An Organized Space Can Translate to Luxury, Says California Closets Executive

Jill LaRue-Rieser is the senior vice president and chief product and merchandising at California Closets, which builds out custom closet setups. After working in the apparel space, Ms. LaRue-Rieser transitioned into home design, helping to grow Pottery Barn Kids and PB Teen Brands. In 2017, she joined California Closets after 16 years at Williams-Sonoma.

California Closets, which has more than 120 showrooms across North America, designs and builds custom closets and storage spaces. “We like to refer to it as ‘practical magic,’” Ms. LaRue-Rieser said. “Because we start with something that might look a little chaotic and disorganized and then transform it into something really beautiful.”

Mansion Global spoke to Ms. LaRue-Rieser about her rise in the design industry, what changes the pandemic has caused in home organization and why time is the ultimate luxury.

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Mansion Global: Can you tell us a little bit about California Closets and the ethos of the company?

Jill LaRue-Rieser: It’s a little magical treasure. We manifest people’s dreams, starting in their closet and really throughout their homes, and particularly the last couple of years where we’re spending a lot more time in our home and we’re focused on improvements and how to live a more organized life. You could have a one-bedroom apartment or you could have a very large home, and we adapt and we make it yours.

MG: And tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into this industry, and then how did you come to this company? 

JLR: I actually started out in apparel. I’ve had a little bit of a maker in me my whole life. I’m really interested in consumer-facing businesses, and I found after being in apparel for a while that I was really passionate about the home space. I worked for Pottery Barn in retail and helped them lead a few brands. And it’s just really fun solving customers’ needs, and bringing design together with the idea of a need. It’s always really interesting when the brand takes shape with consumers and they relate and come back and want more. And you feel like you have built a relationship. And so when I first met other people at California Closets, I was just really drawn to the business model and what they do because it takes it to another level. It’s really a lot about the relationship.

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MG: Can you talk about what might be a typical client need and how your company might go about solving that?

JLR: We do a lot of primary closets. Potentially a husband and wife are going to share a closet. And then they need their very distinct spaces. But I have to say, while the common thread might be a closet, everybody has a different vision. So if the husband has a collection of baseball caps, we have to solve for: How do we address that? Or maybe there’s a lot of handbags or jewelry that the wife has. And so our expertise is to assess, “Oh, you have a lot of shoes. So this is the way we’re going to do that.” And so it’s always just a version of what the configuration of that space might be. And it’s always completely tailored to what the customer needs and wants. 

MG: How would you define luxury?

JLR: There are two things that are very luxury. One is: Everybody desires to have more time in their life. So if we can create a space that allows them to not spend as much time when you’re searching for something, you can’t find it, and you think, “Oh, my gosh, I just wasted 15 minutes.” So that’s one piece of it. And then the other thing that I would say is, it’s really a luxury to have things personalized. It’s really a luxury to have things exactly the way you want it, which might be different from your friend or a family member. But it’s quite a luxury to be able to have things tailormade. Both time and personalization create not only a luxurious experience but have the value of contributing to people’s lifestyles. 

MG: I understand that you’ve observed some changes in the requests coming in from clients because of the pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

JLR: One, we’ve seen an expansion of spaces into more rooms of the house. So the obvious one is once people started to emerge out of lockdown and they’re still at their kitchen table, they’re like, “I need to carve out space for my home office.” And so we’ve seen a growth in home office. And it’s really contributed to our research and development of making sure we have the same kind of expertise for a home office as we might have for a closet. Where do they need the plugs? What would be considered ergonomic? Where does a monitor need to be? What height does the monitor need to be? Pantries are much more of an interest for a couple of reasons. People have been cooking more at home. They’ve had their whole families together. And so they have to have more supplies. And then just the fact that people want to stock up a little bit more. They’ve seen a few empty shelves and so they’re trying to stock up. So that is definitely something that has emerged from what we’ve seen happen over the last couple of years. 

MG: Aside from those trends from everyone spending more time at home, are there any particular design trends that you’re seeing?

JLR: There are some natural elements that are really coming into design, a warming up of finishes. We’re seeing warmer tones move into the trends where a few years back it was just gray, gray, gray. It’s not like the gray has gone away, but even the gray has warmed up. Things like the impact of houseplants or the color green or the feeling of nature really coming into design. We’re seeing, with some of the standalone furniture pieces, there’s a lot more round, voluptuous-looking, very inviting-looking seating that we’re starting to see, and tactile fabrics. I think it’s just people wanting to create a sanctuary that feels safe and comfortable and inviting. 

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MG: If someone is considering installing a custom closet setup and maybe they just haven’t done it yet, what advice would you have for them? 

JLR: I have to say that the benefit that they will reap from having an organized space—it lasts for a long time. It adds value to their home. It is an investment. It is not just like getting a nice handbag. This is permanent. And the impact and value that it has is timeless. And it also will contribute to raising the value of their home. It’s probably one of the first places that you visit in the morning, and it’s probably the last place you visit, besides brushing your teeth when you go to bed. It’s a space that gets a lot of attention.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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