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Former chemist now designs closets for celebs like the Kardashians [Los Angeles Times :: BC-REAL-CLOSETDESIGNER-QA:LA]

LOS ANGELES - Lisa Adams is the chief executive and designer at LA Closet Design, a full-service 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 around $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 second-generation 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 the University of California at 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 small-town 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 working in the lab for a few months, Adams thought, "This isn't quite 'it.'" She desired more opportunities than Hawaii and the laboratory offered.

Back to school: While attending business school at Pepperdine University, Adams landed a job working on the operations side at a design firm. The company worked primarily on kitchens and bathrooms, with the occasional call for a 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 got glimpses of the closets in some of the mansions where the company was installing kitchens, and she wasn't impressed.

"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 three-story closet in the Bel-Air area of LA. "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 a place 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. She tries out new ideas in her home closet and gets style inspiration from retail stores and even restaurants.

"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 Los Angeles affiliate of the New York nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged women with professional workplace attire.

Adams sits on the advisory council and helped design its boutique space in LA. Before that, the area was a simple room where women looked through bins for their suits. Today, women can get fitted and try on their business 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, similar to the Container Store, but the products would be geared for luxury closets.

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