Closet Encounter: We peek inside the world of luxury walk-ins, where designer wares are elevated to beaux-arts status

Sylvia Mantella's Closet
Photography by Jake Rosenberg/The Coveteur
Sylvia Mantella's Closet
Photography by Jake Rosenberg/The Coveteur

Peek inside these closets »

By Shawna Cohen

What do Rachel Zoe, Tory Burch, Kim Kardashian and Mariah Carey have in common? They’re all household names, sure, but they happen to share something far more intimate: walk-in closets that could easily rival some of the world’s chicest high-end boutiques. Forget slick chef’s kitchens or luxurious, spa-like bathrooms—these days, it’s all about the closet. Once reserved as out-of-sight spaces for storing clothes, closets are quickly becoming the main attraction of multi-million-dollar homes. And they’re boasting everything from custom-designed couches and crystal chandeliers to wine bars, massage tables, oceanfront views and, in at least one instance, an escalator (how else to move around a two-storey walk-in?). Some closet connoisseurs are even incorporating “virtual styling tools” into the space, where they can be outfitted remotely by stylist via iPad or computer screen.

“It’s the last frontier of the home,” says Melanie Charlton, CEO and creative director of Clos-ette, a New York-based company that builds luxury closets for clients such as Kate Hudson and Jay Z. “Why would you put your All-Clad in a $250,000 kitchen but not outfit your closet that way? Let’s face it: Your Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermès [clothing] and your jewellery are often more expensive than the art and furniture in an entire home.”

That helps explain why people are dishing out hundreds of thousands of dollars—sometimes millions—to create spectacular closets that double as offices, dens or just quiet spaces in which to read a book, take a call or enjoy a glass of bubbly. “It’s becoming a sanctuary,” says Charlton. Consider it the female equivalent of the man cave.

Thanks to the popularity of websites like The Coveteur and reality shows such as Million Dollar Closets, we’re now more obsessed with peeking inside the closets of the rich, famous and fashionable than ever before. “We’re living in an age of fashion voyeurism,” says Erin Kleinberg, president and creative director of The Coveteur. “Because of social media—Twitter and Instagram, not to mention all those street-style fashion blogs—we’re used to it. In fact, we’ve come to expect it.” Since it launched in 2011, the site has featured more than 350 closets, showcasing the stylish wares of everyone from Anna Dello Russo to Margherita Missoni, but for Kleinberg the one that sticks out most belongs to Toronto philanthropist Sylvia Mantella. “She has this glass cabinet where she houses her Birkins—it almost acts as art,” Kleinberg says. “She also has a rotating closet, just like Cher Horowitz in Clueless!”

Even those without unlimited square footage (or funds) want in on the action. My own closet is around the size of two office cubicles, and yet I recently revamped it to include beautiful Lucite boxes for shoes, wall hooks displaying my beloved designer handbags and uniform, space-saving hangers. I even have a “travel” drawer that holds everything from silk eye masks to printed jewellery rolls. I called in Rena Felman, founder of OrganizeIt!, to help with the task and, well, let’s just say she was equal parts creative genius, therapist and marriage counsellor. (De-cluttering is hard! So is negotiating extra hanging space with your husband.) These days, getting dressed is a dream. This one-time disaster zone is now totally Zen—a space where I choose to linger for an extra moment or two while getting dressed each day.

Veronica Miele Beard's Closet
Photography by Matthew Williams

“It makes me feel calmer and more peaceful,” says Toronto-born, L.A.-based fashion stylist Jessica de Ruiter of her own clutter-free closet. With a client list that includes Vera Farmiga, Emily Blunt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, de Ruiter says she organizes her closet the same way she does a rack during a photo shoot: first by item, then by colour and finally by texture. “On set, the shoes have to be organized by colour, style and height, which allows me to think clearly and be more creative. Same applies to my home.”

Lisa Adams, owner of L.A. Closet Design and star of HGTV’s Million Dollar Closets, says the top trends right now are shopping your closet and having it feel like a high-end boutique. With that comes a focus on lighting (for example, LED-illuminated display cases for handbags), endless stacking shelves and plush seating areas. But she’s had some outrageous requests, including a putting green, a climate-controlled cabinet for fur coats, even a stripper pole. “I was just happy she was using the space multi-functionally!” jokes Adams.

Another big trend, she says, is natural light, meaning people like client Giuliana Rancic, who co-hosts E! network’s Fashion Police, are devoting prime real estate to their closets. “I have a set of French doors that lead to an outdoor balcony,” Rancic says of her closet—a crisp, all-white space accentuated with bursts of Tiffany blue. “The light that comes in through those doors makes it a happy place to be.”

For Kimberley Newport-Mimran, president and creative director of Pink Tartan, natural light was high on her list of priorities. She has walk-in closets in Toronto and New York, with another in the works in Palm Beach, but it’s her second-storey Toronto space that overlooks a lush ravine. “I have true daylight when I get dressed in the morning,” she says. Her closet also hosts an antique bench covered in vintage fur—“It’s this beautiful little piece of luxury in my closet”—and two linen-covered bust forms she outfits with her inspirations du jour (which range from a Chanel glass cross to a camel Mongolian fur). “I splurged and bought a Comme des Garçons floral jacquard coat,” she says. “I found it so beautiful and didn’t want it tucked away, so I left it out [on the bust].”

Newport-Mimran has embraced the notion of closet as living space to a whole new extreme. She keeps a rebounder (mini-trampoline) in her closet, along with a scale, and each morning she spends 10 to 15 minutes rebounding while deciding what to wear. Also hanging in her closet is a series of sentimental pieces that she doesn’t actually wear but likes to look at, including a printed dress that belonged to her late mother and an off-white Chanel wedding suit.

While most lust-worthy closets house designer labels, it’s often a sense of nostalgia that gives them the most meaning. That’s certainly the case for Veronica Miele Beard—one half of design duo Veronica Beard, a label that launched in 2010 with a series of tailored blazers and jackets with interchangeable dickeys (it has since evolved into a full-blown ready-to-wear line). “My favourite thing about my closet is that I have saved a lot of things over the years—my first platforms from Italy, for instance—and I look at these treasured items and remember parties I’ve attended, deals I’ve landed or kids I’ve carried in these clothes,” she says of her New York walk-in.

Her business partner/sister-in-law, who happens to share the same name, boasts an equally chic, boutique-like closet. Veronica Swanson Beard has a floor-to-ceiling wall of shoes and evening bags, and organizes her clothes by category, colour and length. “My mom used to hide in her closet, talk on the phone and write thank-you notes,” she recalls. “There isn’t room for that in mine, but I think I would too, if I could.”

Still, for some people a telephone and writing table are just two of many possible luxuries a closet can include. The Coveteur’s Kleinberg says she’ll never forget the closet of Toronto philanthropist Suzanne Rogers, which she describes as “a woman’s fantasy playland.” It’s outfitted with hand-painted cabinets and crystal chandeliers, as well as a separate dressing room and ensuite bathroom. “When you’re collecting couture or couture-like items, you want to showcase them,” says Kleinberg. “It’s as important as art.”