.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

I’ve always been a Ralph Lauren fan.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

I seem to tend to collect purses and I never have enough room for them – so space to store purses WITH lighting. Lighting everywhere.


Three words that describe your personal style

Classic. Blingy. Comfortable.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

My ponchos with pockets. It’s a seasonal thing.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

It has to do with garages. I was first starting out. I put in all these cabinets and never took into account that there were rails to hold the garage door – that they would only be 8 foot up and I was going higher with the cabinets so the doors hit the garage door. Never did that again.


When it comes to wine – red or white?

White. I’m a chardonnay gal.


Tim Higbee

Closet Works, Elmhurst, Illinois

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I have a bachelor of fine arts in interior architecture and I worked for a residential/commercial architecture firm. The last major project was Sara Lee (who has an intimate apparel division – Bali and Playtex) Intimate Apparel on Madison Ave in Manhattan.


Number of years designing closets



Any special designations or memberships

Registered Storage Designer with the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals.
Top Shelf Design Award Winner


Does form follow function or function follows form?

Form follows function – no matter how bad it hurts.


What’s your favorite HGTV show? Least favorite and why?

I don’t watch HGTV, or much TV at all. I don’t like to sit on the sidelines and watch. I like to be involved.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects

That’s easy. I did a built in living room entertainment center with built in fireplace.
I love it because I’d never done it before and it was such a challenge. And I love the clients, they were great to work with. And it was a team effort.


What’s your design philosophy

Closets must first and foremost be action stations. You have to be able to get in, get everything that you need and get out on the road twice a day. You have to get yourself together and you cannot be hindered, but at the same time it has to be an environment that’s personally and aesthetically pleasing. So again, form follows function.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

That’s like saying what’s your favorite song. The most memorable ones are always the ones that are most challenging.

One of my favorites was an exterior corner shelving unit for a client who collected pottery. It wrapped around an exterior corner. It was challenging to do with our materials and system.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

Zaha Hadid & Frank Gehry because they’re examples of form AND function.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

That’s a hard question for me because I don’t need all the bells and whistles. I need it be efficient. I need it to function efficiently and have the flexibility for when things change in my life.


Three words that describe your personal style

Timeless Modern. Minimalist. Mise en plac (a german term for everything in its place)
I asked Tim what to define timeless modern – he said modern versus contemporary. Modern was a movement in architecture and design where you have traditional, transitional and modern. And modern is very clean lines. Thus “Timeless Modern”.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet and why

My shirts because they express me in my varied moods and activities.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

Ceiling light fixture/door clearance – that states it pretty clearly for anyone who has ever designed a closet.


When it comes to wine – red or white

No way – don’t make me decide. It really depends upon the season and the event. I’ll never drink red wine at a social event because of potential spills and less than white teeth. So, on one hand, I would say “All wine all the time.” On the other I’d say summer = white. Winter = red. My favorite (in case you want to buy me a bottle) is a Chateau Le Lafite Rothschild. To which I say sure Tim, would you prefer the bottle for $8625.00 or the one for $17,5000 (asked lovingly)?


Wendy Scott

Direct Cabinet Sales, Dayton, New Jersey Scott

What did you do before you started designing closets?

Worked for a builder and then for a kitchen company. Working for the builder was selections. For the kitchen company I was a kitchen design assistant and then designed small kitchens. Then their kitchen designer quit and they said hey do you want to try designing closets so I did.


Number of years designing closets



Special designations or memberships

ACSP – Registered and Certified Designer, Vice President/President Elect for the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals

Top Shelf Design Award winner


Does form follow function or function follows form?

Form follows function


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

My favorite is Chip and Joanna – I think I watch that one the most. I just love the interaction they have together.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects.

My favorite would be an attic closet – a white dressing room in the attic. She had all her inspiration pieces saved from Houzz and I was able to make her inspiration come to life in a really nice way – even creating solutions for her that she didn’t know were possible.


What’s your design philosophy

For me, I treat everyone the same no matter what their budget and that’s the way I design.
I like to think outside the box. Use things in different ways if I can, but it’s an equally balanced approach to problem solving using design tools.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

The first one that comes to mind – someone asked me to make a specific location for a cat shelf inside their closet. I had to put it in the back corner where there wouldn’t be anything around it so the cat could find it. Cat loved it.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

JoAnna Gaines. I just like her. She makes everything so pretty in a classic way.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

If my husband would let me take that darn guest room and make it into a closet – I would want my jewelry vault and a lock on the door so no one can come in.


Three words that describe your personal style

Easy-going. Low maintenance. Sporty.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

Ballet flats that are Ugg leopard print.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

Learning how to install the lighting before the day of installation.
First time ever doing lights, I was left to hang out and dry. Richie DeMarco had to come to my rescue as the installer had originally tried to install them inside out/backwards.


When it comes to wine – red or white?


Sally Hart

Clever Closet Company

Sydney, Australia

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I was a Nurse Practitioner in Sydney.


Number of years deigning closets

Sixteen years


Any special designations or memberships

KBDI Australia (Kitchen Bathroom Design Institute)
Association of Closet and Storage Professionals


Does form follow function or function follows form?

I just had to do a debate on this. I hate having to answer this. I actually think the straight answer is form follows function. However, I refuse to let myself think that way because I want things to look beautiful so I decide that way.
So it’s the chicken and the egg. At first premise I think form follows function but overriding all of that is a knowledge that the room has to be beautiful so ultimately, in reality, function will follow form. You can’t have a room so full of storage that it overwhelms the space.

You need to make the storage fit into the room in a beautiful way.
We’re all the time realizing that beauty is part of our first instinct and sometimes we forget that.


