Doreen Tuman, The Closet Lady
By Leah Wheeler
A closet is more than a place to store your stuff. It is a reflection of your personality and a repository of special memories, hopes, aspirations and dreams. Often, when you can get a grip on the chaos in your closet, you can begin to bring order and serenity back into your life.
Doreen Tuman, aka “The Closet Lady,” is a New York-based closet pro who designs, supplies and installs closets for the rich, famous and disorganized. Her many clients have included international models, talk show hosts, race car drivers and actors.
A pundit once described Tuman as having “the brain of an engineer and the soul of a psychologist.” From a young age, she demonstrated a propensity for organization, and she has worked with clients for more than 30 years helping them make over their closets.
Tuman is renowned for her ability to optimize space, an ability critical to New Yorkers.
“The trick is to use every inch of accessible space,” she said. “In 18 inches, I can put 72 pairs of shoes. In 10 inches, I can fit 30 pairs of pants.”
The Closet Lady begins every project by having her clients take an inventory.
“People often have no idea what they have or how much of it they have,” she said. “As a first step, I have clients inventory everything – and I mean everything, including clothes, bags, accessories, shoes, jewelry, hats, underwear, eyeglasses and anything else that might be lurking in their drawers and closets.”
Tuman then has her clients go through a deliberate process of sorting and classifying their stuff into categories: never worn, rarely used, outdated, ugly, doesn’t fit, never liked, etc.
“The inventorying and purging process can be very emotional, and it calls for a sense of humor, plenty of TLC and a little bit of tough love.”
Throughout the years, Tuman has dealt with just about every type of closet hang-up. There are the shopaholics, who derive comfort and satisfaction from buying clothes, particularly shoes; the designer divas, who love couture labels; the risk averse, who fear to part with anything they might possibly ever need again; the packrats; the collectors; and those who are OCD or just plain lazy.
“I try to encourage clients to focus on living in the present and not in the past.” she said. “My goal is to give each client an organized space that works for their particular needs, desires, lifestyle and budget.”
Tuman emphasizes the importance of using quality materials even on relatively modest closet makeovers. She favors a thoughtful, well-planned design that features high quality, pristine materials and flawless installation. When these elements come together, the result is an integrated system that is beautiful, functional and flexible.
A solid, well-designed and well-made closet system will last 20 years or more.
“If a hinge breaks after 18 years, that’s okay; we’re here to fix it. If a closet system starts to fall apart because of poor workmanship or shoddy material, that’s not acceptable,” she said.
Tuman’s planning involves attention to every component, including lighting, mirrors, fixtures, drawers, hampers and cabinetry. Doors are particularly important. Careful consideration is given to the type of door and the swing arc so that the doors do not impede access to the closet or its contents.
In addition, Tuman incorporates data about her client’s height, whether the person is right-handed or left-handed, and specific characteristics that might affect visibility, accessibility and convenience.
To maximize accessible space, Tuman triple hangs pants, short skirts and vests on short neck hangers. She uses space-saving accessories and organizing devices such as wardrobe lifts, valet rods, tie and belt racks, shoe ports, decorative hooks, and shelf dividers.
She favors Häfele closet hardware for a clean, elegant look and recommends acrylic shelf dividers, custom jewelry inserts and drawer divider inserts, which she gets from Clear Systems, a maker of custom acrylic closet accessories. Other suppliers, including Rev-A-Shelf and Sidelines, provide a range of innovative storage and organizing accessories. Shoe ports and swing units are made to order based on the heal heights of her client’s shoes.
For moderate budgets, Tuman may recommend white laminate systems. Higher-end closet systems feature textured laminates with real wood doors and drawer fronts in pre-finished wood veneer, custom-finished wood veneer or customized millwork.
These materials are versatile and can be individualized using an endless combination of colors, textures and surfacing treatments, as well as adjustable shelves and panels, swing units, adaptable poles and configurable top-shelf storage applications.
One of Tuman’s primary paneling suppliers is KML, a leading designer and producer of composite panels.
“I’ve worked with Leta for many years,” she said, referring to Leta Falk, KML’s marketing manager. “KML’s products are gorgeous, very boutique-y. They have a huge selection of finishes, including textures, woodgrains and specialty finishes that are visually elegant and wonderfully tactile.”
With the addition of a few designer touches such as crown molding, sculpted baseboards, fluting, pilasters or rosettes, even a simple furniture-quality laminate system with well-made edgebanding can look fabulous, Tuman said.
As far as trends, Tuman finds that white, cream and beige are still favored colors for closet interiors. Boutique finishes such as lattice or linen canvas textures that add character and style are increasingly popular. And mirrors strategically placed on cabinet and door facings are also trending.
LED lights by the foot, known as tube lights or rope lights, are hot closet accessories. They are thin, bright and flexible and can add extra light around door jams, under shelves or in recessed nooks and crannies.
Occasionally, Tuman designs top-of-the-line closets using solid wood, granite, marble or onyx. The interiors of these closets often feature fine custom cabinetry, which millworkers construct, stain and hand-finish onsite. These exclusive closets frequently incorporate special lighting, glass shelving, a dressing table, a TV, lounge chairs, exercise equipment, hydraulically adjustable shelves and other amenities.
Everyone's dream closet is Carrie Bradshaw's closet from the HBO series “Sex and the City,” Tuman said. Bradshaw once famously said, “I like my money right where I can see it – hanging in my closet,” and her closet reflects that attitude with thick 1.5-inch vertical panels, pilasters, crown moldings, overlaid base kicks, storage compartments for jewelry, shoes and handbags, and lots of high-end accessories.
“It doesn’t matter what materials you use or what you put in a closet. Organization is the key,” Tuman said. “’I have nothing to wear.’ I have heard this from people whose closets are literally overflowing. They just don’t know what they have. They can’t see it, and they can’t get to it.
“I understand that people are attached to their stuff, and that’s OK. But your closet is not a museum, and when it starts taking over your life and sapping your energy, it’s time to take stock and make room for your active life.”
Today’s closets are larger and store more stuff than ever
Doreen Tuman has worked on closets in some of New York City’s oldest luxury apartment buildings, including the famous Gothic-Victorian Dakota, which opened in 1884; the Beaux Arts Ansonia, which was finished in 1904; and the Apthorp, which opened in 1908.
When these ornate buildings were constructed, little thought was given to storage.
Interestingly, the foyers in individual apartments were often the size of a large room, but there were hardly any closets. In those days, people just didn’t have that much to put away. One or two narrow closets were the norm, and most of the time people hung their garments on hooks on the walls.
They had armoires and trunks for additional storage, and these tended to focus more on beauty than on maximizing space and functionality. People just did not have the volume of clothing and stuff that made custom closet design and professional organization a necessity.