There is something just not very British about a walk-in wardrobe. A crammed wooden cupboard with sagging door hinges, yes. An overflowing chest of drawers, yes. A jumble of shoes under the bed, yes. But an entire small room devoted to hanging space, neatly divided pull-out storage solutions, special pigeonholes for shoes and cunningly designed holders for ties and belts, bags and hats and jewellery? It all seems a bit New-York-Carrie-Bradshaw.
However, the closet, as CB would call it, is catching on. Part of this popularity is down to a change in priority for home-owners, says Tim Le Blanc-Smith, director of the Chelsea office of John D Wood & Co estate agents. "Formerly, everything was about the number of bedrooms in a property," he says.
"New builds had lots of little bedrooms. Now people talk about space all the time. People don't mind losing a bedroom to a walk-in or a dressing room." In fact, he adds, clients "moan like hell" if there is no cupboard space at all.
Another reason for the rise of the walk-in is that we simply have more clothes these days and we love them more, says Peter Hickey, managing director of California Closets. "We have three times more clothes now than we did 30 years ago. Designer clothes are available to people across all income levels and when they count up, clients are amazed at the value of the contents of their wardrobes. Storing those items correctly keeps them in far better condition and extends their lifetime."
Lee Wood is managing director of the Sliding Door Wardrobe Company, based in Cambridge, and one of the few British specialists in the field. He says that travel has also played a part. "People go on holidays to the States or Italy, see what they have over there, and come back with ideas. Houses in this country are generally smaller, so space is at a premium, and when people see how beautifully organised and laid out that space can be, they want the same."
This is not, however, just a question of having some fitted furniture shipped in, says Hickey. It's more of a life makeover. "Any kind of mess in your life creates problems," he says. "One of our mottos is 'simplify your life' ". Our designers visit your home and count your clothes and ask how you would ideally like to store them: long-hanging, double-hanging, folded on shelves, in drawer units, and so on. Our design and product combination gives an incredibly efficient solution in which all of your clothes are very visible – there's no more rummaging around for stuff, as everything is stored in the specific spaces created for them, creating a thoroughly organised system."
There is a science to this. Hanging space is generous; clothes won't hang properly in a space with a depth of less than 60cm, says Hickey. Conversely, his shelves are only 350mm deep, which is the depth of a piece of folded clothing. The idea is that if nothing is hidden behind anything else, order is maintained: the proof lies in the fact that clothes shops, where displays are re-folded many times a day and always have to look neat, follow the shallower-shelves principle. Because every design is individual, there's a place for everything: ski suits, jewellery, golf clubs, hats, handbags, suitcases. And, most miraculously of all, once there is a place for everything, tidiness becomes easy.
Hickey says that all property types can be fitted with a walk-in; even older homes with "crooked floors, sloping ceilings, walls out of plumb". He has installed walk-ins in all kinds of homes, from Georgian houses, to Victorian terraces, to new builds and lofts. It's possible to convert an existing small bedroom or take a chunk off a substantial master bedroom.
Wood says many of his projects are in "fairly standard three- or four-bedroom houses. People might turn two bedrooms into one large bedroom with an en suite and dressing-room or walk-in."
Because the components of the walk-in are built and finished before they are delivered, installation is relatively painless and can be accomplished in a day. So how much does it cost to put your clothes (and life) in order?
At California Closets, prices range from £800 up to £12-£15,000. Hickey says the average price for a "walk-in to dream and die for" is in the £2,500-£3,000 bracket. At the Sliding Door Wardrobe Company, prices start from £1,200 and their most expensive project to date cost £8,000.
For those working to a tighter budget, Wood says that a DIY attempt requires careful planning and measurement. "I've seen some fabulous examples of people doing it themselves who have then come to us for the doors and tracks." No room for a walk-in? There are other possibilities; for example the walk-through, which can be fitted in a corridor between two rooms, says Hickey.
He has also incorporated features of the walk-in into a standard reach-in (that is, a normal wardrobe to you and me). And California Closets are now turning their attention to pantries, utility rooms and garages. Clutter has nowhere to hide.