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Tuck-aways are those odd-shaped spaces that imagination transforms into special places.

In a child's eyes, they exist anywhere from under the sheets to inside a cardboard box. Neither square footage nor location seems to matter. What really counts is the private refuge they afford.

To someone young, tuck-aways often provide the added advantage of being big enough for only a pint-size person to maneuver comfortably in. Imagine the lure such a cozy haven has for a girl or a boy who might go there to entertain pets, playthings or make-believe pals.

If your child seeks a playful hideaway more permanent than the bedcovers, consider his or her bedroom closet. It may be an ideal alcove to create another room to retreat to once in a while. With little effort or expense, you can convert part of this overlooked space into a reading loft, a nap-time nook or even a mighty fort that allows a lookout point on high.

Whether it's single or a double closet, start the metamorphosis by removing the door or doors, storing them until the day when enclosed storage is more appropriate. In the door's place, suspend a shower curtain, sheeting, canvas or other washable material your child selects, using a simple tension rod sold at bath or hardware stores. Entry to this inner sanctum becomes a snap for small hands, which merely push the covering aside.

Now turn your attention inward and upward. If your son or daughter is too short to reach clothes hanging near the top of the closet, move the rod down low so everything is within easy grasp. Replace the upper rod with a sturdy shelf reinforced bTC along the walls with supports adequate enough to hold a small child's body weight.

Along the front of the shelf, add a safety bar to prevent accidental falls, and at one end secure a ladder angled for easy climbing. Cushion the shelf with pillows or a small foam mattress and provide good light even if it's only a battery-operated lamp. The result of your efforts will be a comfy penthouse hideaway.

Closet lofts allow children to enjoy countless hours in a special world. Tempting as they may be for nighttime sleep space, however, they should not be considered a full-time replacement for a traditional bed. Better to use this upper-level space for occasional naps. As a permanent out-of-the-way rest spot, lofts are excellent for stuffed animals, dolls and other lightweight toys.

Whether beasties or ghoulies in a child's room go bump in the night or bump in the day, there's a sense of security if a young defender has a fortress to defend. An irregularly shaped cranny that defies common usefulness could be the perfect place to position young sentries plotting strategy.

If a closet cubicle is too high for a child to reach, create a stairway to it by fastening horizontally some finished 2-by-4s at least 3 inches apart, letting them stretch from the floor to the fort. At the entry to this outpost, hang a piece of sturdy cloth slitted with flaps for curious faces to peer out from and identify callers as friends or foes. Inside, cushion the command post with beanbag chairs or extra-large throw pillows.

As a child stretches toward adulthood and requires more vertical storage to handle longer clothing, it's time to reconfigure the loft closet. That upper shelf that once held toys and tykes may now need to be pressed into duty as storage for more grown-up personal effects.

Carving space for special activities in an older child's closet is particularly appealing to the young person inspiring these changes if it caters to his or her special interests. Consider these options for closets left "doorless":

*Grooming station: Off to one side of a double closet, place a vanity or tabletop unit with enough space for cosmetics, perfumes, grooming supplies and other paraphernalia. Add a freestanding makeup mirror and a chair or stool to complete the station.

*Caged pet storage: Open closet shelves in a well-ventilated area of a child's room are sometimes a good location for caged pets like birds, reptiles, gerbils and mice, especially when there's more than one container to accommodate. Depending on the particular space, aquariums might do well here, too. Regardless of the kind of pet, however, consider the need for indirect lighting as well as temperature control before turning this spot into Tweetie's or Twinkle's permanent home.

*Computer station: Fitted with outlets, task lighting and sufficient work surfaces, an auxiliary closet may house all or most of a student's computer equipment. Adjustable shelves can customize this space to handle manuals, spare disks and other gear.

With or without doors, closets can accommodate many other childhood interests. For example:

*Doll and toy collections: To encourage care of dolls, miniatures, awards and other fine belongings, outfit an auxiliary closet, or part of a large main closet, with cubicles and/or adjustable shelves. Expensive collections might require encasing shelves in glass or Lucite to deter dust and sticky fingers.

*An exercise closet: To promote a positive self-image and mind/body connection and to provide a means of venting frustrations, incorporate an exercise area into a child's room so such activity becomes part of the daily routine. A large closet could serve as a mini-gym with space allotted to an exercise mat, a chin-up bar and possibly a punching bag. If the only closet that can house exercise equipment is small, consider installing a slant board for sit-ups in much the same way as an ironing board flips down in a utility closet.

Finally, even a closet kept in its original state can assume a dual personality by the addition of varied rods and hooks to redefine the territory. Simple strips of wood spaced evenly to line every inch of wall make orderly storage easy and enjoyable with holders that hook onto each rung. Don't overlook the hardware store for possibilities. Ironing board hooks, for example, are extra-long and hold all sorts of things from shoes to sports gear.

Interior designer Antonio F. Torrice and design journalist Ro Logrippo are co-authors of "In My Room: Designing for and with Children."

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