Storing Up

The family-owned Closet Factory takes home storage to a whole new, local — and custom — level.

Since they became the owners of the Closet Factory in Tualatin in July, Karen and Chris McIlmoil have become very familiar with a particular three-letter word: Wow. 

“Every client who comes in and sees the finished project in their home, they all say the same thing — ‘Wow,’” says Chris. “Every time.” 

They’re saying it because of the aesthetics of their new closet or storage system, the design, the materials, the speed of installation — everything about it creates a moment of delight. And that’s just what the McIlmoils are aiming to achieve at Closet Factory. 

The husband-and-wife team may be somewhat new to owning their own franchise, but they’re hardly new to the company. Karen’s father, John La Barbera, started Closet Factory in California in 1983 when Karen was 9 years old. She later worked for the company in college. 

Fast-forward a few decades, and Karen and Chris were looking for a new opportunity after Chris sold his longtime veterinarian practices to a large corporation. The Tualatin franchise of Closet Factory wasn’t for sale at the time, but putting the bug in the owner’s ear eventually paid off, and the McIlmoils acquired it at the end of July. The couple also owns a second, complementary business, Wall Beds of Oregon.

Karen says what they’ve enjoyed the most has been working with each individual client and hearing their unique stories. One client who’d recently become a widow had Closet Factory design an entertainment center that would showcase her late husband’s love of books and reading; another was a tattoo artist with a global tattoo-supplies company who needed a closet storage space done quickly and with little disruption to the family. 

“We meet the most amazing people,” Karen says. 

Since taking ownership, the McIlmoils, along with their five children — all of whom help in the business — have been focused on producing that familiar “wow” for their clients. The local, family-owned company specializes in custom closet systems, including walk-in closets, reach-in closets, dressing rooms and wardrobes. Closet Factory also builds custom systems for home offices, garages, entertainment centers, laundry rooms and pantries, as well as specialty areas like wine storage, home libraries and mud rooms. They do commercial spaces as well.

A common need for many clients is combining spaces. 

“Many people have a spare bedroom and would like to turn the space into a home office but don’t want to lose a bed for their guests,” Karen says. “A wall bed with custom cabinetry, such as a nightstand, desk, bookshelves and wardrobe with doors can solve the dilemma in an elegant way.” 

Several attributes set Closet Factory apart from other closet companies. For starters, Karen’s father, an engineer, designed his systems to be floor-based rather than wall-based. The result is a stronger, sturdier system.

Closet Factory owners Chris and Karen McIlmoil help clients choose the perfect surfaces and hardware for their project from samples in their showroom.

“When he started out, my dad wanted to build a better way,” Karen says, “so he built from the floor up so that all of the weight is evenly distributed on the floor and not hanging on the wall. The systems are heavy, and once all the clothes and shoes are loaded in them, they can be as heavy as a refrigerator. You would not want to hang a fridge on your wall.”

Closet Factory also offers extensive custom painting and staining that most others don’t. Unlike other closet companies that have limited selections, Closet Factory carries close to 70 different colors of melamine — the laminated particle board used in construction — and can use natural-wood panels that can be painted or stained to the client’s preference. The company, which uses 99% Oregon- and Washington-made materials, has its shop right behind the showroom in Tualatin, so everything is done locally, which also allows for a quick installation time of just a day or two. 

“We control the whole process from beginning to end,” Karen says. “Every point of contact that the client has along the way is an employee of Closet Factory.” 

Closet Factory’s process is custom, too. Prospective clients set up a free, in-home consultation with one of the company’s designers. The designer talks to the client about their needs, their style, their budget and other details before coming up with a design. Every space is different, and each has its own challenges and opportunities. 

The process also includes meticulous measuring and inventorying. Karen says every item of clothing and every pair of shoes gets measured or counted. Designers have to account for obstacles like outlets and sprinklers; in some cases, they’ll even measure the width of a client’s feet with their shoes on to make sure they design a shoe shelf that is just the right size. 

“We want to make sure we are maximizing the space so we can store all their items,” Karen says. “It really does take a lot of thoughtfulness. It’s a jigsaw puzzle mixed with sudoku and design, but we love that process. We are building it just for you.”