Clever closets

Friday, April 20, 2001 at 1:00am

I have a thing for closets. My first art "studio" when I was a little girl was in a hallway closet. I love closets that have a little mystery about them -- the kind where you never quite know what's in the back, where you can dig out some wonderful forgotten dress or tablecloth, your old school uniform, a box of family photos.

But it's undeniably true that an organized closet can save you time and also open up possibilities for decorating. To find out some quick ways of getting my act together, I spoke with Odette Lueck, FASID, an interior designer who practices in Oakland, Md.

Odette does closets. She's turned entire bedrooms into closets, an especially popular practice with empty-nesters. In one case, on a room right off a hallway, she cut down the hallway walls so that they didn't actually extend to the ceiling. Not only did this make the new closet more interesting architecturally, but it combated the sense of enclosure and let in more light.

There are lots of bells and whistles you can add to closets, says Odette. Mirrors, of course. And double-hanging rods to accommodate short items like blouses and longer clothing like slacks. Plenty of shelving is handy -- but not too deep, as Odette points out, so that there's no wasted space and you can actually access what's in there. "Drawers with Plexiglas or translucent fronts are wonderful, since you can see the contents."

Then there's the "shoe issue." Odette spends a lot of time on this one. "It's very personal," she says. "Many women like to store them in boxes. Since it only takes four inches for a box, you can have a lot of very narrow shelves. I had one client who laminated photographs of her shoes onto the ends of the boxes for instant identification."

If the prospect of hanging all those purses, belts, ties and scarves seems overwhelming, look for interesting hardware, advises Odette. From my own experience, I know that there are lots of fun vintage hooks, tie racks and hat stands in secondhand shops just waiting to be discovered. To give my closets a little atmosphere, I'm also inspired to look for out-of-the-ordinary portable storage -- hatboxes, steamer trunks and vintage luggage.

Color is completely at home in the closet. "I usually use fairly vivid colors in a hall or linen closet," says Odette. "But you have to be more careful with your wardrobe closet since the colors are going to affect your choice of clothes."

Bet you never thought of hanging personal photographs in your personal closet, but Odette makes it sound logical: "This is a great place to hang photos that are very dear to you, since you'll get to see them up close several times a day."

So you'll have to excuse me while I go decorate my closet. Something tells me I'm going to be spending more time there.

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