The McKeon House, Georgetown

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Problem: No coat closet.

Solution: Carving out space in the entry.

The old joke is that the most expensive words you can say to a remodeling contractor are, "As long as you're here . . . ." After 19 years in my 16-foot-wide 1890 rowhouse, I uttered the fateful phrase at the end of a recent renovation. My goal: a coat closet on the first floor.

Yes, after years of having guests sling their winter wraps onto the nearest chair ("Oh, just put them anywhere") or hanging them with my own behind the cellar door (you know, above the stairs, next to the box of garbage bags and the leaf blower), it was time.

Problem was, short of giving up the powder room or the hard-won pantry in the new hallway between the dining area and the kitchen, there was no place to put a closet. You opened my front door and there you were, in the living room. Just you and the fireplace and far too much furniture.

The front door is in the front left corner of the house, hitting the north-south party wall to the left when opened. My idea: Build a closet immediately to the right of the front door, extending about two feet into the room. The closet door would open into the living room but would be a flat panel that looked like just another wall. It would have either an invisible touch-latch or a sliver of a brushed-chrome pull. The whole construction would have trim and crown molding to match the rest of the room.

The downsides: The closet chewed up six square feet of precious living room space and threw off the symmetry of the area around the fireplace.

The glorious upside is a place for coats and jackets and umbrellas and also a large basket on the closet floor for shoes and boots. I'm still experimenting with baskets for gloves and scarves, but just corralling the coats and shoes is triumph enough at the moment.

Because this was part of a larger job, it's hard to figure out how much my closet obsession cost. Tom Sullivan, co-owner of SBR Construction of Silver Spring, who did the work, estimates the cost of the drywall, electrical work (rerouting light switches), millwork, painting and labor at more than $5,000.

The bottom line is, I don't have expensive vices -- no gambling, no kids in college and a 21-year-old car that I love. My one indulgence? Remodeling. If this doesn't work, after a while, maybe I'll try something else.

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