Here’s a quick, one-question StyleBlueprint poll: When you hear the word “closet,” what’s the first word that comes to mind?

For most of us, it probably isn’t “beautiful” or “stylish” or “relaxing.” In fact, we’re guessing that for most women, the word closet conjures up a negative feeling. For me, that feeling is “claustrophobia.” My closet is so packed with clothes, shoes, bags, jewelry and random bits of life that it literally feels like there’s not enough air in there.

Closet 101: Make Your Closet a Happy Place

Do you fear your closet, or love it? We’re here to help you make sure your answer is, “OMG, my closet is awesome!”

There’s a better way to live, ladies! Today we’re joined by Memphis designer Jenna Wallis of Jenna Wallis Interior Design, who treats closet design with the same TLC and editor’s eye she gives every other space in the house. And that’s because she knows good, thoughtful design can make life easier, increase our well-being and generally make us happier people.

All that from a closet? Take one look at hers and you’ll know the answer is yes.

Closet 101: Personality, Baby

Interior designer Jenna Wallis combines all the things she loves in her master closet … a retreat that’s all hers.

“I think your closet should be a retreat,” says Jenna, who sometimes heads to hers just to take a quick, quiet breath away from the day-to-day frenzy of organizing a household, running a business and raising a family. “I made mine very feminine because I live in a house full of boys. This is my peaceful retreat.”

When approaching closet design, whether her own or a client’s, Jenna holds two considerations above all others: One, in a small space, details are very important. Handle them wisely. And two, a closet is personal – maybe the most personal space in the house. For that reason, it should absolutely reflect the taste, loves and lifestyle of its owner. “Different people have different wants and needs,” Jenna says. “For closet design, I try to tailor it to the person’s personality.”

In other words, it’s fine to pin pics and j’adore the super-glam closet of your favorite celeb, but if you’re more of a sundress-and-cowboy boots kind of girl, own it. Your closet should look like you and contain what YOU love, not what you think you’re supposed to like. And just a hint: If you’re crazy about a certain color, style or pattern but your closet doesn’t have an inch of space to spare, put a swatch of it on the ceiling or on one key wall! Not only does it bring a dose of daily happiness, but since it’s such a small area, it also won’t break the bank.

Closet 101: Punch of Color

A subtle blush of petal pink gives this space pizzazz and speaks volumes about its owner.

Closet 101: Think Detail

Pretty knobs and pulls are another way to customize your closet and dress up your design without spending a lot of cash money.

As for those other details, pay attention to how you use the space. What’s currently not working? How do you want your closet to function on a daily basis? Know the answers to these questions before you change a thing. “I treat a closet to the Nth degree of detail, the same as I do for a kitchen,” Jenna says. “I think the details are so important.” Here are her eight great closet makeover tips:

Tip #1: Make sure it screams “YOU!”

“A closet should reflect the person you’re designing it for,” Jenna emphasizes. “And it’s a great place to take your personality and blow it up.” This means thinking about your needs and paying attention to your lifestyle. Are you formal? Casual? Always in a rush? Adds Jenna, “Closet design should be very well thought-out.”

Closet 101: You Do You

Jenna loves color and she’s all girl, and her closet shows it. With one look at your closet, anybody who’s paying attention should be able to “get you.”

Tip #2: Customize your storage.

This is a big one. Whether your resources for a closet makeover are vast or teeny, local home improvement stores offer storage solutions for all types of needs and budgets. Jenna recommends varying up your storage solutions based on what you’re storing. Again, think about YOUR needs. In her case, she opted for a mix of shelves, drawers and baskets – even a hat rack. “I think shoe display is really important,” Jenna adds. “I recommend adjustable shelves, and I’m really into boot inserts to hold your boots up and help preserve them. We ordered them online.”

Here are a few storage elements she highly recommends:

  • Short and full-length hanging space
  • Open shelving up top for large items, like bags and hat boxes
  • Built-in drawers
  • Shelves for folded clothes
  • Baskets for hiding clutter, such as gloves, baseball caps, etc.
  • Small-storage area or compartments for jewelry, cuff links, etc.
  • And, of course, built-in shoe storage that’s customizable for the seasons

“It’s nice to change out your summer and winter shoes if your closet’s not big enough to hold all four seasons,” she says. “Summer sandals don’t take up as much room as boots, so I change things around a little bit.”

