When Apartment J in a Prospect Heights co-op went on the market last summer, 120 people streamed through to see it. At packed open houses, potential buyers marveled at the beautifully renovated kitchen, the privacy-friendly split bedroom layout, and the proximity to Prospect Park.
When Mr. Lewis and his husband, Matt Hemberger, renovated the place, they also put in a porthole for viewing the fish from the living room, which is where they are standing with Pearl and their younger daughter, Daisy.
Chelsey Ward with Chloe in the bedroom-turned-closet in her TriBeCa co-op. Ms. Ward is expecting, but the closet stays: it’s the home office that will be transformed into the baby’s nursery.
In her apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Melissa Bartolini Kearney axed the breakfast nook in favor of an additional closet.
“We had about 30 people at the first open house,” said Kris Sylvester of Halstead Property, the broker. “It was standing-room only.”
But Apartment J drew only one offer — for $450,000. That was the asking price, but it was also $25,000 less than Mr. Sylvester had gotten for the apartment next door, and $32,000 less than the one downstairs had gone for a few months earlier.
The difference? Closets.
The owners of Apartment J had removed the apartment’s permanent closets, Mr. Sylvester said, replacing them with large, attractive Ikea wardrobes that were more practical, and actually accommodated more belongings. The wardrobes, the sellers promised, would stay.
But in buyers’ eyes, the apartment was closetless. And, as Mr. Sylvester discovered, “that was a deal-breaker.”
If the desire for square footage is insatiable in New York, so is the quest for an uber-organized life, and closets are increasingly being recognized as a factor in the mysterious real estate equation. Sure, it’s about having a place to put your stuff. But closets can also represent something deeper.
Closets, said Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and the author of “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You,” can be repositories for memories and aspirations. “Hobbies you’ve wanted to pursue and the outfits that go along with them,” she said. “Kind of like a timeline of a life.”
Clothing, Dr. Baumgartner added, is “the internal bubbling to the surface — we choose how we want to look to the world, we choose how we package ourselves. The closet is a container for that.”
It’s not that closets dictate real estate decisions. But they can tip the scales.
“Closet space has always been very, very important,” said Stephen G. Kliegerman, the president of Terra Development Marketing, which advises Halstead on creating and marketing buildings. “But it’s been something that developers overlooked in the past. What we’ve all certainly learned over the years is that although kitchens and bathrooms are very, very important, you cannot overlook closets.”
In general, regular closets are 3 by 5 feet, while walk-in closets are 5 by 8 feet, said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal company. But the closet sweet spot — the point at which an apartment’s closets are big and plentiful enough to grab buyers by the lapels, but just small enough that they don’t seem to encroach on living space — can be elusive.
“In space-starved New York City, closets always come up as being an issue,” said Andrew Gerringer, the managing director of new business development for the Marketing Directors. “It’s really, ‘At what cost are they to an overall apartment?’ ”
Developers take different tacks on closets when plotting new condos.
In luxury buildings, they are carving out space for closets that will make buyers swoon. Some are outfitting closets in model apartments with come-hither shelves and multiple hanging bars; others are lavishing attention on every closet in the building. The day when a lone pole and a shelf sufficed is long gone.
“To me, the hallmark of luxury in New York City is wasted space,” said Michael Gross, who is writing a book about 15 Central Park West, to be called “House of Outrageous Fortune.” “A walk-in closet big enough for not only Madame, but her dresser, the person who came to blow out her hair, her three Shih Tzus, and perhaps the husband allowed in to comment on the outfit for tonight, would count as wasted space.”
When the Glenwood Management Corporation was developing Emerald Green, a Midtown West rental building completed in 2010, an early blueprint was scrapped to eliminate one apartment per floor — so that the rest could have more and bigger closets, said Gary Jacob, an executive vice president of Glenwood.
“It takes a lot of thought to try to get enough closet space to satisfy people,” Mr. Jacob said.
In a newer Glenwood building, Crystal Green on West 39th Street, most apartments have five closets, and many have a walk-in closet. Even studios, which start at $2,950 a month. With that much storage, it may be possible for real people to keep their homes as stylishly minimalist as they were when staged for viewing.
“You really do have a chance of it,” said Nancy Albertson, the director of leasing for the building.
Daria Salusbury, a senior vice president of the Related Companies, says Related also builds studios with copious closet space. After all, just because you have a one-room home doesn’t mean you don’t ski, golf, surf, skate, shop and entertain.
“Some people in a studio have more hobbies than people in a three-bedroom,” she said. “If you’re in a three-bedroom, it’s your kids’ hobbies you have to worry about.”
At 150 East 72nd, a century-old building that Macklowe Properties is converting into luxury condos, all of the closets will be custom-built by Poliform, a luxury Italian brand. The model apartments are equipped with Poliform shelves, cubbies and shoe racks, although buyers will be able to work with Poliform to design the closets they want.
“You decide to put in a kids’ playroom, a fitness center, a screening room,” said Dorothy Sexton, Macklowe’s vice president for sales, drawing a comparison with closets. “Think of it as an amenity, but a personal amenity.”
