Champagne Bars, Tanning Booths and Revolving Shoe Racks: The $1 Million Closet Has Arrived
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Champagne Bars, Tanning Booths and Revolving Shoe Racks: The $1 Million Closet Has Arrived

Budgets for high-end projects have skyrocketed, as homeowners opt for larger and more luxurious spaces

By SARAH PAYNTER
Sat, Feb 3, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 5 min

On an October evening, Kimmie Turiansky and four girlfriends sipped pink champagne in her Bedminster, N.J., home as they prepared for a night out. Chandeliers illuminated silk wallpaper and pink window treatments as pop music blared, while the women swapped clothes and perched on window seats.

The primary setting for all this activity wasn’t Kimmie’s bedroom or bathroom, but the roughly 470-square-foot closet she created at a cost of roughly $120,000 during a recent home renovation.

“It didn’t feel like this was my house until this was done,” Kimmie, 49, said of the closet. “This is truly the only space that is mine alone.”

Kimmie’s closet has silk wallpaper and pink window treatments. PHOTO: DOROTHY HONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Closets in luxury homes are getting bigger and more expensive, as homeowners look to display increasingly extensive, curated fashion collections. Closets are also doubling as entertaining spaces, with seating areas and champagne bars where owners can host friends, said Christina Relyea, president of the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals.

These days, “clients actually do hang out in their closet,” said Container Store executive Barbara Snook, who leads sales-and-design training for the company’s custom-closet design service. When a project is completed, “the first thing they will often do is throw a closet-reveal party.”

Average budgets for top-of-the-line closets have skyrocketed to $200,000 to $300,000, up from $60,000 to $80,000 a decade ago, according to custom-closet builder Claudio Faria, chief executive of Ornare Miami, who said he often works on projects costing more than $500,000. Closet designer Matthew Quinn of Design Galleria in Atlanta said a client recently spent over $1 million on a two-story closet with a spray-tan booth and an elevator.

These days, some high-end closets have features such as thumbprint-protected jewellery cases, built-in watch winders, revolving shoe racks and clothing storage with dry-cleaning capabilities, said Eric Marshall, co-founder of the Closet Training Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz. Christian Nadeau, president of Maryland-based recycled leather business EcoDomo, said he recently installed custom leather stairs in a two-story Las Vegas closet. A Dallas client’s closet, Quinn said, has a camera that takes pictures of each outfit and sends images to a digital folder, much like in the movie “Clueless.” The system allows the client to select outfits remotely and have her assistant pack for her, he said. Some closet owners are even putting meditation areas in their closets, said Donna Infantolino, a California Closets designer in Northern New Jersey.

Kimmie, a mother of three, and her husband, marketing executive Eric Turiansky, bought their roughly 100-year-old house for $2.55 million in 2021. As part of an extensive renovation, they nearly doubled the size of Kimmie’s closet, commissioning Wendy Scott of Timeless Closets & Cabinetry to create boutique-like displays for clothes, purses and shoes. A display case was custom built for Kimmie’s Chanel roller skates, Kimmie says, while a centre island has a brass charging port for a Chanel handbag with an LED screen.

For many clients, closets are private spaces, Quinn said, which frees them up when it comes to design decisions. “Because it isn’t shared, in a closet you can have more fun and show your personality,” he said. “It doesn’t have to match the rest of the house.”

One of Quinn’s clients, Jill Gallagher, chose an antique crystal chandelier passed down from her grandmother as the focal point of her 180-square-foot closet in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Gallagher, 49, and her husband, Vionic Shoes co-founder Chris Gallagher, 54, bought their home for $2.1 million in 2018 and hired Quinn to renovate it.

Jill also selected grey leopard-print carpet for her closet, as well as a central island with a white and gray quartzite countertop. Cabinetry and lighted display shelving are stacked all the way up to the room’s 12-foot ceiling.

“I wanted it to feel like not just like my own little boutique, but like my own personal art gallery where I could display some of my special bags and shoes,” said Jill. The cost of creating the closet was about $150,000, she said.

She’s not the only one in the family with a fabulous closet. Chris, originally from Australia, has a roughly $70,000 Aussie-inspired closet, with leather drawer pulls and cabinet handles made of cattle horns.

In his roughly 75-square-foot closet, marble countertops and textured wallpaper give the space a “men’s retail store” feel, he said. Metal mesh shelves store his roughly 50 pairs of shoes, allowing them to “breathe” without being prominently displayed, he said.

