Canadian Woodworking

Simple, quick and cost-effective: your new closet

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: April May 2017

Many people would like more storage, but they aren’t using the storage they already have efficiently. This fast and easy closet update makes good use of the closet space you have.

  • COST

When we moved in we hung our clothes on the closet bar, tossed a bunch of random stuff on the closet floor and hid some less-used items away on the top shelf. It worked, but not very well. I eventually realized that with a few hours of time and energy I could make it much more efficient.

There are many different design and organization approaches to this project, depending on what you want to have access to in your closet. We regularly use clothes on hangers, but also want to be able to have easy access to our outdoor clothing items, as we try to spend as much time outside as possible. Until now I piled much of my outdoor athletics clothing in a pile on the top shelf, but, as you can imagine, it was frustrating.

Cover the Edges
Iron-on tape is easy to use and does a pretty good job at covering the edges of sheet goods. Iron it on, trim the excess with a plane iron that isn’t overly sharp, and sand the edges so it doesn’t chip off.

Locate the Upper Shelf Cleats
With the lower shelf in place, position the center divider on top of the lower shelf, and against the wall, then draw lines on the wall to mark the top of the center divider. The top edge of the upper shelf cleats will align with these marks.

Center Divider
Once Brown has the lower and upper shelves in place, he positions the center divider between them, drills pilot holes, and secures the divider with four screws.

Shelf Support Bracket
A simple 12"-deep metal bracket, with a rod-hanging hook on its front end, supports the shelving assembly. Since the rear cleat keeps the bracket off the back wall, Brown added a piece of material the same thickness as the cleat to the back wall. This piece will transfer weight from the shelf to the back wall, eliminating sag.

Step 1: Design

I opted for two upper full-width shelves, with simple, labelled storage bins on both of those shelves to house seasonal clothes. Under the shelves was a standard hanging rod. On the ground we went with simple plastic storage bins for housing less-often-used clothes, shoes and other items that we still need access to from time-to-time.

I made a decision that, in order to make as much room as possible for clothing we use somewhat regularly throughout the year, the stuff we rarely use gets stored in the basement. This freed up some space. I would encourage you to do the same, and to design your closet around the stuff you use more regularly – unless you’re lucky enough to have a huge closet, that is.

One different option would be to include a row of shelves or drawers down the center of your closet, that runs from the floor all the way up to the top shelf. Some people might find that raising the hanging rod, adding a shelf at knee level, installing some drawers or cubbies under the lower shelf, and putting shoes on top of the lower shelf works for their situation. Removing the hanging rod and adding full-width shelving at 12″ intervals may work for others. The design of your closet has to be appropriate for your situation – just think of what you’re trying to store, and what solution would work best for you when designing your closet.

Buy some stuff

The first thing I did after I had a general design in my head, was to visit my local home store to see what they had in terms of storage bins. I knew the overall width I was dealing with was 73″, and the bins I found were just slightly under 12″ wide, so the fit was perfect. I bought 12 of them. I also bought a pair of sweater storage hangers. They fasten to the hanging rod, and allow my wife and I to store folded sweaters and other often-used clothing.

Next, I paid a visit to my local home improvement store and bought a sheet of 3/4″ white melamine, some white iron-on edging tape, a new hanging rod, the brackets to hold the hanging rod and a 12″ deep shelf bracket that would accept the hanging rod.

Dismantle your closet

The rest of the project took me only a few hours, which was great, as I had a lot of clothes and other items scattered across our bedroom. I was able to have everything cleaned up before my wife came home. Remove everything from your closet, then remove and dispose of any of the shelves or rods that are not going to be reused. I left the existing wall cleat across the back wall of the closet, as well as the two across the sides, as they worked nicely with the design approach I had taken.

Start building

Since I was reusing the existing shelf cleats, I didn’t need to worry about them. If you removed the cleats, this is the time to cut and install new cleats on the side and back walls. It’s also possible to just install cleats on the side walls, as the 12″ metal bracket provides a lot of support in the center of the shelf. Ensure the cleats are level and well-secured to the studs. Solid wood and plywood both work great for these pieces. Both materials will have to be painted to match the interior of your closet before installing them.

