What makes a stylish wardrobe? First tip: steer clear of sliding doors

I’ve moved into a house where the master bedroom has dull sliding-door wardrobes lining a whole wall, and I’d like to rip them out and replace them with something more stylish. What would you suggest?

This sounds like a good idea; I’m really not a fan of sliding doors. Why? I’m not sure. . . It’s the action, I think. I much prefer grabbing a handle and opening a proper door. First things first, though: you need to work out your requirements. Are we talking mostly hanging space? Do you need drawers? A combination of drawers and shelving? Space for shoes? Once you have these questions answered, you can move on to the fun part.

I like the look of fitted wardrobes. I suggest talking to a local carpenter who will be able to make something bespoke for your space. Going down this route versus buying a ready-made wardrobe means you will not only end up with (hopefully) beautiful joinery, but you’ll also be able to determine the exact combination of storage solutions.

We installed fitted wardrobes at home in London a few years ago. The main bulk of the space is taken up with cupboards – inside we have hanging space and, beneath this, room for shoe racks. Above these large cupboards we have smaller ones in which we keep clothes that are currently not needed – in summer we stuff these with our coats and jumpers. We do not touch them for months at a time, so it’s fine that they’re up high and hard to get to.

Wardrobe with panels of coral-colored gathered fabric behind lattice metalwork

Dressing room designed by Rosanna Bossom and featuring lattice metalwork on the door panels © Astrid Templier

When it comes to the exterior finishing of fitted wardrobes, your options are endless. I really like fairly traditional-looking doors, complete with assembled fabric panels. For inspiration, see a dressing room designed by London-based decorator Rosanna Bossom for a client in Parsons Green: coral-colored gathered fabric looks fantastic behind lattice metalwork.

Do not feel that you need to stick with regular rectangular paneling, however. How about cutting interesting shapes into your doors and fitting fabric, caning or brass grilles behind them?

I very much like fully lacquered wardrobes, but then I will forever be an advocate of glossy paintwork – there is something glamorous about it, and it bounces light around marvelously. I’m envisioning combining wardrobes in a plain glossy paint with a patterned carpet – pure magic. If you’re unconvinced on wardrobes painted a full punchy color (after all, it will be a large presence in your room), consider a softer, subtler shade for the base, then picking out a detail on your doors in a stronger shade. I like this approach – it would create a very tailored look.

A brightly lit dressing room with mirrors on three sides

Powder room by American interior designer Miles Redd

I enjoy mirrored wardrobes, yet really only in the context of a fully mirrored room, and, well, I’m not sure about the idea of ​​a fully mirrored master bedroom. Perfect for a dressing room, though. I remember once seeing a dressing room like this designed by the American decorator Miles Redd and it was the picture of elegance. I love the idea or mirrored doors and
a silver leaf ceiling.

Now: hardware. Choosing interesting knobs for a wardrobe is a fun job. Why not go for something unusual? Ebay is a great source for old ones, or you could hunt for interesting new ones – perhaps a better option as you may need quite a few for a set of wardrobe doors. I like the selection at Collier Webb in London: the Blimp is a solid handle available in various finishes from antique brass to blackened copper, with a very pleasing shape reminiscent of an airship.

I also love a good freestanding wardrobe, particularly antique ones. It’s possible to find pieces of such brilliant character. Due to their size, beautiful old wardrobes can add major impact to a room. When looking, search not only for wardrobes but also armoires and linen presses. I noticed online recently a magnificent 18th-century Dutch oak cupboard for sale via Lorfords. Its ebonised geometric paneling is striking, as are the enormous bun feet. There is no space inside for hanging, but it’d be perfect for storing shoes or folded clothes.

An antique wardrobe of classic, sturdy wood with darker square panels

An 18th-century Dutch armoire in oak, with ebonised geometric paneling

Most contemporary wardrobes on the market do not fill me with much joy. Too often they seem to lack any kind of special quality. However, I do rather like the idea of ​​taking an off-the-peg standard, or simple vintage wardrobe and giving it a DIY facelift.

Recently my curiosity was piqued when I noticed on Instagram the creative director Gabby Deeming’s own wardrobe at home in London (see top picture), which she has decorated with delicately painted flowers and a wavey border. It’s hard not to mention Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell when discussing painted furniture – for the ultimate inspiration look at the wardrobes they adorned at Charleston in East Sussex.

If I were you, though, I’d go for fitted wardrobes. You will make the most of your space, and you’ll end up with something bespoke and special. Even if you do not fancy the full Charleston, mirrored or gathered fabric treatment, you will not go far wrong if you give good consideration to how you treat your doors and handles.

If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at lukeedward.hall@ft.com. Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

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