“I’m a shoe guy,” he said. “I wanted to have a nice place for my shoes but I didn’t want to see them, because men’s shoes can look a bit clunky.” Having numerous hooks and hampers in the closet was also important for keeping the space uncluttered, he said.

Leather finishes are a popular choice for men’s closets, said New York architect Thomas Juul-Hansen. He has designed closets around large shoe and T-shirt collections for male clients, he said, including the hip-hop promoter Damon Dash, whose New York City closet holds 200 pairs of sneakers, 1,000 folded T-shirts and hundreds of baseball caps, he said. Elton John’s Atlanta condo, which sold for $7.225 million last year, had shelves with space for about 200 pairs of shoes, said Chase Mizell of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, who had the listing. And hip-hop artist and producer Sean Armani said he hired California Closets in 2022 to design a closet for about 100 pairs of shoes in his Miami home, at a cost of roughly $70,000. His condo is now for sale, asking $6.45 million with Elke Johnson and Christopher Wands of Douglas Elliman.

Homeowners often see a return on investment for the tens of thousands of dollars they spend on luxury closets, real-estate agents said. “In my experience, buyers are willing to pay a premium for homes with well-organized, aesthetically pleasing closet spaces,” said Ginger Martin of Sotheby’s International Realty – St. Helena Brokerage in California.

Some 93% of home buyers were willing to pay 10% more for a home with upgraded closets, according to a 2023 study by ClosetMaid, an Orlando-based home storage-and-organization company. At the Jade Signature condominium in Miami, the average unit’s sale price increases about $150,000 with the addition of a roughly $120,000 luxury closet, according to Ornare, which designed some of the closets in the building.

Condo developers are leaving larger footprints for closets in their floor plans and partnering with designers to build out custom closets for interested buyers, said Daniel Seigle of Brown Harris Stevens Development Marketing. Miami developer David Martin said Villa Miami, which he is developing with the One Thousand Group, will have bigger closets than past projects as a result of feedback from focus groups. The St. Regis Sunny Isles will have about 20% more space for closets than the developer’s last project, the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Sunny Isles Beach, said Faria. And closet designer Sandra Swieder of the Closet Builder in Bergen County, N.J., said she is working on her third project with New York City-based Minrav Development to develop large, custom closets.

In 2018, fashion blogger Emily Gemma built a home in Tulsa, Okla., with her husband, internist Dr. John Gemma. The couple, both in their 30s, designed a roughly $135,000, two-story closet with an office. The closet is roughly 450 square feet, larger than the home’s primary bedroom, said Gemma, who launched the style and beauty blog “The Sweetest Thing” in 2013.

Gemma films content for her blog on the first floor of the closet, which has a marble and wood floor and lighted shoe displays. Windowed doors provide natural light for filming, she said. A large staircase lighted by a Parisian chandelier leads to the second floor, which also serves as an office for the blog’s two full-time employees. On the second level, French windows open to a Juliet balcony.

In Gemma’s Instagram posts, the closet is often mistaken for a foyer, she said. “It gets people really stirred up,” she said. “They say, ‘I can’t believe you store shoes at the entry place of your home.’”



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They Were About to Move In When the Ocean Almost Washed Away Their New Home

Gail and Ron Fink’s property in Jupiter Inlet Colony sustained major damage during an unusually windy day. ‘The whole backyard is shot. All the landscaping is gone.’

By E.B. SOLOMONT
Fri, Feb 23, 2024 8 min

Gail and Ron Fink weren’t home the day the ocean swallowed their backyard.

The Florida couple, who are in their 70s, were a few miles away on Feb. 6—an unusually blustery day in the Sunshine State—as waves pounded their beachfront property in Jupiter Inlet Colony, sweeping sand, dirt and trees out to sea. When it was all over, the Finks’ newly-built, roughly 10,000-square-foot home was intact; so too was their free-form swimming pool, improbably balanced on exposed concrete-and-steel pilings.

“That’s what saved the whole thing,” said Ron, founder of an air- and-water purification company. “The pilings are holding up the house and pool.”

