Find­ing her niche in closet de­sign

Lisa Adams started out as a chemist but now cre­ates spa­ces for celebs to hang clothes.

Los Angeles Times - - WORK LIFE - By Rachel Spacek rachel.spacek@la­times.com Twit­ter: @rachelspacek

The gig: Lisa Adams is the chief ex­ec­u­tive and de­signer at LA Closet De­sign, a fullser­vice lux­ury closet de­sign firm that she founded in 2007. Adams has worked with celebri­ties in­clud­ing Khloe Kar­dashian, Christina Aguil­era and Reese Wither­spoon.

Based in West Hol­ly­wood, LA Closet De­sign of­fers ser­vices world­wide. Adams es­ti­mates she’s do­ing about 15 clos­ets at a given time and 50 a year. For a cus­tom walk-in closet, she charges an av­er­age of $60,000, though the prices range from about $35,000 to as high as $500,000. Is­land life: Grow­ing up in Honolulu, Adams said, she felt pres­sure from her par­ents to suc­ceed. As sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion Asian im­mi­grants, they had a strong de­sire for their chil­dren to do bet­ter than they had, she said.

“By sec­ond grade, I was al­ready learning more than they knew,” Adams said.

Adams said be­ing raised in Hawaii and be­ing part of a di­verse com­mu­nity taught her to treat peo­ple equally re­gard­less of their dif­fer­ences. Pur­su­ing science: Adams ex­celled in math and science and went on to study chem­istry at UC Berke­ley; she thought the field was a per­fect blend of math and science.

Adams said the tran­si­tion from liv­ing on a small is­land to at­tend­ing such a big school as Berke­ley was a cul­ture shock. As a small­town girl, she could not wait to grad­u­ate and re­turn to Hawaii, she said.

Back in Honolulu, she worked in a pri­vate lab­o­ra­tory, test­ing food for yeast and mold. The lab helped food com­pa­nies make sure their prod­ucts com­plied with safety re­quire­ments.

Af­ter a few months, Adams thought, “This isn’t quite ‘it.’ ” She de­sired more op­por­tu­ni­ties than Hawaii and the lab­o­ra­tory of­fered. Back to school: While study­ing busi­ness at Pep­per­dine Univer­sity, Adams landed a job at a de­sign firm. The com­pany worked pri­mar­ily on kitchens and bath­rooms, with the oc­ca­sional closet.

“It was in that moment that I thought, ‘What about clos­ets? Who is do­ing clos­ets? Maybe I should be do­ing clos­ets,’ ” Adams said. “Ever since then, I have not looked back.” What about clos­ets? Adams asked her­self why clos­ets were no longer the 18th cen­tury dress­ing rooms they used to be. Adams’ re­al­iza­tion came at a time when peo­ple were hir­ing de­sign­ers for lux­ury kitchens in mas­sive houses.

She wasn’t im­pressed with the clos­ets in some of the man­sions where the com­pany was in­stalling kitchens.

“Peo­ple spend so much time and en­ergy on cloth­ing, shoes and ac­ces­sories and their clos­ets were an af­ter­thought,” Adams said. A three-story project: One of the largest clos­ets Adams has ever done was a three­story closet in Bel-Air. “It was al­most like a Neiman Mar­cus de­part­ment store,” Adams said.

Each floor was about 1,500 square feet and had its own is­land. The main floor was for ev­ery­day cloth­ing; the sec­ond was tai­lored cloth­ing, shoes and ac­ces­sories; the bot­tom level was sea­sonal cloth­ing and a jew­elry room.

Is­land life: Adams be­lieves in a hands-on ap­proach to her work and likes to be a part of ev­ery project her firm works on.

“Not only do I think my hands-on ap­proach is the se­cret sauce, but I feel like that is the best part of it,” she said. “Going into ev­ery house and ev­ery closet is such a priv­i­lege.” Giv­ing back: Six years ago, Adams reached out to Dress for Suc­cess World­wide West, the L.A. af­fil­i­ate of the New York non­profit that pro­vides dis­ad­van­taged women with pro­fes­sional work­place at­tire.

Adams sits on the ad­vi­sory coun­cil and helped de­sign its bou­tique space in L.A. Be­fore that, it was a sim­ple room where women looked through bins for suits. Today, women can get fit­ted and try on out­fits in a more glam­orous set­ting. In the fu­ture: Adams is dis­cussing open­ing up an LA Closet De­sign in the Mid­dle East — if she can find a way to be heav­ily in­volved from afar.

LA Closet De­sign is also in the first drafts of a cof­fee ta­ble closet book and plans to re­lease a line of closet ac­ces­sories geared for lux­ury clos­ets.

Mar­cus Yam Los An­ge­les Times

LISA ADAMS de­signs 50 clos­ets a year. Cus­tom walk-in clos­ets range from $35,000 to $500,000, but her av­er­age charge is $60,000.

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