With some room to move around, I was able to take accurate measurements between the two side walls. In the shop I ripped the two 12″-wide shelves to width, then crosscut them to length at 1/4″ less than the exact measurement, applied iron-on tape to their front edges and sanded all the sharp edges, making extra sure the edge tape was flush – or even sanded slightly below the mating face – so it would not be damaged by sliding out the storage bins.

While in the shop I also cut the center divider to size and taped its front edge. It was cut 1/4″ narrower that the shelves, as well as 1-1/2″ taller than the storage bins I bought. In hindsight, I should have made two more pieces identical to these, so they could be secured at either end of the closet, above the lower shelf. They would have been screwed to the wall and would have held up both far ends of the upper shelf. Live and learn. What I did do was cut two 4″-wide × 22″-long cleats that would be fixed to the side walls instead. By doing this I had the advantage of sinking screws into two studs on each side. Which route you want to take is up to you.

I made the crazy mistake of assuming the side and back walls of the closet were square to each other. Silly me. Even though I cut the two shelves 1/4″ shorter, they wouldn’t fit in the opening. The ends of the shelves had to be cut on a slight angle, as the side walls tapered inward towards the back wall of the closet. Bottom line…measure for overall width between the side walls, but also check for square and adjust accordingly.

After a trip back to the shop for a few angled trim cuts I was back in action inside the closet.

I placed the lower shelf on the existing cleats, but didn’t secure it in place just yet. I then positioned the center divider on top of the bottom shelf, and against either side wall, and marked lines where the bottom surface of the upper shelf would be located. The upper shelf cleats were then screwed to the wall so their upper edges were flush with the lines marked on the wall.

To fit the upper and lower shelves in place required some logistics. With cleats for both upper and lower levels now in place, I removed the lower shelf and positioned the upper shelf in place. In order to fit the lower shelf in, I had to raise one end of the upper shelf to allow the same end of the lower shelf to be raised above the upper cleats.

Doing this allowed me to fit the far end of the lower shelf above the lower cleats, then bring the raised end of both shelves down onto the cleats. With everything in place I screwed both shelves to the cleats.

Next, I marked the location of the center divider, positioned it in place, counter-bored some holes through the upper and lower shelves and fixed the divider in place.

To create a sag-free shelf I added a 12″ bracket under the center of the lower shelf. Because the cleat on the back wall interfered with securing the bracket directly against the wall, I cut and installed a spacer the same thickness as the cleat behind the bottom portion of the bracket. This would provide something for the bracket to press against when the shelf was loaded with weight. Cut the hanging rod to length,  and use the brackets to install it. Make sure the rod finishes level, so it won’t be an eyesore every time you use it. Cap all the screw heads with white press-on covers to hide all the screws. They’re not for fine furniture, but they’re perfect for this situation.

Fill your closet

Now for the fun part – finding a place for everything, and putting everything in its place. We often hear of organizing our beloved shops like this, and for good reason. I think the home is very similar; if you have a place for something, you’re much more likely to put it back so it’s easy to find and use next time. I filled the lower storage bins with more-often-used items, as they’re easier to reach, and left the upper bins for the items that rarely get used. With my sweaters in their new hanging home, I was able to find homes for my pants, as well as some other items, on the hanging rod. Below the hanging clothes were more rarely used items.

The whole project took me much longer to dream up and design in my head than it did to actually build. If this is something you’re considering tackling, start with the general type of storage you would like – drawers, shelves, etc. – and consider reducing the amount of items you want to store in the closet. Culling your wardrobe, and donating what you don’t need anymore, is something that almost everyone can do, and that will make the end result of your closet update even tidier and better looking. Now onto my next project – making a set of simple panelled doors for our

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Home Improvement projects to consider
Username: Password: