The New Zen Of Stuff

If he weren't so scrupulous about his "very minimalist" esthetic, Mark Rose could probably just about fill his apartment with stuff. The apartment, after all, in New York's East Village, is only 600 square feet, and Rose, a florist who is passionate about cooking and entertaining, shares it with a companion, Mehmet Tangoren, a fashion buyer equally passionate about clothes. Which is why, when Rose embarked on renovations earlier this year, the first person he called wasn't an architect; it was a closet consultant.

What the kitchen was to the 1980s, the bathroom to the 1990s, the closet may be to the coming decade: status symbol, personal retreat and locus of domestic self-expression. Tangoren's fall-winter wardrobe hangs in the 15-square-foot walk-in wardrobe behind rice-paper-and-mahogany doors; Rose's copper saucepans now nestle on inch-thick melamine pantry shelves behind sliding frosted-glass panels. In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Peter and Chris Sweders have a 3,150-square-foot house with 23 new or remodeled closets--more than twice the number of rooms--including custom-designed storage areas for gift-wrapping supplies, model trains, golf clubs and the hardtop for a convertible they no longer own. Total cost: $45,000 to $60,000, or as much as 10 percent of the value of the whole house.

When you have closets this great, you don't just shove stuff into them--you display things in them, like the family photos and glass paperweights on Rose's closet shelves. And closets become not just a place to put things but an organizing principle of domestic economy. Chris Sweders says that with a dedicated shelf, drawer or cubby for exactly everything she owns, she buys less, because "I don't want to junk it up." Because she can now see and keep track of all her clothing, so she can pick out new combinations and doesn't inadvertently buy something she already owns. Closet consultants refer to this effect as "making your clothes more productive." California Closets, the worldwide design consultant, which expects to design closets in 200,000 homes this year, shrewdly plays to this longing for order, efficiency and simplicity. "People want more than a pole, a shelf and a mess," says CEO Anthony Vidergauz. "We give them a system. Their shoes aren't piled up on the floor, they're in the system." He has gone so far as to commission a new magazine, Hush, with lush soft-focus photographs of a single shirt on an otherwise empty stack of shelves. It represents the apotheosis of the past decade's frantic pursuit of material goods. How humbling to realize that what we lacked all along was just a place to put it all.