At 18 Gramercy Park, a beyond-high-end renovation project featuring 4,000-square-foot floor-through units, closets in the model apartments were staged by a company called Clos-ette.
“We have a superluxury product here,” said Jill Mangone, the building’s sales director. “Our buyer is accustomed to being in a well-appointed environment.”
Although Clos-ette hasn’t been hired to design all the building’s closets, some buyers, apparently inspired by the model apartments, have themselves hired Clos-ette, said Melanie Charlton, its chief executive.
“People have started realizing, ‘If I’m going to put my pots and pans in a $250,000 room, why don’t I put my clothes and jewelry, which cost a lot more than my All-Clad or Le Creuset pots and pans, in an equally special place?’ ” she said. “I think people have really started giving it the homage it deserves.”
When Lynn Filipski and her husband bought an apartment in a newly renovated building overlooking Madison Square Park, one of her first moves was to pay “in the high five figures” to have Ms. Charlton’s company customize the closets.
“You kind of gag and think, ‘Wow, this is twice as much as what I thought it would come in at,’ ” she said. “When you go to sell it, you realize it’s definitely worth it.
“The closets were something that definitely sold the apartment,” added Ms. Filipski, who parted with the place last summer — and hired Clos-ette to overhaul the closets in her new apartment on West 12th Street, this time without hesitating. “Every inch counts.”
Last year Tristan Andrews, an agent with Douglas Elliman, received an unusual request from a Hong Kong couple he had just worked with on buying a 3,900-square-foot pied-à-terre on Fifth Avenue.
No, they weren’t looking to flip the place. They were looking for a second apartment, not necessarily in the same building, to use as a closet for the wife’s sizable wardrobe.
They were in the market for a pied-à-closet.
Co-ops were out of the question, and even filling out rental applications proved to be tricky. “It’s very difficult to say, ‘Occupants: 1,000 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes,’ ” Mr. Andrews said.
For $7,950 a month, the couple are now renting a two-bedroom condo a few blocks away on Madison Avenue from an owner who was not offended that his renters were using his home as a closet. “He thought it was funny,” Mr. Andrews said.
After Chelsey Ward and her husband bought a three-bedroom co-op in TriBeCa, they used one room as a bedroom and one as an office, and hired California Closets to convert the third into a closet for Ms. Ward.
“Being able to turn a bedroom into a closet in New York City is a little bit like using your whole paycheck to buy a Chanel handbag,” Ms. Ward observed. “It’s a little slice of what it would be like if you had an entire house, or a car and a driveway and a backyard.”
Then there are those who use closets as bedrooms — or, as brokers have increasingly noticed, home offices.
Doug Perlson, the chief executive of the online real estate brokerage RealDirect, converted a closet in his Upper West Side apartment into a home office that he shares with his wife, a lawyer. “It’s a very attractive feature for people to be able to work from home and have a dedicated space,” Mr. Perlson said, “but be able to shut it off and not see it.”
Brian Lewis, an executive vice president of Halstead, and his family have recently completed an unusual renovation project in their Upper West Side apartment.
“I literally have a 75-gallon fish tank in my walk-in closet,” Mr. Lewis said.
Mr. Lewis has always loved fish, he explained, not in “gaudy Vegas-style fish tanks,” he emphasized, but in clean, beautiful, elegant ones. He wanted the aquarium in the living room, but it was too sunny. So the tank is in the master bedroom closet, viewable through a porthole cut into a living room wall.
“It was one of those aha moments in design,” he said.
At the more modest end of the market — at least by Manhattan and Brooklyn standards — developers eager to squeeze in every square inch of living space sometimes cut corners on closets. Sometimes buyers notice; sometimes they don’t.
When Melissa Bartolini Kearney and her husband shopped for two-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn, she said, “all the newer places within our price point had really small closets.”
The couple almost bought a condo in a new building in Fort Greene. Had the closets been larger, Mrs. Kearney said, she would probably be living there now.
Instead, Mr. Sylvester of Halstead found her an apartment in Park Slope with more closet space — and a kitchen with a breakfast nook. Mrs. Kearney turned it into an extra closet.
Over more than a decade, Carolyn Musher, the New York City sales manager of California Closets, has counseled thousands of New Yorkers through closet crises. Among her clients: frantic condo buyers suffering from closet-induced buyer’s remorse.
“When you first walk into an empty apartment, you’re not taking into consideration, ‘Where’s my stuff going to go that I want behind closed doors?’ ” Ms. Musher said. “You’re enamored with the space. Then you move in and reality hits.”
When Ms. Musher and her husband decided to buy, after years of renting, she set her sights on a Brooklyn Heights building she had admired from afar. The apartments were all sold.
“Now, I’m doing closets there, and I’m like, ‘Thank God,’ ” she said.
Ms. Musher moved instead to a condo in Park Slope with generous closets. Even so, she plans to divest a half bathroom of its toilet: Voilà, another closet.
“It’s a 1,500-square-foot apartment,” Ms. Musher said. “My guests can use my kids’ bathroom.