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

I don’t watch much TV but there’s a show called “The Block” – 5 couples move to a building that needs to be renovated and they each have an apartment they have to renovate over 12 weeks. I like seeing what they come up with. It’s a mix of skills. They’re only allowed to use their own skills, so they have to create and execute good design skills under intense pressure with limited resources.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects.

It’s always for a person that you enjoy. Currently it’s one that’s like a genie’s bottle experience in that we’re creating a retreat for my client to have her own space away from a house of men.
It’s great to create something for a client that reflects their personality and style. She’s very feminine. She loves pretty florals and stripes and we’ll be bringing those into “joinery” (cabinets) with wallpaper and fabric behind glass. There’ll be sofas and ottomans and pretty lighting.


What’s your design philosophy

To create spaces that make people’s lives easier and reflect harmony and personality.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

Strangely, I think because we do everything bespoke, I’m used to odd requests. Two that stand out are:
1) We were asked to soundproof a wardrobe where it backed onto an elevator in an apartment- a little tricky because we already were working with a space that was too shallow but I found a paint on sound insulating product that was just a bit thicker than paint that worked quite well.
2)People get fixated on “a waste of space” such as in corners or when there is extra depth that effectively just makes the space awkward and they want to show how clever it is to use every bit of space, but really it’s not necessarily good design, like secret doors to blocked off spaces.
I always say, “anything can be done. I can draw something that accesses that space (like an access hole into a roof space that they would need to remove items then crawl in through a small door), and show you how clever we can be in theory with electronic conveyors, or tricky little secret doors, but it amounts to design for the sake of it.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

I actually don’t have a favorite. I love and appreciate so many different styles.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

A maid.


Three words that describe your personal style

Boho. Organic. Eclectic.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

At the moment I have a pair of silk corduroy Christian Dior jeans that I got in Florence in a second hand store.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

Not considering enough the height of cabinetry in getting the proportions right.


Wine – red or white



Sue Tinker

Closet Works, Elmhurst Illinois

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I worked in a yarn store, turning my hobby into my job. But when everyone stopped knitting, I needed a new career. I was interested in in-home sales and saw a blind ad in the Washington Post for a “closet designer”. When I went into that California Closets showroom and saw the jewelry drawer, I knew I had found my destiny.


Number of years designing closets

Almost 30 years


Special designations or memberships

I’m getting ready to take the first level certification test via the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals. Does that count?

Five time “Top Shelf Design” Award Winner


Does form follow function or function follow form?

It depends. I always have three goals. 1) Maximize the space 2)Make it a good design and 3)I want it to look good.


What’s your favorite HGTV show? Least favorite and why/

I never watch HGTV.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects.

I designed a closet where the shoes cost more than the closet. It had a lighted island and electronic pull-downs (and still, the shoes cost more than the closet).


What’s your design philosophy

The KISS method (keep it simple). Practical.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

It was literally a closet for the wardrobe of Betsy the Goose. A cement goose. I thought she was kidding.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

Christian Dior – he’s french and amazing. I also love a woman named Iris Apfel (google her). She’s a fashion icon, interior designer and American business woman.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

Plenty of jewelry drawers.


Three words that describe your personal style

Practical. Boring. Sensible.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

My jewelry. All of it.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

Jeez, I’ve made them all. On more than one occasion, letting someone talk me into something against my better judgement. I let them have their fantasy but it was a waste of time and effort.


When it comes to wine – red or white

50/50, though after a recent trip to Italy, I’m favoring Chianti.


Malka Sabroe-JoHanson

R C Cabinets and Closets. Cotati California

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I studied interior design and started working with lighting fixtures. Then worked as an assistant interior designer and repped fabric for 10 years. Then moved from Southern to Northern California and went to work for a closet company in the bay area and loved it immediately. I was 40 something at the time but loved it because it still involved design and it’s very practical.

I also have a degree in law enforcement because I wanted to be a cop in my youth and wanted to work with kids because I, myself, was in foster care. And I pursued this because I felt like I “should”, but wasn’t great at it. At the time interior design seemed frivolous for me but when I discovered cabinetry design and how important the function is, I knew it was right.


Number of years designing closets

25 years


Does form follow function or function follows form?

Form follows function


What’s your favorite HGTV show? Least favorite and why/

What’s HGTV? I don’t have TV.
The only favorite I have is a soap opera because my sister is on it.
I watch Netflix.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects

My most heart warming one is a client of mine who had been a therapist who went into photography.
She used to be very organized but was diagnosed with brain cancer and things got really messy.
She had a home office of mismatched things and she said she wanted built-ins.
I started designing it and I recommended a professional organizer who helped her clean everything out and then we installed this really neat office and helped her get her life back.


What’s your design philosophy

My goal or purpose is maximizing a space being fastidious in detail.
My goal is to transform a clients space to make it as functional as possible and then add beautiful elements.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

We redid a closet that was wall hung because the cat jumped on the shelf and it fell down.

This lady had a small house and she worked for the city and she had a lot of clothes. Too many for this little bungalow house. So they enclosed the attic and she needed storage in there. So you had to go through her closet, up a staircase. I designed that.

Another interesting one – I had a burlesque dancer and she had these tiny weenie garments and we got special hangers and did 5 levels of hanging and we found little clips to put on hangers. I didn’t tell the installers anything about the client because I didn’t want them stalking or gawking.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

I worked as an apprentice for Tom Hamilton, architect. He worked for the high end furniture store Cannell & Chaffin. He did work for Von Maur, Richard Nixon, the Hilton family. He was very traditional. He had lost one eye so it amazes me how great of a designer he was. He wasn’t extravagant, he created incredibly gorgeous homes that are livable and comfortable. He most inspired me to be in design.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

Scarf racks


Three words that describe your personal style

Transitional with an eclectic sense.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet



Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

My biggest thing is that I’m chatting away and I forget measurements so my rule is to have clients look at my portfolio while I focus on their measurements. And I like to do that by myself so I can be focused and fastidious.