Gail and Ron Fink recently finished building a roughly 10,000-square-foot home. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Drone footage and pictures from local photographers and the Finks’ builder show the severity of the destruction, which left their pool suspended in the air, with pipes protruding from the earth. Town officials said erosion claimed 7 to 10 feet of sand and created steep drop-offs in front of about half-dozen homes, including one belonging to Kid Rock , the rapper-turned-country rocker, who paid $3.2 million for the property in 2012. Conair heiress Babe Rizzuto also sustained damage to her property down the street, which she bought for $6.3 million in 2015 and currently has listed for $22.5 million, according to Zillow.  Neither responded to requests for comment.

But the Finks house, located just past the end of a granite revetment wall—a kind of sea wall—bore the brunt of the heavy wind and waves.

 

“The whole backyard is shot. All the landscaping is gone,” said Ron. Also gone are fully matured Palm trees and an ipe-wood deck. “It’s out floating in the ocean someplace.” Ron is self-insured and the repair work will be quite expensive. undefined

A New Jersey native, Ron is an engineer by training who worked at nuclear-testing sites in California and Nevada before moving to Florida in the 1980s. He is the founder of RGF Environmental Group, which makes air- water-and food-purification systems.

For almost 40 years, the Finks—who have three adult children and eight grandchildren—have lived in Admirals Cove, a gated community in Jupiter about 5 miles from their new house. They paid $180,000 for the Admirals Cove lot in 1987 and built a roughly 6,000-square-foot house, Ron said. The Finks also own homes in the Cayman Islands and Bahamas.

Until now, the Finks have lived in Admirals Cove, about 5 miles from their new house. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Ron said they began looking for property in Jupiter Inlet Cove years ago. “It’s a neat place, just a closed little colony right on the ocean, low key and quiet,” he said.

About 20 miles north of Palm Beach, Jupiter Inlet Colony is at the southern tip of Jupiter Island. The town, founded around 1959, has approximately 240 homes and is surrounded on three sides by water—the Atlantic Ocean, Jupiter Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway. Long a destination for wealthy homeowners, homes in Jupiter Inlet Colony tend to trade for between $2 million and $5 million, although one sold for $18.6 million in January, according to real-estate brokerage Redfin. Last year, a home on the Intracoastal sold for $21.4 million, a record for the town.

In 2020, the Finks paid $4.9 million for a vacant beachfront lot and subsequently built a coastal-style house with a copper-and shake-style roof, covered loggia, pool and outdoor fire pit. “You know, it’s kind of a dream home,” Ron said. “We have built quite a few homes, but this is the end of the line for us, hopefully the last one.”

He said the property originally belonged to the singer Perry Como, one of the town’s first residents. A prior owner demolished Como’s house, and when the Finks bought it, there were concrete-and-steel pilings sticking out of the ground.

Ron Fink said he never removed about 60 pilings, he simply added roughly 30 more. “Now I’m glad I did,” he said. (Pilings are based on the design of a house, so Ron retained some pilings that he didn’t necessarily need.)

John Melhorn of design-build firm Thomas Melhorn, which built the house, said the Finks were a final review away from obtaining a certificate of occupancy when the backyard was destroyed. “They were right there at the goal line,” he said.

The Finks’ house and pool are standing on about 90 concrete-and-steel pilings. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Melhorn said the erosion began in late October amid unusually high winds and ocean swell. During the first week of February, sand beneath a row of sea grapes that stabilized the dunes between the house and ocean began to wash away. By the evening of Feb. 6, the plantings disappeared. The yard was gone by the next morning.

Melhorn said a pre-existing, low wall between the ocean and house—described as a cinder-block retaining wall on land surveys—also washed away, as did a walkway and steps to the beach. But he said the 2-foot-high wall was less of a retaining wall and more like a curb between the street and sidewalk. In this case, a prior owner used it to hold sea grapes back from encroaching on the property. The Finks replaced the wall with decorative stone, now lost to the ocean. An outdoor fire pit is still there, cantilevered over the ocean. “We tried to pull as many things out as we saw the erosion coming, but we lost a lot,” Melhorn said.

In Florida, erosion is increasing because of more frequent, more severe storms and sea-level rise, said Cheryl Hapke, a research professor at the University of South Florida and the chair of the Florida Coastal Mapping Program. But she said it isn’t just hurricane-level storms that cause major damage. “One thing I have found about barrier islands [like Jupiter Inlet Colony] is that sometimes a series of smaller events can have as big an impact as a major hurricane,” she said. “But people get caught off guard. It’s something they don’t think of.”

