Before and After: A Cluttered Closet Becomes a Functional “Speakeasy” for $800
Sometimes, home updates left by previous residents can leave you scratching your head and wondering just what they were thinking. But other times, those updates are strokes of genius. Take, for example, the closet that previous owners added to the dining room in Rachel Roque’s 1921 home. Those homeowners had used the dining room as a bedroom, so the new closet space was a necessary addition.
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When Rachel and her husband Steve moved in, they wanted to bring the house a little more in line with its original layout. That meant turning the dining room-turned-bedroom back into a dining room — but leaving the spacious closet in place. Initially, the organization was lacking, Rachel says: “It was a dumping ground for grocery bags, paper goods, spare linens, and everything else that didn’t have a proper space.”
Since Steve loves to entertain, Rachel wanted to give him a dining room that would would accommodate that. She decided to transform the closet into a chic “speakeasy,” outfitted to serve as a functioning bar, as a Christmas gift to him. The challenge: The couple still needed storage space for all the unsexy stuff that they’d been keeping in the closet — like cleaning tools and supplies — so Rachel wanted to incorporate that into the plans, too.
“We were long-term renters before buying the house, so I am most comfortable working with peel and stick wallpaper and backsplashes, plug in sconces, other reversible upgrades that maintain flexibility for future uses,” Rachel says. For this project, she started by taking detailed measurements and sketching her plan out (shown above).
After moving everything out of the closet, Rachel taped out the areas she’d be painting: two arches, plus the already-installed wood shelf. “I’m a maximalist but Steve’s tastes are more streamlined, so it was a challenge to make a 3×6 closet serve multiple purposes and feel transformed and abundant without going completely bananas,” Rachel says. The dramatic paint job, which divides the closet into two distinct areas — the bar and the storage space — helped it all come together.
Painting the twin arches and the shelf black to match the new bar cabinet (a score from Rachel’s local Buy Nothing group) and storage cabinet gives the illusion that all the disparate pieces are actually one unified assembly. Rachel splurged on the surrounding walls, choosing an iconic zebra-print wallpaper from Scalamandre in a peel-and-stick format.
Then came the practical features: a wall-mounted holder for the broom and other cleaning tools, wine glass holders installed underneath the shelf, and two plug-in sconces that light up the bar cabinet. To save money on decor, Rachel thrifted what she could and tried to reuse what she already owned as much as possible. In the end, the project cost about $800 and was completed over two weeks.
Now, the closet is better suited to the couple’s lifestyle — the exciting parts and the boring parts alike.
“It is so fun to open the closet doors and find this secret little delight!” Rachel says. “I also love that this little closet still works for real, every day life — it’s a thrill each time I grab the vacuum or a grocery bag. It’s relatively easy to make a room pretty, but we do still need it to function for how we actually live.”
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