Even if you prefer old construction methods to new-fangled ones, you have to admit there's one area in which Victorian and earlier house builders didn't do well: closets.

People simply didn't store things as we do, or didn't have as much -- especially clothes -- to store. A serious clothes-closet deficit can be remedied with free-standing units (armoires, the old-fashioned solution) or with new closets carved out of old spaces.

Small center bedrooms, common in row houses but also present other types of houses, are great places to grab closet space. Sometimes a couple of small closets backing up to each other can be combined into one more useful space.

Don't get stuck in an every-room-must-have-a-closet mode. Small studies or libraries and infants' rooms don't need closets. If there are a lot of back-to-back closets crammed into a fairly small space, chances are that none of them is really useful anyway.

If you're putting in a bathroom, consider splitting a large space into bath and closet.

One of the cleverest closets we've seen used the front portion of a small middle room as a neatly fitted out walk-in closet and the rear portion, which had a window, as a master bath.

Even if the area you carve out for a closet isn't gigantic, you can fit it out to make the most of the space. The typical linear closet -- one rod about 66 inches off the floor with a shelf above -- works fine if all you own are coats, robes and long dresses. Otherwise it's a waste of space. You can double the hanging space with double rods -- for shirts, blouses, jackets, skirts -- and still have a small high rod for longer garments.

With only a little bit more space, you can get double rods, a high rod and a set of vertical shelves for storing sweaters or shoes.

A linear closet 2 feet deep and 6 or 7 feet wide, if it's carefully designed, can provide a lot of storage. (See diagram.)

Good closet design starts with knowing exactly what you're going to store, according to closet specialists.

"Before you design a closet," says Sherry Samsing, owner of the California Closet Co. in Baltimore, "inventory your clothes. Count your shoes, measure and count various types of clothes.

"Get rid of things you haven't been wearing. Things get stored in the recesses that we forget about," she says.

Once you know what you have, you can begin to calculate how many feet of clothes rod you'll need and how many shelves.

In the system Ms. Samsing uses, standard shelf depth is 14 inches. The point, she says, is to keep everything clearly visible. Also, she says, "we get everything off the floor." That reduces the amount of bending over you have to do to get things out.

Ms. Samsing recommends putting the top rod at 84 inches, with a shelf at 42 inches and another rod two inches below that. (The height can be adjusted for taller or shorter people, but be careful not to make the distances so eccentric they'll put off potential buyers if you sell the house later.)

Closet rods need a minimum of 12 inches of clearance on each side and 2 inches at the top. The rods will need center support if they are more than 3 feet wide. A standard width for vertical shelves is about 18 inches, but you may need larger spaces for linens, or hats. Adjustable shelves will make the space even more flexible.

Next: Designing other storage.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.

If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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