Scared to open your closet? Organize it with a do-it-yourself kit

The advertisement had considerable appeal: closet woes would disappear, order would replace chaos, and storage space would increase dramatically by having closet interiors reorganized with custom-designed hanging rods, drawer space, tie racks, and shoe holders. But the estimate - around $1,000 for two closets - made the Boston homeowner think twice. At that price, he reasoned, an orderly closet might have to wait a while. In fact, the waiting period was brief. A closet-organizer kit, uncovered at a local hardware store a week later, and a few hours with a Phillips screwdriver were all it took to completely make over two closets in a professional-looking manner. The product, vinyl-covered steel rods and wire, cost little more than $100.

What is sometimes termed the ``ventilated drawer'' system began to take over the do-it-yourself closet organizer market some five years ago, but ``skyrocketed this year,'' according to Ian Gittlitz, editor and publisher of Housewares, the New York-based trade magazine.

``Some manufacturer's figures show 30 to 40 percent increases over last year,'' he says.

Judith Miley of Clairson International, whose Closet Maid line has propelled it to the top spot among United States manufacturers, confirms this. So does Edward Meixel, head of Wire World, US subsidiary of the Swiss company Metaltex SA that helped pioneer coated-wire technology 42 years ago. Metaltex is the world's largest manufacturer of coated-wire products.

As people came to recognize the importance of well-organized space in today's smaller apartments, condominiums, and somewhat smaller new homes, vinyl-covered wire products ``took off,'' Mr. Gittlitz says. The fact that they come in ``every fashionable color available'' has spurred the trend, in his view. ``People know: storage doesn't have to be ugly any more.''

There are other reasons, too, for the growing popularity of coated-wire products.

They're adaptable. Once thought of as purely closet accessories, these products have since moved into every corner of the house - from the garage to the laundry, from the patio to the pantry. Several product lines are available and individual kits can generally be assembled in several different ways. New accessories are being introduced every year.

They're space-producing. Although new space is never created, these ``organizers'' enable homeowners to make efficient use of what space there is. In effect, they turn dead space into working space. A kit that replaces the single hanging rod and top shelf in a conventional closet can double, even triple, effective storage space.

With a little imagination, people have been able to do some very creative things with these products, says Mr. Meixel. Narrow storage racks have proved to be particularly popular for their adaptability to doors and walls where conventional shelves would appear clumsy.

``What people need to do is think vertically,'' Ms. Miley says. ``In designing houses we are used to looking at floor plans. So we think in terms of square rather than cubic feet. In concentrating on the floor, we almost forget that rooms have walls as well.''

They're attractive. The open, slender lines of these systems blend pleasingly with all decors, from Swedish modern to New England colonial. They also provide ``instant visibility.'' There's not even momentary confusion, wondering which drawer contains the socks and which one the underwear.

They're simple to install. All the coated-wire products are readily installed, using nothing more than a drill and a Phillips screwdriver. Some kits include a pattern that, when placed on the wall, shows exactly where screw holes should go.

They're durable. Steel and vinyl are long-lasting materials that, when combined, make for a very durable product. Closet Maid gives a 10-year limited waranty on all vinyl-covered products and, given normal use, ``should last for the life of the house,'' Miley contends.

They're relatively inexpensive, particularly for the do-it-yourselfer. Not many homeowners could get what they needed for one-tenth the cost of a professional closet installation, as was the case in the example noted above. With closet sizes ranging widely and with so many accessories available, it is difficult to give average costs. But the common assessment among manufacturers is anywhere from $50 to $250.

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