When it comes to wine – red or white

Only Silver Oak cabernet (who has been a client). When I told them it was my favorite they gave me a bottle. And the installers get tips in wine. They collect it because they don’t drink much either. I live in wine country but I don’t really drink. Sometimes at 10:00 am clients offer me a glass of wine.


Janet Stevenson

Closet City, Montgomeryville PA

What did you do before you started designing closets?

Worked in corporate america for a fast food chain in their marketing and graphics department.
I was at a point in life where I needed a “rebirth” with the flexibility and the newly emerging closet and storage market could provide.


Number of years designing closets

34 years


Special designations or memberships

Board member of NARI
President elect of the area NARI chapter – Contractor of the Year 6 times
International President of IFDA (International furnishings design association)
Past board member of the ACSP – Registered Storage Designer/Certified Storage designer – one of the members who initiated and created the certification program for the ACSP
5 time Top Shelf Design Award Winner
Industry Partner for ASID
Member of the NKBA


Does form follow function or function follows form?

Totally depends on the project at hand because one could be totally function based and something else has to be so creative in order to have a project that works for the client so that form must be there first.


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

I watch some Property Brothers. Fixer Upper is my favorite because I think Joanna Gaines has such a creative flair that I always love to see her outcome.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects.

The “Her” Dressing room project – it was such a creative challenge and the fact that the homeowner was so excited about her new closet when she said to me that I want to take my girls into my closet and feel like it’s my own personal boutique it opened the floodgates for me to be as creative as possible. I was part of a huge renovation and she said to me that she was more excited about the closet than the kitchen.


What’s your design philosophy

There are no limits!


Most memorable client request – good or bad

A gentleman who wanted to make sure his collection of “videos” could be more easily accessible in his master closet, but discretely hidden….yuck…they were all on his top shelf when I inventoried – not a very comfortable event


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

Architect – Frank Lloyd Wright – before his time in his thoughtful use of space and maximizing every inch to be used artistically.
Clothes designer – Ralph Lauren. Classic. Timeless in most instances….all of my cocktail clothes are Ralph Lauren, actually!


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

A pull out pivoting touch ironing board. I put them in clients closets all the time and can’t figure out a way to get it into my home closet.


Three words that describe your personal style

Current. Edgy. Confident.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

My jewelry because it helps me finish an outfit to represent who you are. And I have a pair of boots that I absolutely love that I wear almost everyday in the winter. I even went out and bought another pair for when the first pair wears out.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

I had a non retractable ball point pen in my hand and I marked the woman’s collar on her shirt in her closet while I was trying to measure. She had borrowed it from her girlfriend and hadn’t returned it and I totally ruined it. I will never have a pen in my hand again that doesn’t click to close.


When it comes to wine – red or white

Both! But Oaky Chardonnay all the way.


Joyce Hardison

Native Oak, Ventura California

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I was actually taking classes in interior design. Then life threw me a curveball and I looked for a job and there was an ad in the classified for Closet World. I sent them a resume’ and they called and asked me to interview and they hired me and put me into training.

I’ve always had my closets done before I was one. When I saw the ad I figured I could do that.


Number of years designing closets



Does form follow function or function follows form?

Form follows function


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

One that gets on my nerves is “Love It or List It” because every show has the same formula and it drives me crazy.

My favorite would be Property Brothers because I love their creativity and their taste.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects.

Most memorable project – Large stained walk in closet in Beverly Hills – had to replicate drawer fronts and doors from an antique piece the client wanted to match. Watched as my cabinetmaker and custom door company worked out my hand drawn design on the computer for his CNC machine. (Side note – Client bought house for 11 million and put another 5 million into remodeling. It was the “haunted house” on American Idol many years ago.)


What’s your design philosophy

To provide my clients with a well thought out design based on their needs and desires, a fair price, a quality product and installation, and to create a long lasting relationship founded on outstanding customer service.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

When I had to design around a horse saddle. They had it on a special stand and I had to design around it because they wanted to keep it in the closet instead of the barn.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

I’m a Frank Gehry fan. I like that he’s so off the wall. His designs are just so incredibly unique. They’re art.
Fashion – Christian Dior. Classic elegance. Timeless.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

A big island with drawers and a wine fridge and espresso machine in it because it would mean I have a lot of space.


Three words that describe your personal style

Classic, Comfortable, Chic


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

My Ralph Lauren jeans


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

Showing a client a closet in a showroom that had backing and not offering back to the client. She complained because there was no backing.


When it comes to wine – red or white

Red. Right now it’s pinot noir.


Angel Martin

Affordable Closets Plus, Bangor Pennsylvania

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I was a pharmaceutical sales rep for about 8 years. When you work in this industry they train their reps in so much detail. That really helped me with working in closet design. And I did a lot of in house learning, customer service, marketing, etc. before actually going out on client appointments.


Number of years designing closets

12 years


Special designations or memberships

ACSP (Association of Closet and Storage Professionals)
Members of AIA
Professional Women in Construction
National Association of Women in Construction


Does form follow function or function follows form?

Form follows function. Aesthetics incorporated, yes, but it needs to work. Then the look follows.


