Jill LaRue-Rieser is senior vice president and head of product and merchandising at California Closets, which creates custom closet configurations. After working in the clothing industry, Ms. LaRue-Rieser moved into home design, helping to develop Pottery Barn Kids and PB Teen Brands. In 2017, she joined California Closets after 16 years at Williams-Sonoma.
California Closets, with over 120 showrooms across North America, designs and builds custom closets and storage spaces. “We like to call it ‘practical magic,'” Ms. LaRue-Rieser said. “Because we start with something that might seem a little chaotic and disorganized and then turn it into something really beautiful.”
Mansion Global spoke to Ms. LaRue-Rieser about her rise in the design industry, the changes the pandemic has brought to home organizing and why time is the ultimate luxury.
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Mansion Global: Can you tell us a bit more about California Closets and the company’s philosophy?
Julie LaRue-Rieser: It’s a magical little treasure. We’re manifesting people’s dreams, starting in their closet and really throughout their home, and especially in the last two years where we’ve been spending a lot more time in our home and focusing on improvements and how to live a more organized life. You could have a one bedroom apartment or you could have a very large house, and we adapt and make it yours.
MG: And tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into this industry and then how did you get into this business?
JLR: In fact, I started in clothing. I’ve had a bit of a creator in me all my life. I’m really interested in consumer-facing businesses, and discovered 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 run a few brands. And it’s really fun to meet the needs of customers and to associate the design with the idea of a need. It’s always very interesting when the brand takes shape with consumers and they identify and come back and want more. And you feel like you’ve built a relationship. And so when I first met other people at California Closets, I was 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 tell us what a typical customer need might be and how your company might go about addressing it?
JLR: We do a lot of primary closets. Potentially, a husband and wife will share a closet. And then they need their very distinct spaces. But I have to say that while the common thread may be a closet, everyone has a different view. So, if the husband has a collection of baseball caps, we have to solve this problem: how can we solve this problem? Or maybe there are a lot of handbags or jewelry that the woman has. And so our expertise is to assess, “Oh, you have a lot of shoes. So that’s how we’re going to proceed. And so it’s still just one version of what the configuration of that space might be. And it is always completely tailored to the needs and wishes of the customer.
MG: How would you define luxury?
JLR: There are two things that are very luxurious. The first is this: everyone wants more time in their lives. So if we can create a space where they don’t have to spend so much time when you’re looking for something, you can’t find it and you think, “Oh my God, I just wasted 15 minutes.” It is therefore an element. And then the other thing I would say is that it’s really a luxury to have personalized things. It is truly a luxury to have things exactly the way you want them, which may be different from your friend or family member. But it’s quite a luxury to be able to have things made to measure. Time and customization not only create a luxurious experience, but have the value of contributing to people’s lifestyle.
MG: I understand that you have observed changes in customer requests due to the pandemic. Can you talk a bit about that?
JLR: First, we have seen an expansion of spaces in more rooms of the house. So what’s obvious is that once people start coming out of lockdown and they’re still at their kitchen table, they’re like, ‘I need to make room for my desk at residence. And so we’ve seen a growth of the home office. And that really helped our research and development to make sure we have the same kind of expertise for a home office that we might have for a closet. Where do they need the plugs? What would be considered ergonomic? Where should a monitor be? How high should the monitor be? Pantries are much more interesting for several reasons. People cook more at home. They had their whole family together. And so they must have more supplies. And then just the fact that people want to stock up a bit more. They have seen a few empty shelves and are therefore trying to stock up. So it’s definitely something that has emerged from what we’ve seen happen over the last two years.
MG: Aside from these trends of everyone spending more time at home, are there any particular design trends you see?
JLR: There are natural elements that really go into the design, a warming up of the finishes. We’re seeing warmer tones coming into trends where a few years ago it was just grey, grey, grey. It’s not like the gray has disappeared, but even the gray has warmed up. Things like the impact of indoor plants or the color green or the feeling that nature is really going into the design. We see, with some of the freestanding furniture, there’s a lot more round, voluptuous, very inviting seating than we’re starting to see, and tactile fabrics. I think it’s just people wanting to create a sanctuary that feels safe, comfortable, and inviting.
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MG: If someone is considering installing a custom closet configuration and they may not have done it yet, what advice would you give them?
JLR: I have to say the benefit they will get from having an organized space is long lasting. It adds value to their home. It is an investment. It’s not like getting a nice handbag. It’s permanent. And the impact and value it has is timeless. And it will also help increase the value of their home. It’s probably one of the first places you visit in the morning, and it’s probably the last place you visit, other than brushing your teeth when you go to bed. It is a space that attracts a lot of attention.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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