by Bill Huntley
The worst construction design flaw ever conceived by any contractor is the cave closet. These are reach-in closets with "deep holes" that extend two feet or more beyond the door jamb. When full, these dark, inaccessible recesses eventually take on the nature of landfills. It becomes impossible to see the clothing stored in there, let alone retrieve anything from the tangled mess. On some level the builder of such a space must tell himself that he is doing good work by providing a nice big closet. How you use it is your problem, right? Here's how the math works: If a reach in closet is two feet deep and clothing on a hanger is twenty inches wide, then an adult person cannot squeeze into a closet-full of clothes to get the blue dress in the back, unless her shoulders are two inches wide or her arms are four feet long.
Does that make sense? In the case of the closet pictured here, it is forty two inches deep in both directions beyond the door jamb. The client looking at this kind of space doesn't want to hear you tell her to pretend it isn't there and to design a functional closet within easy reach. Most just can't do it. They expect you to open the fifth dimension; they expect magic. Well, sorry to say that Cinderella has left the building!
So, you're probably thinking, "What can I DO to fix this mess?" The bad news is that there really is no easy fix. Here are some suggestions to help you make the best of your cave:
- The best way to maximize the functionality of the "cave closet" is to re-configure the doorway. This tends to open a can of worms with flooring, wiring, and structural considerations, not to mention the mess and the cost. If you're a stoic and resourceful remodeler grab your eight-pound sledge hammer and dig in. Make the opening as wide as possible. For an especially wide closet use two door openings. For example. If your closet is eight feet or more long, install two 3 to 4 foot wide door openings. Use bi-folds or a pair of hinged doors for each opening.
- Re-orient the closet rods and shelving 90 degrees (shown on left) so that they span the width rather than the length of the closet at the deep ends. Be sure to leave enough room to squeeze by the center unit.
- A simple approach for this type of closet is to ignore the unreachable space at the deep sides and design a closet that is easily accessible from the doorway. Use the left-over floor space to store boxes or luggage, or just forget about it. If your new design uses the reachable space efficiently then you won't miss the far recesses of the "cave" that you essentially edit out of your design.
- If all else fails, crawl inside your cave with an old blanket and a box of Cheezits. Come out when the snow melts and the asparagus have sprouted.