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

I love “Love It or List It”. I love the transformations and how you think your existing home won’t work for you but when you have an expert come in – things could work and you don’t always have to move.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects

There are many – but one of the top had an elevator. It was a conversion of a three car garage, converting one bay into the women’s walk in closet. Now it’s a 2 car garage.
The client takes a shower, then takes an elevator down to her dressing room.
The garage is located below master bedroom. The husband had the vision of this. When we met I was thinking “why are we in the garage. Do you just want cabinets out here?” I wasn’t understanding because the appointment was scheduled for a master walk in closet.
He showed me blue prints of his vision and I was amazed. It’s so unique and exceptional. This one really stands out.
Another cool feature is that when she gets dressed, she doesn’t have to go back upstairs. One of her hanging sections was a door that went right out to her car. It’s amazing.


What’s your design philosophy

It varies. It all goes back to function and then form. My whole thing is listening first and asking questions to see what their needs are. Once I hear that, then I do the questionnaire. THAT’S when I start knowing what the person wants and then I can design it.

Listening. Paying attention to customer needs. Staying on top of trends – whether you use them or not.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

We often get asked for ways to hide their safes. And we keep that private for our customers. But it’s a challenge. We always think of other areas in their home to store it – usually not in the closet.

We’ll also do a double (secret) drawer that has a hidden lock and most people don’t know that the drawer is located there. It’s a great place to keep passports and things like that.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

Frank Lloyd Wright is a favorite.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

Top of the line built in steamer. I don’t like to iron.


Three words that describe your personal style

Modern. Trendy. Classic.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

Jeans – a basic pair of jeans from a big box store.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

I had a client really get to me and I raised my voice. It was a client who was trying to get all this stuff for free in this built in we did for her. I let the client push my buttons and I reacted when I should have been more professional in my response.
She wanted all the add-ons and changes for free. We had given them a great price and still they were pushing, pushing, pushing.
The husband did interject and say “honey – come on. This can’t all be for free”. Still, I’ll never let that kind of thing happen again.


When it comes to wine – red or white

Red. I tried a new one this year and it was delicious – I’m looking at the empty bottle right now – it’s Caymus- Cabernet. And I found this via a wine dispenser we used in a design.


Patty Miller

Direct Cabinet Sales, Dayton New Jersey

What did you do before you started designing closets?

I graduated from college and went straight into work as an interior designer. Gradually moved from North Jersey to Central Jersey and figured a good way to get into the door in a new area was to sell closets for a closet company, which brought me into many homes. After hearing that I’m also an interior designer in addition to being able to design their closets, I got a lot of work from that. That was at a Closet Factory more than twenty years ago.


Number of years designing closets

23 years


Special designations or memberships

ACSP (Association of Closet and Storage Professionals) – Registered Storage Designer


Does form follow function or function follows form?

I’m really 50/50 on that one but for me function follows form.


What’s your favorite/least favorite HGTV show?

Favorite is Chip and Joanna – Fixer Upper because I just love to see how you can take something so broken down and make it a beautiful piece of art and design.


Tell me about one of your favorite projects.

Probably my favorite is one where we added a lot of elements that are not typically found in a custom closet. We had doors upholstered, we used lighting, we used silver leaf paint for accents, we used grey opaque glass on some of the doors, some are mirrored, some are clear glass. It’s two closets – his and hers.
I was really able to use my design skills as opposed to just designing cabinets. It was a full design project.


What’s your design philosophy

You can never ask for too much. Everyone deserves to have the best, most beautiful closet space as well as a practical space.


Most memorable client request – good or bad

I designed a space that incorporated dog housing – the dog was very involved in the design process. We designed a shower and a tub for the dog. A dog den was in the cabinets. A drawer for the dogs toys. An opening with a big bed. Laundry room next to it for a huge sink for dog to be bathed and showered. I even think the dog picked the color. But the dog was on a budget. The dog liked white.


Favorite designer/architect – fashion or furniture or building

I still always love Frank Lloyd Wright. And I also like “less is more” Mies van der Rohe.


If you had your own “dream closet” – what’s the “must have” in it?

Full length beveled mirrored doors so I can see myself and it adds a lot of glamour to a closet.


Three words that describe your personal style

Transitional. Neutral. Glamourous.


What’s your favorite clothing item in your own closet

My vionic sneakers. They mold to your feet and you feel like you’re walking on pillows.


Mistake you remember making that you’ve never made again

Not checking the entryway of a residence. It was too small and we couldn’t get the cabinets into the house.


When it comes to wine – red or white

Red in the winter. White in the summer.
14 Hands is my red favorite.
My white favorite – Sauvignon Blanc.



And there you have it. Ten closet designers from around the world who are rocking and rolling their designs.

I’ve gotta say that creating this piece, talking with these artists, has been a really fun project. So much so that I’ll probably do again next year. So stay tuned.

And if you really want to “stay tuned” – you can get a free digital download of my book “The Consumer Guide To Closet Design” by clicking the link below.



I’m one of those freaks that actually does a digital dance (meaning I share online) when I find great design.

Great design inspires me.

It also motivates me to do better work.

And as a NEOCON addict, KBIS presenter and judge for the Top Shelf Design Awards as well as blogger-extraordinaire, I get to experience a lot of great design (thank heaven!).

So what does it take to create award-winning designs?

Three Things:

  1. Passion. Michael Jordan didn’t title his book “For the Love of the Game” just for fun. And he didn’t win five national championships “just for fun” either. A passion for the game you’re playing (in this case – design) is a key factor. If you just enjoy selling closets or cabinets you will do well, but you’re not likely to carry the title of “award-winning designer”.
  2. Space Planning. You need to have (and continue to learn) space planning expertise. Whether that space is in the kitchen, the home office or the bedroom closet, the better you are at planning that space for functionality and beauty, the better the results.
  3. Cooperative Clients. Stop moaning. They’re out there. And they’ve been waiting for you to show up with your creative genius to translate their drab space into dream space. If you communicate clearly from the beginning, you can determine which clients fall into the “cooperative” category and take their project to new heights.