In Jupiter Inlet Colony, longtime residents said this month’s erosion is the worst the area has seen in years, possibly ever.

Mayor Ed Hocevar, who has lived there for 17 years, said it has been a particularly cool and challenging winter with an abnormal number of Nor’easters. On Feb. 6, local news channels warned of high winds, with gusts between 40 and 50 miles an hour. (There were also reports of an earthquake off the coast that week, causing high waves.)

Since the 1980s, Jupiter Inlet Colony has had a granite rock revetment wall that extends from the northern end of the community past 11 oceanfront homes. “But we’ve got 28 homes along the beachfront, so it isn’t complete,” Hocevar said. “Where the wall ended is where the significant damage occurred.” Hocevar said he doesn’t know why the wall wasn’t completed, although local lore is that homeowners building the wall ran out of money.

Last week, the town hired a local mining company to bring in 7,000 tons of sand to replace what washed away. Hocevar said it would cost about $500,000, which will come out of the town’s reserve fund. Long term, he said, extending the revetment wall isn’t a strong possibility.

Hapke, the coastal geology expert, said that in recent decades, sea walls and hardened structures have fallen out of favor as scientists discovered they are detrimental to the environment around them. “Storm water wants to flow, so it will redirect water to the area without a sea wall,” she said, adding that the most ideal long-term solution is to move homes away from the coastline.

 

Hocevar, 67, who has been mayor of Jupiter Inlet Colony for about a month, said the town is working closely with the Department of Environmental Protection on its response. He said the DEP’s recommendation, should erosion like this occur again, is to bring in more sand. Hocevar emphasised that the community is rallying together. “Think about it as a fortress and your wall has been breached,” he said. “You want to protect your neighbourhood and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Holly Meyer Lucas of Compass, who represented the seller when the Finks purchased their property, said Jupiter Inlet Colony is a “special little enclave” where sales exploded during Covid. “Listings sell after a day or sell off-market,” she said.

Lucas said the consensus among local real-estate agents is that property values will hold, despite the erosion. “I think this is a really rare, weird, fluky event,” she said. “I’ve sold everywhere up and down the coast and I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

The couple were close to getting their certificate of occupancy for the newly-built home. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Babe Rizzuto, whose house is two doors down from the Finks, listed her house for $24.5 million in December 2023 and cut the price to $22.5 million on Feb. 6, according to Zillow.

“She’s going to continue to sell,” said Milla Russo of Illustrated Properties, who is marketing the property with her husband, Andrew Russo. “Even though the timing isn’t great, it is what it is.”

Russo said there has been erosion in the past, and during hurricanes residents of Jupiter Inlet Colony are the first in the area to evacuate. But in general, people are not preoccupied with the weather. “Maybe because we live here, when the hurricanes come, we all have hurricane parties. We go to people’s homes and we barbecue and grill. Of course we’re careful and we lock up and all that, but weather is weather,” she said. “We’ve never been terribly scared.”

(The Russos were also involved in selling the Fink property. However, in 2020 the closing agent on the deal, Florida-based Eavenson, Fraser & Lunsford, PLLC, sued Milla Russo and Illustrated Properties as part of a commission dispute. The seller, Michael Cantor’s Range Road Developers, was named as a defendant and cross-plaintiff in the suit, in which a judge ruled in favor of Eavenson, court records show. Milla Russo declined to comment on the suit. Eavenson declined to comment beyond the judge’s findings and Cantor did not respond to requests for comment.)

Ron was also matter-of-fact about the state of beachfront living. Bring a life jacket, he jokingly told a photographer who inquired last week about taking his picture.

However, the Finks are facing weeks of costly repairs. Although the town is bringing in sand to replace the decimated beachfront, the couple is self-insured and will be on the hook for the cost of rebuilding. Several major home insurers have pulled out of Florida, and Ron said insurance on the house would have cost $100,000 a year. Now, he estimated they could face about $1 million worth of repair work. “We gotta eat it,” he said.

The couple, who was supposed to move into the house this month, has put those plans on hold—for now. An engineer recently inspected the property and deemed the house safe, Ron said. “We’re doing wallpaper today,” he said. “We can put it back together again.” The patio and pool area, meanwhile, are roped off while the area underneath is backfilled with sand.

Ron said being near the ocean makes it worthwhile. “I just love the ocean, we both do. It’s important to us,” he said. “It isn’t easy to look at, but I’ve been through a lot worse.”

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