Closet 101: Special Storage

High shelves are great for storing oversized bags and special pieces you don’t use every day.

Closet 101: Special Storage

What’s the secret to getting your boots to stand up straight? Boot inserts! You can buy them online.

Closet 101: Special Storage

Adjustable shelves are great, especially when it comes to storing seasonal shoes. Loafers take up a lot less room than boots.

Tip #3: Treat your wardrobe well.

“You’re spending money on your clothes, and they should last,” Jenna says. “Your clothes are an investment, and you should take care of that investment, especially if they’re classics. You’ll have them forever.” Jenna folds items like jeans, tees and cashmere sweaters and stores them neatly on shelves – think high-end boutique. As for hanging items, she’s a big advocate of wooden hangers.

Closet 101: Protect Your Investment

Wood shoe forms keep these men’s loafers in top form. But really, we just wanted to prove that blue suede shoes really do exist in Memphis!

Tip #4: Include a place to perch.

“If you have room, I think it’s important to have either a chair or ottoman in the closet,” Jenna says. “A place to sit and relax and kind of escape, and let it be your retreat. I think it’s nice to have that kind of hideaway.” It also comes in handy as a shoe perch. And if your closet has the space, she recommends adding a sit-down vanity. “Some people use their closets for hair, makeup, the whole nine yards.”

Closet 101: Place to Perch

If you have the space, a chair is a small piece that packs a big design punch. Plus, it’s super-important for function.

Tip #5: Consider lighting.

Windows in closets are rare, but your closet shouldn’t resemble a cave. “Lighting is just as important here as it is anywhere else in the house,” Jenna says. “I have can lights, and I also have a mirrored chandelier that has some personality. And I have picture lights above my shoes.” She recommends three different light sources: general, task and accent. “This is one way to treat your closet as a special space.”

Closet 101: Layer Your Lighting

A pretty chandelier can fit inside almost any walk-in closet.

Closet 101: Layer Your Lighting

Picture lights showcase shoes and bags as the art forms we know them to be.

Closet 101: Layer Your Lighting

An antique cart, a family heirloom, offers a spot for a fun table lamp.

Tip #7: Surround yourself with things you love

This means more than paring down your wardrobe, though you might want to do that, too. Jenna sees closets as a great spot to showcase collections — especially items close to your heart. “I have my great aunt’s hat collection,” she says. “They’re from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. If you have a perfume collection, it’s nice to incorporate that in the design, or anything that you might collect. For instance, antique pins. You could frame them and display them in your closet.”

Closet 101: Collections

The same antique cart serves as the perfect spot for Jenna to display a set of three handbags she brought home from Hong Kong.

Tip #8: Distinguish “his” from “hers.”

Even if you don’t have the luxury of separate closets for you and your housemate, there are tips you can use to distinguish your shared space. In her home’s separate his-and-hers closets, Jenna gives each space its own character using color. Her closet features pink-and-white wallpaper that fits her personality. In husband Ed’s closet, blue accents give the space a more masculine feel. But the design details get plenty of attention in both. “And in talking about hangers, I did all white wood for my hangers and dark wood for his,” she says. “It’s kind of nice to have that separation.”

Closet 101: His-and-Hers

Specialized storage keeps Ed Wallis’ ties within easy reach.

Closet 101: His-and-Hers

Different person, different storage solutions. Blue and white baskets keep clutter at bay and add a masculine touch.

Closet 101: His-and-Hers

Watches, cuff links, pocket squares … Ed has his own storage needs, and Jenna didn’t neglect the details in his space, either.

Tip #8: If you can, add some extras.

From glass or mirrored door fronts to keyless entry systems, the sky’s the limit in high-end closet design. “I love mine, but you can also take it to the next level,” Jenna says. She recommends wiring your space for sound, especially if you use your closet as a dressing room and vanity. “It’s nice to incorporate music when you’re getting ready,” she says.

Closet 101: Details, Details

It’s the extras that make a space really special … and that rule extends to the closet.

Great design doesn’t have to stop at the closet door, and your closet doesn’t have to be a source of stress! Use these tips to turn your closet into more than a spot to hang clothes. It can literally be your happy place!

A special thanks to Julie Wage Ross for today’s amazing photos! Want to see more beautiful spaces? Check out our StyleBlueprint’s Interior Design page.

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