What I mean by this is not just that your client is polite and answers your questions and pays you on time. What I mean by this version of “cooperative” is that they’re open to designing beyond the box. They’re open to accessories, color, embellishments, and add-ons that make their space not only more functional, but more beautiful.


I’m Denise Butchko, an award-winning design consultant who teaches closet design and who also works with companies in the design/build industries to leverage their brand and marketing efforts. If you’d like a free sampling of some tips and insights, register here:


How To Become A Closet Designer


Closet design is a really fun and fascinating career. One that most people aren’t aware of as an option, nor are they aware that you can make great money designing and selling closets.

white walk in closet
White Walk In Custom Closet


It’s a field that has roots in California, with Neil Balter and Eric Marshall creating and installing the first “Double Hang”, “Long Hang” and “Shoe Shelf” systems for what is now California Closets.


Yet it still has elements of a cottage industry. Eighty percent of closet companies in the US are small businesses that have revenues under a million dollars a year. Some manufacture and install their own components. Others buy from distributors and install.


But when it comes to the “design” part of closets – it’s a very left brain AND right brain discipline.


The left brain involves the measuring, math and space planning, along with the sense of how structure will fit into tight space and be able to function properly. And have structural integrity. There always has to be structural integrity.


The right brain is the connection to clients in one of the most intimate environments in the home – the bedroom closet. You have to develop trust, a great rapport, ask great questions, understand design and be able to convey that to a client. Woosh.


So what are your options if you’re somehow led to a career in closet design?

What skills do you need?

How can you become successful?




Let’s start with your options

You can approach a large closet company like California Closets or Closet Factory who has a local franchise/dealership in your market. Companies this size often have in-house training programs.

Should you go through the interview process and get a job offer, they will set up and coordinate training for you. They often have a sales/design/installation manual and will also set you up to shadow other design team members on sales calls. Some provide a mentor from the design team for a certain amount of time who you can access with questions.


A second option is to approach a smaller local company to see if they’d be interested in adding a member to their closet design and sales team.


These companies tend to have less formal training. You’ll likely work alongside the owner, who will be pretty hands-on in teaching you their systems, design solution preferences and sales procedures.

Lighted Jewelry Drawers
Lighted Jewelry Drawers


With any luck, they’ve got at least some kind of design and procedure manual that you can start with. If not, consider enrolling in Closet Design 101 –


Left Brain/Right Brain Closet Design


The analytical side of your brain is as important as the emotional side of your brain when you’re a closet designer.


Accurate measurements are a key to success. And you need to be able to measure very wide and very high spaces as well as all kinds of obstacles, including steam units, access panels, wall outlets and all kinds of other things that builders tend to put into closet space.


You also need an awareness of what will be involved to get the job installed. Things like will the materials fit into the building elevator or is special cutting or drilling required? They all affect price and customer satisfaction.


The more emotional, right brain side of you will need to be comfortable with discussing a range of things like where people put their underwear to how to incorporate the latest design trends into a closet space.


Sell! Sell! Sell!


The love of consultative selling is a big part of being a closet designer. The job involves much more than just figuring out an effectively designed space.


You need to be comfortable with communicating the benefits of this home improvement, which involves project pricing (more than one reach in closet) that typically starts at $1500 and quickly rises from there.


And it’s a predominantly commission-based career. Designers receive a percentage of the job totals that they sell. Averages are around 10%, but can include bonuses for high monthly sales or bringing in your own customers.


Most average closet designers end up with annual compensation in the $30,000 – $40,000 range in smaller markets. Higher in place like Chicago if they’re any good. Yet it’s not unusual to build a client base over time that brings in over $100,000 per year. To reach that level you need time, consistency and the ability to ask, ask, ask.



Angled Shoe Shelves
Angled Shoe Shelves

Getting a handle on well-designed closet space is not as quick of a learning curve as it used to be. It’s become much more complex in the last decade as awareness has increased (thank you Modern Family and Kardashian Family) as has the technology to create better looking materials and accessories.


And requests from clients for custom things also continues to rise. My advice on this is to develop your expertise and don’t over promise. As you learn more and more, you’ll begin to understand what’s involved in custom requests.  And you’ll start to see why they can quickly cost more than their return on the investment (or more than the client wants to invest in the project).


Anyone with melamine and a drill can install “custom closets”. My goal is to elevate the professionalism in this industry so we’re all creating effectively designed, functional and beautiful closet spaces. I invite you to join me. You can start here by getting my five favorite closet design tips –

Denise Butchko is a festive, design focused practitioner and teacher who works within the Design/Build niche’.As a collaborator with designers and architects, she merges design skills (designing closets and home offices) and marketing skills, for messaging and methodologies that are laser focused. Find out more at


To find out more about closet design training – here’s some additional info on that:


walk in closet, wood closet, closet design

I embarked upon a closet design career in a very haphazardly specific way. I was working as an image consultant when I moved to Chicago and figured out there was real opportunity in actually designing the closet instead of (or in addition to) shopping for the client.

I began my career at Closet Works in Chicago, at the time a company with several million dollars per year in annual sales. I went from there to a smaller custom shop where I was able to learn about selling and designing with wood and staining and cabinetry options.


Here are the top three things I learned:

1- There’s tremendous value in designing with the right depth.

