By Lexi Nielsen
Stacy Schuler Wettstein, along with her brother Rich Schuler, is the owner of Within Your Reach, an Oak Park based company offering custom storage solutions for the home. Their designs include but are not limited to bedrooms, pantries, laundry rooms, home offices, garages, and mud rooms.
Within Your Reach got started out of necessity: Stacy had just moved into a small house and needed to manage the space. At the same time her brother was busy renovating homes and needed some help with closet storage ideas. So the two came up with closet ideas together, and in 2004 they opened up their storage solution business.
Renovating spaces for best use and organizing are two things that Stacy has always loved. She recalls how as a child she would take great care “loading the dishwasher” and “packing the car for a road trip.” In 1982 – long before the trend for closet organizing – Stacy took a small room in her house and turned it into a closet. She says her passion has always been to “help people get organized."
Recently I sat down with Stacy to talk about closet organization. Fall is traditionally a time when people start interior projects, and getting serious about organizing is always at the top of the list. Like getting nests ready for winter, I think we feel an inherent need to get organized so that we can enjoy our homes while we are stuck inside them for six long months.
So I began by asking Stacy: How does the process of closet organizing work?
According to Stacy, fairly quickly! From the moment she gets the initial phone call from a new client, she gets right to work. The first question she asks the client is “Why are you calling me today?” And by that she is essentially asking “What’s motivating you to take action today?” She says her clients usually get motivated to take action due to the change in seasons, as mentioned above, or a move to a new home, or another major lifestyle change such as a child going off to college. Other clients get inspired by something they saw or read in a magazine. Whatever the reason, Stacy gets started right away. “It’s important to get to people when they’re ready.” She recognizes that by the time they call, they’ve probably already spent some time thinking about making a change and so by the time they call her, they are ready to dive in.
After that initial phone call, Stacy makes a site visit. “Here it’s important to ask the family how they use the space. “ Stacy spends ample time walking through the house to determine how the family lives in their home: asking questions, taking measurements and photographs, and taking notes on how people use their space on a daily basis. She may be there to organize just one closet, but she takes a holistic approach to the process, making sure the closet she designs functions with the lifestyle of the family and how they use all other areas of their home.
Stacy also looks at the space just outside a closet, because this is usually a largely underutilized area. “We want make sure that the closets work hard, but make the space just outside the closet work hard too.” She says just outside the closet is a great spot for organization with hooks or shelving.
The third touch point with a client usually takes place at the Within Your Reach showroom on Roosevelt Avenue. There, Stacy will walk through the different styles and options of space organization that are available. This is also the time when she will present a 3D visual of the design concept, so that her clients can see what the space will look like once completed. “It gives the client a great sense of how they will use the solution.” It’s a collaborative process and a lot of fun.
So where does she begin with the actual design for the closet? “The first thing people need is hanging space,” says Stacy. After the hanging space is created, then she moves on to shelving, a laundry basket, and drawers, if required.
What about the organization system themselves? “The configurations are endless,” says Stacy. She can make any space work, and she loves a challenge. For example, what to do with those typical reach in closets found in so many Oak Park homes, where the closet door height opening is just 80 inches but the ceiling height inside is much higher? Stacy came up with a solution. “We created a tapered vertical to fit within the closet to maximize the space height.”
It can take about two weeks for orders to delivery, and they can often install in a day. That’s because they precut the pieces beforehand, so that nothing usually needs to be cut on site. Within Your Reach also uses a local master carpenter for their jobs. “It’s important to me to give back to the community by using local resources.” All the Within Your Reach products come locally from Holland Michigan. “Our footprint is very reasonable,” says Stacy. All the recycled board comes over the border from Canada and to the manufacturer in Michigan.
Of course a huge part of getting a closet organized is decluttering. So how does Stacy approach the subject? Stacy says that she doesn’t like to use the word decluttering. “It’s editing,” she says. “Editing is definitely a big part of it.” She is sensitive to the fact that people have a hard time paring down their stuff, especially if they have strong emotional attachments to it. She coaches her clients that building a closet organization system is a great time to donate things you no longer want or need to a charity or someone who could greatly benefit from them. Stacy also works with several local professional organizers who can help families with the editing process if they need it.
This last point brings me to an interesting tip that I saw on her website: have a designated charity place in your home for items you no longer need. I loved this idea and I asked her to expand on it. She says that rather than having things like food items expire in the back of your pantry, or let clothes that no longer fit take up precious space in your closet, you should create a designated space in your house for these things until you are ready to let them go. She said the laundry area is a great place to house stuff like this. If you are afraid of having it become too much of a pile, then contact a local organization to come to your home every six weeks to take the pile. Or keep those postcards that we all get in the mail from charities, mark the date they are in your neighborhood, and put everything in a bag and leave it on your front steps for them to pick up on the designated day.
Next to closets, what other area of the home can use some serious organizing? “The hardest working area in a home,” says Stacy, “is the entryway. Here, hooks, bench seats and places to put accessories like hats and gloves come in very handy, especially if an entryway closet is tiny or nonexistent. “ This area can quickly become overrun with shoes, especially in winter, so Stacy says to “have a conversation with the entire family about how many pairs of shoes per person can stay there.” For example, your family may decide that each member only gets to keep three pairs there. So after three pairs, the rest must go in a closet someplace else.
Just like how she started in this business, Stacy thinks about what she would do if it were her own space needing organization. “I make the same suggestions to my clients that work for me (and my family)” she says.
Within Your Reach is located 6140 W. Roosevelt Road, Oak Park, IL 60304. Their phone number is (708) 386-0810 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org