By Bill Primavera
When my wife and I bought our first home in the suburbs, it was an historic structure built in 1734, and indicative of the times, it had no closets.
A makeshift place for us to hang our clothes was in our bedroom where a clothes bar had been placed between the outcrop of the fireplace and the corner of the perpendicular wall.
Considering that in my younger days I was somewhat of a clothes horse, I was concerned. My wife took a larger linear closet, and in my smaller closet, I immediately doubled the hanging space by moving the clothes bar up as far as I could comfortably reach and installing a second clothes bar beneath that.
While today a closet is a little room where you hang your clothes, for much of its history it had served a different purpose entirely.
In the Middle Ages having a bedroom was a rarity, even a bit of a privilege. Most ordinary people slept either on the floor of the great hall of the manor where they lived or in a single room that served multiple purposes as kitchen, living room, dining room and bedroom. Only very wealthy people had bedrooms, which were not just for sleeping but also for working and entertaining important guests. The bedroom, at this time, was not a very private place, which created a need for another space, to be known as the closet.
By the end of the Medieval period, well-to-do homeowners began adding small rooms adjoining their bedrooms as a place to store treasured possessions, but it was also a place for prayer, reading and quiet contemplation. It was by far the most private place in the house, and to this day the word “closet” can carry a meaning of secrecy and privacy.
In Europe, the closet eventually disappeared as houses grew larger and other rooms afforded opportunities for privacy. But the Puritans took the idea of a closet with them to the New World, although their use of it by then was simply a place to store things.
In older houses, closets are not as prevalent; there might not even be one in every bedroom because people then had a lot less clothing. It was much more likely that clothes were stored in a chest or armoire rather than hanging them in a closet. In fact, the coat hanger wasn’t even invented until 1869. In that year, a shoulder-shaped hanger was invented by O. A. North of New Britain, Conn. An employee of the Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company, Albert J. Parkhouse of Jackson, Mich., has also been credited with the invention.
Today the closet is enjoying a bit of a resurgence, primarily because most Americans own (what would have been considered by the Puritans at least) enormous amounts of clothes. And hangers have diversified. There are shirt hangers, which should have divots or rubber-tipped ends to keep tank tops and silky fabrics from sliding off, pants hangers, sweater hangers, skirt hangers and suit jacket hangers.
The mania for luxury closets, such as those offered by California Closets, has even led to closets outfitted with sofas, vanities or desks, making them a sort of retiring room/boudoir in addition to a storage space.
Which means that these closets have, in fact, come completely full circle.
Bill Primavera, a Realtor® who writes, or a writer who sells real estate, is associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest-running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.