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The History of Closets…

.. albeit a seriously abridged one!

Closet design

A modern Closet with double hang, shelves and baskets – design created with CCDS Image Design Software

The word ‘Closet’ has been around quite a while, if you include some corruptions of it!  Mostly supposed to be from the Latin “Clausum” (for ‘closed’), and via the French ‘closet’ (pronounced .. “cloz-eh”), it has been a recognized word since the 17th Century.   Originally, a ‘Closet’ was a term for a small room, private in nature, which would be adjacent to the bedroom and where people could go to read or enjoy works of art in private.  Some of these rooms were quite large, and all were exclusively the domain of the wealthy.

An old fashioned wardrobe

A typical wardrobe


It seems that in Colonial times, the British slapped a special tax on private rooms as described above, and rooms dedicated to Storing clothes and “stuff” in general, mostly to bolster the coffers … a mindset that seemingly has survived in-tact with the British Govt. right up to the present day!  Perhaps not good to dwell on that aspect, though!

Stepping into the time machine to a more modern era, these rooms have morphed into areas used for general storage and clothing.   Given the space constraints in the UK, dedicated rooms for clothing were simply non-existent for the vast majority of population, and the “Wardrobe” came into being.



In the United States, built-in wall closets were uncommon, and where they did exist, they tended to be small and shallow.  Following World War II, deeper, more generously sized closets were introduced to new housing, which proved to be very attractive to buyers. It has been remarked that the closet could well have been one of several major factors in the migration to the suburbs in that era!

Figuratively, a closet has been a place where one hides things, as in the adage “having a skeleton in one’s closet”, which has become a figure of speech for having particularly sensitive secrets.   Psychologically, bedroom closets are also the center of many childhood fears.  Children fear during the night that a monster or any other disturbing creature hides inside the closet, and is destined to frighten the child. The “Bogeyman” is one prominent example, and there is a common theme present in certain films. In the original Poltergeist movie, the closet was where the ghosts hid. As well as this, the “monster in the closet” fear was developed with entertaining action in the animated film Monsters, Inc.

Nowadays closets abound, and have special names designating their function in the home … Utility Closet; Linen Closet; Coat Closet; Walk-in Closet for larger closets, and in a sort of homage to days gone by, the “Mud Room” has recently become popular in larger homes.

Some interesting mile-stones along the way are worth a look

Wealthier Apartments

 1880’s… Apartments for the wealthy…

Construction begins on the ‘Dakota’ building, a luxury building designed to lure wealthy New Yorkers from their town houses and convince them that apartment living was not solely the province of the middle and working classes.  Closets were small by today’s standards, but it was a start.


1930’s… Big Closet Living


The opening of 740 Park Avenue takes Manhattan real estate to a new level, giving a small group of elite New Yorkers an early taste of big-closet living. The master bedroom closets reputedly had built-in electrical outlets, built-in shoe shelves, and every apartment contained a locking cedar closet.


1950’s… Walk-in Closets

Walk-in closet

Wider and deeper floor plates gave architects more space to work with, and not just in luxury buildings.  Larger, and even walk-in closets became increasingly popular.  From this decade, buildings of the era did not force residents to depend solely on wardrobes.


1978… California Closets


In this year, an enterprising teenager and recent high school graduate Neil Balter started out building shelves in closets while working as a handyman and carpenter.  “I had the aha moment that this could be a business,” he has said.  He ultimately sold his interest in the company in 1990, and the rest is history to those of us in the business.  On a personal note, California Closets sponsored my Green Card application in the mid Nineties, which gave me my start in the Closet business in the United States!

Mariah Carey and Barbara Walters

2006 – Mariah Carey’s Closet


Mariah Carey appeared with Barbara Walters on “20/20” in the sprawling closet of her TriBeCa triplex, helping to popularize the fantasy of the ‘boutique-closet’.


2008 – “Sex in the City” Proposal

…. saw the proposal America had been waiting for … Mr. Big’s, to Carrie Bradshaw … takes place in a walk-in closet, in the “Sex and the City” movie.


2009 – Fewer Apartments : More Closets


An early blueprint for the Emerald Green development on West 38th Street, with one more apartment per floor, was abandoned in favor of a plan that allowed for fewer apartments with more and bigger closets.


Gramercy Park Closets2012 – Gramercy Park Closets


Zeckendorf Development hires the high-end closet design company ‘Clos-ette’ to outfit the model apartments at 18 Gramercy Park.  An early rendition is on the right.





So… what’s your closet looking like right now?

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