Things you can do with a spare closet in your NYC apartment, if you're lucky enough to have one

Mimi headsht
By Mimi OConnor  |
October 3, 2018 - 1:00PM

Assaf Leib's design/build firm transformed a walk-in closet into a small home office and study area for a client. 

Leib Designs

It’s rare that New Yorkers have a spare large closet to play with, but it does occasionally happen. Or sometimes, the desire to use the space in an alternative way trumps whatever storage needs someone might have. Assaf Leib, director and founder of architecture and design firm Leib Designs, says that often, walk-in closets can be put to better use. "In every walk-in closet, there is some loss of space," he says.  

If you're thinking of re-purposing a large closet in your apartment and want some ideas or inspiration, read on for both executed and imagined ways to hack your closet, from the very practical to the very decadent.

A note on cost: HomeAdvisor’s Home Expert Dan DiClerico says that most homeowners will probably need to go with a custom system, as opposed to a standard prefab solution.

“If shelving units will be holding weights and other items, additional blocking might have to be added to the wall’s framing. And if it’s a laundry closet conversion, new water and electrical lines will need to be installed. These add-ons are almost guaranteed to make it a four-figure project,” he says. “Conversely, if you’re just looking to create a raw space to park the stationary bike, a fresh paint job and additional light fixture or two might suffice, in which case you could be in and out for a few hundred dollars—not counting the cost of the bike, of course.”

And for the record, using it as a bedroom is not legal.Otherwise let creativity abound. Everyone has their own special need,” says Craig L. Price, partner at the real estate law firm Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman.

Your own fold and fluff

“I made a ‘catch all’ walk-in closet in the hallway of my co-op into a laundry room with a full-sized washer dryer, linen closet and overhead cutout for storage.”

—Louise Schnaier, director of agent recruiting, Citi Habitats

Go the gansta route

Just a few months ago I ran into something really interesting; a guy had turned his walk-in-closet into something out of a gangster movie. He outfitted the space in what looked like velvet-clad walls with dark stained hardwood floors—and it was filled with his Cuban cigar collection on one side (encased in a very fine humidor) and opposite the cigars, were a few wine coolers with wines he bragged were ‘hundreds of years old.’ He hung antique hunting memorabilia on the walls, which I thought was less than tasteful—but it was definitely a very unique space.”

Danilo Lavia, real estate salesperson, Citi Habitats

Be the boss of your own office

“I have seen them used as small home offices. [Another] use could be a quiet meditation room. I have seen nurseries but that can be dangerous to suggest..they should have a venting window! It could be a mini library with reading nook [or] a small day bed.

—Jennifer Morris, founder, JMorris Design

“I converted a small walk-in closet in my home into a functional office/workstation. I bought a small white desk from IKEA with a clear glass top to keep the space feeling as open as possible, as well as a small stool that’s easy to store underneath. I keep my printer and documents in a re-purposed bathroom storage cabinet—and a wireless keyboard and mouse help reduce the clutter of wires and cords. I painted the alcove a crisp white—and the next step is adding large scale photos of the great outdoors to the space—it will create a sense of depth and add visual interest.”

J.D. Sharpe, real estate salesperson, Citi Habitats

Get crafty

“The most common walk-in conversion I’m seeing is the craft station, building on the maker culture that continues to explode. The station might be for traditional crafty projects, like sewing and scrapbooking. Or it could be devoted to more advanced projects, for example making musical instruments with 3-D printers or creating organic perfumes and cosmetics.     

Another popular walk-in closet conversion is home gym, with the closet mainly serving as the storage space for weights, kettle balls, bands, foam rollers, and other equipment. The closet could also be home to an Internet-connected stationary bikes—the Peloton room, call it.

Finally, some homeowners are turning the spare closet into a laundry center. I did a scaled down version of this during the renovation of my Brooklyn brownstone. It was a hallway closet, not a full walk-in, so we only have room for a stackable washer and dryer. But it’s a great use of space that puts the laundry station on the second floor, near where most of the actual laundry is created and stored. A larger closet would have room for a cabinet for detergents, stain brushes, and other supplies, as well as an ironing board, steamer, sewing equipment, and the like.     

—Dan DiClerico, HomeAdvisor

Not kosher

“I had an exclusive on a rental apartment in East Williamsburg about a year ago where one of the roommates had actually transformed a walk-in closet into their bedroom. It was a legal three-bedroom duplex with roof access—that was being used as (an unauthorized) four-bedroom. Only in New York!”

Kendall Vidal, real estate salesperson, Citi Habitats

“I once saw someone turn their walk-in closet into a space to hold a crib… The doors were removed, thus transforming what was once a large space to store clothes, into a cozy nursery alcove just off the parents’ bedroom.”

—Nadia Hussey, real estate salesperson, Citi Habitats


Mimi headsht

Mimi OConnor

Contributing Writer

Mimi O’Connor has written about New York City real estate for publications that include Brick Underground, Refinery29, and Thrillist. She is the recipient of two awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors for interior design and service journalism. Her writing on New York City, parenting, events, and culture has also appeared in Parents, Red Tricycle, BizBash, and Time Out New York.

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