Most millwork shops and cabinet makers design closets that are 24” deep. They don’t have an awareness of the value good closet design can bring to a project. And the value isn’t just in space planning, it’s in dollars. When you’ve been trained to appreciate that shoes work best on shelves that are 12 or 14” deep and folded items work best on 16” depth, you don’t make everything a standard 24” deep. It sounds simple enough, yet making things in depths that match the items being stored increases the level of functionality by about 100%, if not more.

Another way you can work with depth is in budgeting and space planning. If you’re tight on space (as most closets are), you know where dimensions can be smaller and still functional. And you know when to adjust depths (say 24”deep drawers down to 16” deep drawers) to save dollars.


2- When we’re talking about “backing”, we’re not referring to the money an investor has put up to help fund our business venture


Wood walk in closet

Standard industry practice for closet design and fabrication is not to use any kind of “backing” for the systems. Panels are typically attached to the wall. There is no backing. It’s very functional and efficient.

With millwork, everything is a box. It all has backing as standard industry practice.


The takeaway here is that there are appropriate scenarios for both. However, if you’re a cabinet maker with no closet design experience and you’ve been asked to design and price a closet, you don’t know how to sell the benefits of a panel and shelf system, or even, necessarily, where to specify each to maximize the clients budget.

wood walk in closet

Wood Walk In Closet showing inside of cabinetry


If you’re a closet manufacturer, you frequently think that a closet design by a millworker is over kill. You can easily beat them on the pricing issue. But if a client has involved a millworker in their project, it’s probably a higher end project that merits assessing how to design a solution that incorporates the design-heavy, aspirational dreams of the client.


And many times that involves not only backing, but boxes.

3 – I figured out how to design hybrids


wood and melamine closet

Hybrid closet with combination of melamine and mahogany wood

I’m not saying I’m the first person ever to figure out how to design what I like to call a “hybrid”. A hybrid is a combination of melamine and wood.


If you have finishing/staining capabilities, you can select your most popular melamine wood tone colors and figure out an appropriate wood and stain match.


Then, by properly designing the space, you can get the effect of a wood closet for a much more budget friendly price.


Design elements to give serious consideration to are things like:

-Are there end panels that will be fully visible in the closet?

-Are clients wanting crown or base molding?

-Will there be any open countertops?


These issues complicate this approach because wood grains start moving in different directions and you now are viewing two different, mixed materials on many different visual planes.

I avoid doing hybrids in these scenarios. They become more of a headache than a money saver. And they are a definite time suck.

Interested in a few more closet design tips? You can download my top five favorites here:

Social Media Marketing Required.


That’s the “state of design” message that dominated this 2-day design lovers event at the Merchandise Mart, even though there was plenty of design education, discussion, sharing and designer cocktails (Hibiscus and English Tea infused vodka) all around.

Amongst the designer teams from Italy to the English color experts were the NYC digital marketing professionals. And all were accompanied by video cameras and Facebook live streaming, topped off by Instagram posts and Tweets galore.

I noticed that every session related to marketing not only filled all the available seats, but had standing room only attendees filling out the rest of the showroom space.

It seems that mainstream understanding and integration have finally reached critical mass.

Bottom line is that you won’t be effective using old world marketing techniques even if old world antiques are still the passions of your client base.

Effective social media marketing is the linchpin to staying relevant and growing and branding your business.

So here’s a fun stat for you – 93% of people over the age of 35 are on Facebook.

Process that for a moment.

Then look me in the eye and tell me you see no business value in Facebook and that your audience isn’t there.

If, however, you already get that and you’re using (or have tried using) social media to market your business and ended up in the land of confusion and ineffectiveness, the following insights should clarify a few things.

Boiled down, there are really three ways to to categorize your approach to marketing.

Director of Digital for Sandow Publications,  Pam McNally, breaks it out this way:

1)Digital Marketing Companies

A “comprehensive” marketing company that supposedly can do it all. Make sure you test their social media management skills and ask for references regarding social media.


2)Content Marketing Companies

These companies put blogging at the core of their strategy. Content is king and social media are platforms for distribution. Test their social media management skills and ask for references specific to social expertise.

I would add that email marketing is part of that core blogging concept. Don’t just settle for “curated content” and automated posting. Choosing that method for execution is not going to yield you any success.


3)Social Media Marketing

This is probably what you’re looking for if your only focus is managing and distributing the content creation that you’ve already mastered.

I know very few companies in the design/build niche’ that have the art and science of generating great content mastered.

Truth is that things are way too sophisticated now to just put out “crap content”. You have to create and share things that you, yourself, would find clickable. If you’d scroll right over it in your feeds, other people are likely to do the same thing.

So this all begs the question – do you take this on internally or do you outsource?

In either case, you should know your goals and which metrics are relevant and appropriate for you to measure.

If you’re outsourcing, I would want to know what experience the agency has in your industry. Do they speak your language and understand your processes. Also, how often will they update you with information and progress and will one of their employees be doing the work or do they outsource the tasks.

So it seems “Design Chicago”, or design anywhere, goes beyond measurements and material specifications. What’s integral to selling your design work is marketing it.

And marketing it effectively involves social media.

And to end the day on a high note, one of the rock stars of the design industry, Julia Buckingham (Bucking I+D), launched her book “Modernique”. Of course I had to get my own signed copy. And my own “selfie” with her. Not just because I admire the holy heavens out of the design work she does, but because hey, it’s good marketing.

Toasting “Modernique” with author and designer Julia Buckingham


Color affects almost everything in my life.

My mood.

My choices.

Even my thoughts.

I’m not about “the little black dress” or the “crisp white blouse”. In fact, in my closet, neither of those items exist.

There are colors that I gravitate towards (in fact, people close to me could rattle off the top 3 without giving it a second thought). But that doesn’t mean that I only find those palettes appealing.

