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Brenda MacLeish has been working as a designer for California Closets for over 10 years and is now also the sales manager for the New York area franchise.
For our 10-minute interview, we spoke to her from her car, where she was dashing from one assignment to another.
What does California Closets do? Mostly organize clients' closets?
When the organization started 33 years ago, the answer was “yes”. But now, we do all types of storage—sure, we do closets but we do so much more: we design, build (we have our own workshop in Westchester) and install media centers, laundry rooms, kids' rooms, home offices—you name it, we do it.
What exactly do you do when you visit a prospective client?
I listen to what the client wants, take a look at what they have, take measurements and then sit down and discuss possibilities.
Years ago, when I started, we used to have to draw our plans by hand on graph paper.
Now we have a terrific computer program that lets people see the possibilities in 3D, lets us change the colors, add a drawer, take away a door, absolutely anything. It's fantastic.
How much does it cost to have work done by your company?
So much depends on the size of the job and the materials used. A basic, not-too-large closet may cost under $1,000 but add-ons-- glass doors, leather- lined drawers, crown and base moldings,etc.--will boost the price.
Over the past year, the average job cost $5,000.
Any advice for clients-to-be?
Think about what you'd like before the designer arrives. Make sure that the designer has access to make measurements and don't bother emptying closets. We need to see how much room you need for the clothes you have.
What are the most common requests?
Closets still top the list but we're doing lots of work on home offices, beds with bedside tables that have storage space in them, media centers, places for people to display their collections.
Television screens are so big now and furniture manufacturers haven't caught up with the trend so we are often asked to design a space for the giant TVs.
And then there are the places that people want to store the CDs that they aren't using and the gaming controls that they are.
What are some of your more unusual requests?
Oh there are lots that come to mind. There was the lady with the cigar box handbag collection; we built round shelves for her so they'd be accessible.
I had to help one customer organize 300 pairs of shoes and another to figure out what to do with 300 ties. I've designed storage for wigs, wig stands and hatboxes for Orthodox Jewish customers and then there are the spaces I created to store prosethetic limbs, a collection of Playbills and sex toys—not all for the same client!
Yes, plenty. One that comes to mind was a couple with a bedroom filled floor-to-ceiling with magazines, newspapers and more. It was difficult to help them change their ways but I did manage to at least sort out the worthwhile bits and put them onto bookshelves.
Any particularly annoying customers?
That title goes to the client who had a beautiful home office built with a hutch cabinet. The upper cabinet was supposed to be 64 inches off the floor. When it was installed, it was1/4-inch off. He made us take it back and change it.
What's the best part of your job?
The people I meet. I had a customer in the Bronx who needed to have a closet designed and built for her handicapped daughter who was in her 30s. I can honestly say that my life was changed by my encounter with this woman and seeing her relationship with her child. My life is often enriched by the people I meet, even if we don't seal the deal.