Garment racks provide fashionable way to expand closet space

In 2010, J.Crew's creative director, Jenna Lyons, gave Oprah a tour of her envy-inspiring closet.

Spiny antlers hung above the fireplace (yes, fireplace), which was flanked by floor-to-ceiling shoe shelves.

In the center of the space next to a mini Oriental rug, a linen sofette was draped with sequined dresses.

And along three of the walls were metal garment racks that carried coats, dresses and blouses in every color of the rainbow.

The idea was simple: Stores like J.Crew display clothes in plain sight, so why hide them in a closet the minute you get home?

Lyons sold her Brooklyn town house last year for $4 million, but she left her mark on closet design. Garment racks sprang up on design blogs and in major retailers such as Restoration Hardware and The Container Store as an easy solution for homes with limited closet space.

Ondine Karady, an interior designer with offices in Washington and New York, uses garment racks as a way to make use of awkward nooks or alcoves in clients' homes.

"Quite often, there's a small space that you just don't know what to do with. And quite often, there's not enough closet space in the home," she said. "Garment racks kill two birds with one stone. They're a lot cheaper than installing a drywall closet, so it's really a win-win-win."

The trick to making them look as stylish as Lyons'? Matching hangers.

"Splurge on all-wood, all-matching hangers," Karady said. "That will make the difference."

Garment racks have other benefits, too. Instead of stuffing clothes into the back corners of your closet, racks allow you to actually see your options.

"I believe that a big reason people don't wear a lot of their clothes is because they can't see them," said Holly Thomas, Washington editor of the fashion website Refinery29 and partner in the vintage collection Butler and Claypool (and a former Washington Post writer). "Rolling racks put your wardrobe right in front of you. I couldn't live without them."

Thomas lives in a 600-square-foot apartment on Capitol Hill with hardly any closet space. She said her predicament is common in Washington, where many apartments and older homes come with tiny closets and low ceilings.

"Nowhere in Washington has enough storage space; you have to get creative," she said.

Olescia Hanson, a spokeswoman for The Container Store, said garment racks are especially handy during the holidays because they provide temporary extra storage.

Most racks can be collapsed and stowed away when company leaves town.

"They're perfect for entertaining because you have a place to hang guests' coats," she said. "Or, if you're outfitting a guest room and the closets are already being used for storage, a garment rack is an easy solution. Plus, it's chic."