I love seeing what’s coming in color trends and how I can incorporate some of them into my life – and into my closet.

Here’s what I see trending as I wander through the city nearest to my heart – Chicago!


Metallics are still charging ahead.

They’ve gone from “trendy” options to foundational options, which, quite frankly, I love. And I have loved for decades. My wardrobe neutrals are brushed silver/grey tones and softened copper tones. Way jazzier and expressive than black.

Edgier Hues

The power of pink goes beyond “Pink” the entertainer, but performs in the same powerful way that Pink does when she’s on stage.

And the color is moving towards being accepted as “gender neutral”. That means that my godchild (Hey Cody!) can feel confident wearing the very on trend shirt I gave him that is totally pink. Now if I could just get him to shave the beard and mustache…

Pink Has a Sister – Mauve

Banish the image in your head of the 80’s Mauve Mother-of-the-Bride dress. Because while mauve feels like “an old” color, it’s also new. You can clearly see both in this photo of a Marshall Field’s (I know, it’s Macy’s. I don’t care) floor that has mauve stone installed during the 80’s and how it meshes with the latest clothing display featuring Mauve.

And we can update the mauve not only by pairing it with brass or rose gold, but add some texture for a reptilian win on a gorgeous handbag.

Blue is Still Big

Yes, blue is still everywhere. And I’m ok with that. It’s showing brighter and more geometric.

In its softer shades, it pairs wonderfully with brass (I know, brass!). Brass started to first reveal itself in 2013 at KBIS. Now it’s major mainstream.


Ed Sheeran references aside (I’m obsessed with “Castle On The Hill”) technology has allowed sheer clothing to make amazing strides.

We’re seeing all kinds of looks that have intricate detail or strategically placed cut-outs that create looks we’ve not been able to wear before.

So, do you see anything you like?

Any favorite that you just feel compelled to bring into your closet?

I hope so, because fashion can be so much fun.

Yet I don’t want you just stuffing your closets full of clothing. Well designed closet space changes lives.

Interested in my best design tips for designing great closet spaces? Check them out here –

You may have already heard that cabinets made a really big showing during Design and Construction Week 2017 (aka KBIS and IBS). And even if you haven’t, that translates to closets being included in many of those cabinet displays.

The takeaway is that closets continue to be on the leading edge of higher end design. All kinds of companies, lots of them European, have incorporated a closet line into their offerings. And many are “repping”, and not manufacturing, the products.

The most dominant elements are 24” deep panels and modern looks that resemble Poliform or have backing and brackets that support the sections.
So if you’re speaking with client and they want their closet to look “just like this one”, be sure you’re designing a comparable system (versus a 14” deep, 84” high system).

A European look for closets
Hans Krug Closets at KBIS











One of the companies I noticed this year is Hans Krug, a fine European cabinetry line with US locations in New York, Seattle and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hanak is actually the manufacturer and Hans Krug reps their product in the US.
I also saw another really interesting company named Velart out of Florida. They have these incredible closet systems that look like leather and according to the rep I spoke with, pricing seems reasonable. They highlighted their ability to do designs (not appealing to me, I’m a designer, but I digress).

Velart Closet Island
Velart Closet Island
More from Velart Closets at KBIS



So we’ll head to hardware.


It started showing up three years ago in the United States and is now going full force. And that’s shades of gold (though we’re still seeing shades of grey in cabinets)  My first reaction in 2015 was similar to the thought of resurrecting avocado appliances (yuck). But as it has evolved, it has grown on me. The golds and brass aren’t the same as they were in the 90’s. They’re warmer or they’re coated with a layer of antiquing or they’re rose gold. And rose gold against greys and blues looks fantastic. Northern Contours showed an example here:










And Wisdom Stone knobs and pulls showed the most unique and  best priced bling I’ve seen – as they would say – dazzling adornments for your home. They had some unique spins on the warm golds. A little art deco, a little contemporary. All attractive. If you’d like some closet design tips – click here to get my five favorites –

Wisdom Stone Grouping

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Can I interest you in a house that responds intuitively to your needs (so, probably better than your spouse, kids or partner), provides movable walls and storage and even a “smart closet”?

That’s the experience the team at Virginia Tech (Center for Design Research) provided at Design and Construction Week 2017 in Orlando.

The idea behind futreHAUS is to show how digital technologies, cutting edge products, and smart building design will unite to make our bedrooms and home offices more responsive to our future needs and way of living.

The concepts modeled in FutureHAUS can be used to build homes that intuitively respond to the needs of everyone from millennials and centennials to the aging and housebound – allowing people to live better and more sustainably.

The Virginia Tech’s student faculty research team has created rooms that demonstrate how advanced technologies and appliances can be seamlessly integrated in our homes using a modular style of building. The prototype features products from over 25 industry partners, including California Closets, which provided design expertise to maximize function and aesthetics.

The three aspects of this experiential prototype that most closely relate to our industries are Flex Space, Smart Closet and Wardrobe and Laundry.

Here’s a personal, 360 video view as I’m standing inside the space:

(Click on the image to view the video)

Flex Space includes movable walls that enable occupants to adjust living spaces for different activities and times of day. The closet conveniently expands to include a sitting room, dressing room, and laundry room, or contracts to create extra space in the bedroom or office. If an extra guest bedroom is needed, the office wall converts into a Murphy bed with a simple gesture or voice command.

The Smart Closet and Wardrobe include a smart mirror touchscreen that enables users to quickly find and select items in their wardrobe to be delivered on demand. The dress room wardrobe has self-opening drawers and an automated clothing carousel. Tiny RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in the clothes that enable the smart closet to scan and locate items – ensuring you’ll never lose a sock again. And all designed by California Closets.

