Read This Before You Redo Your Bedroom Closet
Tips on off-the-shelf systems, custom built-ins, and DIY specials
Sell, donate, and whittle down. Then get out a ruler.
Start with what's hanging. Place clothes flat, on their hangers, in two piles—one for short items, like shirts, and the other for long items, like coats and pants hung full length by their cuffs or waistband. Measure the height of each pile to get the desired lengths for short- and long-item rods. Keep in mind that hangers need sliding space.
Next up: Clothes that fold. Arrange foldables in 10-inch-high stacks—any higher and they could topple. Each stack needs 14 inches of shelf length.
Extras. Size up items like ties and T-shirts that also need real estate.
The ideal reach-in closet (we're not talking walk-ins here) is 6 to 8 feet wide and 24 to 30 inches deep. Standard double doors are best, assuming there's room to swing them open. To prevent blind alleys, the inside of the return walls, the ones to which the doors are hinged, should be no longer than 18 inches.
Size up Your Space
Beginning with the left wall, measure everything to a T.
Sketch a to-scale layout on graph paper, with each wall's width and height as well as details such as base moldings, chases, and receptacles.
Make note of sloped ceilings, knee walls, and other old-house oddities. If facing walls aren't the same length, at least one angle isn't square.
Divide and Allocate
Start with storage for your shoes. While options include slide-out racks and tilted shelves, your best bet is open shelves without dividers. To squeeze in an extra pair, alternate toes-facing-out and toes-facing-in.
Sketch in rods for shorter items, making them as wide as your wardrobe warrants, and a higher rod for longer items.
Draw shelves 4 inches above the rods plus a high shelf for less-used items, and mark their depths.
Look for Nooks
Allocate space for a folding stepladder, against the wall under the highest rod, say.
See if there's space for a robe hook on a return or side wall.
The spelunker's special comes in two styles: a narrow, deep box or a deep, dark L. If opening up the front wall for double doors is out of the question, hang rods in front of the opening, where they are visible. Then build out the hard-to-reach wall with shelves for bins.
To overcome an odd configuration or sketchy walls, build a scaffold using commercial Speed-Rail fittings (hollaender.com) and closet rods. Use them to make a system supported by vertical rods screwed to the ceiling and floor or to make freestanding racks. The result looks like other industrial-pipe fixes but does them one better: System options include connectors with swiveling joints that can handle awkward angles for just a few dollars.
No room for swing-open doors? Avoid sliders, which block the view, and invest in sturdy, solid-core or solid-wood bifolds and heavy-duty fittings (we like those at johnsonhardware.com). Lightweight doors with bad fittings wobble and constantly fall off their tracks.
Decide on a destination for off-season items, ideally a wardrobe in the attic or a dry corner of the basement. If you have spare room on the same floor, consider a clothes rack that can be wheeled to the closet when it's time for a swap-out. If elsewhere isn't an option, stash off-season items in easy-to-hoist bins and space-saving vacuum-storage bags on the closet's topmost shelf. Label them so that you can find your bathing suit in January—you never know.
You measure your space, shop for the closest fit in a ready-to-go setup like this adjustable one from Rubbermaid, and screw standards to studs on the back wall. About $90–$180.
Tip: Be flexible. Wardrobes change and so do closet owners, so buy or build a system with adjustable-height shelves and rods, using easy-to-reposition screws or shelf-standard clip-ins.
An expert at a specialty store or reached through a website helps map out and tailor a wider array of accessories and components, like these from Elfa. The install can be DIY or by the dealer. About $500–$2,000.
Tip: Keep at least one shelf within arm's reach or no higher than 7 feet. The topmost shelf is typically at least 12 inches from the ceiling. Reserve it for off-season clothing and gear that can be retrieved using a stepladder.
An independent designer or franchise rep comes to your house, gauges your needs and space, offers a range of materials and features, and does all the work, as California Closets did here. About $700 and up.
Tip: Shelves 14 inches deep extend over rods and can hold men's shoes and folded jeans. Much deeper and you risk losing things—unless they are kept in a handy bin.
Drawer systems can be short on charm. Instead, see if you can slide in a small dresser or lingerie chest for socks, ties, and underwear. Top it with a dish to catch pocket change, a jewelry organizer, and a snapshot from your last vacation; as you dress for work, you can always dream.
Poorly installed light fixtures are a fire hazard, not to mention unreliable. Spring for an electrician who can hard-wire a closet fixture that is activated by opening the door or flipping an exterior-wall switch. Add an outlet, too, if you want to set up a charging station, an iron, or a clothes steamer.
Here's a solution when hard-wiring isn't an option or you simply want a little extra light: this rechargeable LED light. Thanks to a motion sensor, it blinks on when you reach in. It lacks the warmth and ambient light of an incandescent, but it will help get you out the door with matching socks.
Hafele Loox Motion-activated LED light with magnetic plate, about $40, Rockler
Keep them off the floor—it's a pain to duck and hunt amid the dust bunnies. Instead, allocate adequate shelf space, allowing 8 inches of width per pair and extra height for boots. Tight squeeze? Find a spot for a free-standing shoe cabinet, perhaps near the front door.
Sliding stacks create shelf havoc. Block the flow with dividers. We like these painted home-center wood corbels (about $2.50 each!) to add a little extra detail.
If at first this civilized detail seems a bit OCD, think again. It's important to put shelves to work—they are much more space efficient than rods—but it's no fun having to plunder every running inch in search of your favorite long-sleeve T. Shelf labels not only save time but also flood the zone with a sense of control and order.
Dress it Up
Here, off-the-shelf storage bins convey color, pattern, and travel inspiration with the help of old maps, matte-finish Mod Podge glue (which becomes transparent when dry), a paint brush, and a putty knife to smooth out bubbles.
Kick Up The Walls
No one says the closet has to match the rest of the room. Capitalize on its identity as a mini room of its own by saturating it with a dramatic shade, like navy, or choose a mood-boosting hue borrowed from your favorite jacket, scarf, or shirt.
Give it a Custom Stamp
Whimsical wall decals, wallpaper, or stenciled patterns can make a small closet feel like a jewel box. Choose an oversize pattern that goes up quickly and won't look too busy.
It's called a valet hook because it leads a life of service, extending an arm when called upon to hold multiple hangers. Handy when:
• assembling outfits to take on a trip;
• stashing items just back from the dry cleaner, for sorting later;
• putting out clothes for tomorrow;
• airing out lightly worn clothes.