A Brief History of the Walk-In Closet
Believe it or not, humankind has not always stored their clothes in closets. The walk-in closet in its current luxurious form is, in fact, a relatively recent invention. The first humans, of course, owned only one set of clothes and had no need for dedicated clothing storage.
As clothing and textiles evolved, became easier to produce and increased in decorative qualities, more people began to own more than one or two sets of clothes, and the need for a storage solution was born. This varied throughout different cultures. For example, ancient Egyptians stored their clothes in baskets made of reeds, the very wealthy chose alabaster chests and the ancient Greeks, who had plentiful access to wood, stored their clothes in chests, which is a practice also followed by Roman civilians.
Roman soldiers, however, took the first step towards inventing the modern walk-in-closet when they invented the armorium; a simple wooden box used to safely transport their weapons and armor from one camp to the next. During most of the medieval period, this box turned into elaborate cedar clothes chests used by the wealthy to keep their ornate, expensive clothes from the mice and moths that might destroy them.
For the next few hundred years, these chests gradually evolved into the armoire; a tall, free standing wardrobe with shelves and drawers enclosed in an ornate upright box with two doors. It was first developed in France in the 17th century to store either armor and weapons or craftsman’s tools, depending on which accounts you believe. By the 18th century, these pieces had become the most common way for the wealthy to store their clothes, and, along with the shelves and drawers, usually featured a hanging section for cloaks and other long garments. They were occasionally built into the structure of the building itself unknowingly forming an early precursor to today’s wall closets.
It was around this time that we also have the first reference to the first walk-in closets, which were not in function at all similar to our modern closets, but were instead small rooms adjoining a person’s bedroom designed for private enjoyment of art or music.
In the 1870s, the hanging rod was incorporated into the wardrobe for the first time and the first hangers soon followed. In 1880 ground was broken for the Dakota, a luxurious apartment building in New York that featured some of the nation’s first reach-in closets specifically designed for clothes.
It’s difficult, of course, to know the exact point at which walk-in closets were invented; European royalty had had enough clothes to fill entire rooms for centuries. But, in the United States, the closets in 740 Park Avenue, New York, represented a new level of closet decadence with one doorman stating that the closets were “Bigger than [his] rooms” and featured electrical outlets, shoe shelves, and locking doors.
By the 1950s, closets were much more popular with many middle and even lower class homes including them as standard. Some authorities suggest that the move to the suburbs around this time was fueled in part by the larger closets available as part of the larger home style suburban living.
The year 1983 brought another revolution to the walk-in closet with the founding of the Closet Factory. The fledgling custom closet franchise quickly soared to the forefront of the closet industry, surpassing its competitors in efficiency, designs, and available options. By now, the walk-in closet was a standard feature for most medium and large houses, and custom closet companies like Closet Factory began creating closets that were more glamorous and luxurious than ever before.
Popular obsession with the opulent closets of celebrities grew, culminating with MTV’s 2006 exploration of Mariah Carey’s massive 12,000 square foot closet in an episode of their popular celebrity lifestyle show Cribs. In 2008, during the Sex and the City movie, Carrie Bradshaw was proposed to in a custom walk-in closet, which only cemented the space’s place in pop culture for years to come.
Today, a custom walk-in closet is almost a necessity if you are serious about keeping your home organized and maximizing your space. We’ve come a long way from wicker baskets and wooden boxes, and if you’d like to bring your closet-space into the 21st century, call one of our designers today.