The two photos below are an “open” and “closed” visual of cabinetry that’s cleverly designed so it’s not two even boxes with an expected opening. They’ve varied the height of the doors and storage sections to make for a really interesting design twist.

futureHAUS cabinet open


futureHAUS cabinet closed























And then, here’s a more “overall” photo to help you get a better sense of the cabinet designs:

While this has a romantic, futuristic notion of how we’ll get dressed in the future, I’m not convinced it will be a first choice amongst fashionistas who tend to invest in high end custom closets. There’s joy in the process of putting together outfits that I think outweighs the technology of selection.

The Laundry Room can be easily hidden or exposed by moving the closet space – a convenient feature for minimizing noise and keeping the laundry out of sight. Additional accessories, such as a folding station and ironing board enhance the function of the space, but tuck away when not in use.

And here’s a video that gives you a better “tour” of the space:


Drive In Closet – You want fries with that?????

Probably not if you’re Jennifer Aniston, who recently filed documents with the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department to convert her garage into a closet.

I’m not so sure you’ll be able to drive in anymore, that would be a silly thing from both a fashion perspective as well as a space perspective. But it sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Aniston is reportedly investing $60,000 in the project. That’s about 12 times what the average walk in closet costs, so I’m thinking she should spend a little more :-)Let’s do a real dream closet here and amp it up to the six figure mark.

It also seems to me that there will be a lot of construction work involved in preparing the space for the closet structure. Because hey, no matter how cool stained concrete is, I wouldn’t recommend it for the flooring of your dream, boutique style walk in closets. Face it, even in sunny California, your tootsies would get cold.

Documenting the process would be a hoot. Seeing the transformation from the Henry Ford automobiles to the Tom Ford couture garments. Watching the Italian leather referenced so often in luxury cars now be directed towards Gucci shoes.

CelebTV talks about Jennifer Aniston converting her garage to a closet.

CelebTV talks about Jennifer Aniston converting her garage to a closet.

Ahhhhhh………it’s a good life. Call me Jen. I can design you a better closet than anyone else out there.

It’s not often that I sit through a presentation without taking notes and thinking about how I can share the highlights with people. I have journalist genes in my jeans.

But I was so inspired the other night at  Casa Spazio in Chicago by the panel sharing insights and design trends from Salone Internazionale de mobile (The Milan show of modern design) that I went into sponge mode and just took it all in.

With insights from global traveler businessman Marco van velsen of Former (a furniture manufacturer in Italy) and Scott Dresner of Dresner Design in Chicago here are the highlights of what they saw as trends and what I see as inspiring and exciting:

Space Saving Solutions:
I almost have to sing this one! I’ve been aware of the brilliant creations of a company named Clei for a few years now. Their brilliance seems to be continuing. There isn’t much that makes me happier than well designed, functional space. This niche’ is only going to get bigger and better as our homes get smaller and smaller.

Check out this desk that folds into a shelf

Check out this desk that folds into a shelf

From “fashion” to “furniture”. This something that I love following, since furniture and home decor are the “fashion” for your dwelling while “fashion” is the decor for your physical body.

Color translates.

Textures and adornments translate.

Line and design translate.

The most straight forward example is yellow showing up as “the IT color” (according to Scott Dresner).

Yellow is the IT color

Yellow is the IT color

Integrating function and “hiding” things were also mentioned as strong trends, and ones highly relate-able to cabinetry and closets. There were lots of kitchens showing the tables actually integrated into the space and designs and others that had the tables “disappearing” as they slid into hiding spaces when not in use. Also shown were “hidden” appliances that could be revealed and accessed when needed.

Tables integrated into space and design

Tables integrated into space and design


More Hide and Seek as appliances are kept out of sight until needed.

More Hide and Seek as appliances are kept out of sight until needed.

Wood – Renewed. This interesting terminology shared by Dresner is different from “reclaimed”. It’s taking wood that is not necessarily recycled or being “re-used” but has different coloring than what we’ve been seeing the last several years. Featured were more medium wood tones, more grain and texture and changing grain directions within the same space.

Medium toned, highly textured wood

Medium toned, highly textured wood

Additional trends that our experts noted were extremely innovative design and use of materials (like an onyx couch), the return of wardrobes to store clothing items and thin counter tops.

A special thanks goes out to the River North Design District for sponsoring this inspiring event.



So it really does seem like a picture paints even more than a thousand words.

And that stat, which comes from Forrester Research, gives me pause. It would take me much longer to write that much content than it takes me to create it with video.

That’s a lot of words. And regardless of how prolific you are with the pen, most of it won’t get read.

People are “watching” things these days. Looking at lots of pictures. Swiping their devices for something that will catch their attention.

And their attention spans are short, so you better be both good and fast and getting that attention and then getting them (eventually) in to action.

So how do you do that? How do you catch their attention?

Video is a wonderfully effective tool for achieving that goal.

In fact, according to ComScore, a company that measures online video marketing and use, says that people are exposed to an average of 32 videos a month.

And video does not have to be big production. It can be. But there are also tools like Animoto that can help you use pictures and words to create a video.


You can also use a screen recording tool like Screenflow or Go To Meeting and create videos right from your desktop.

Then there’s your phone. A tool you almost always have with you. Take some quick footage of your projects in a more casual, storytelling way and share on your social platforms.

And if you would like to learn more specifics and how to’s, you can access the video with this link:


video marketing

Importance of video in marketing

It’s a FREE ON DEMAND session that is packed with great tips and info to help you understand more about how and why to use video as a tool for marketing your business.