Introduction: Build a Closet Office

About: The official instructable for Popular Mechanics magazine, reporting on the DIY world since 1902.

It's no secret that the workplace has experienced a revolution. Instead of earning a paycheck in an office, it's often more practical to work where you live.

If you think you don't have a spot for a desk, file drawers and some shelves, one place that might provide a solution is a closet in an unused bedroom.  You can turn a closet into a mini-office by installing shelves and a desktop supported on a two-drawer file cabinet.  These installations are most practical when the closet has a 48-inch wide opening and folding doors.  We replaced the folding doors' hinges with a specialized hinge system that allows the doors to swing to the side of the closet opening.  

Keep in mind that you will need electrical power in your office to run a computer or related office electronics. This will be a relatively easy matter if the closet is lighted. If the closet is not lighted, or if the house's wiring is outdated, then installing an outlet and lighting will be more difficult. Also, it's important to note that if you plan to install a file cabinet in your closet office, such as the one shown here, you should be aware that these come in different widths, depths, and heights. Be sure to choose a cabinet that will allow a comfortable height for the desktop, and a suitable width. Finally, it must not be too deep for the closet.

This project was originally published in the January 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics.  You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.

Step 1: Remove Existing Pieces

A standard closet is 24 in. deep, and many file cabinets are 25 in. deep.

To use a cabinet of this depth, you will have to remove the baseboard molding at the rear of the closet. Use a flat pry bar to remove the molding (Fig. 1). Set the molding aside for reinstallation. Next, use the pry bar to remove the inside door trim from the side jambs of the door opening (the trim is left in place along the head jamb) Save the trim for replacing later as well.

Assuming that you have standard bifold doors, remove the doors and their hardware. Unscrew the track from the head jamb and remove any floor pivots or guides. Set the doors aside to be put back in later.

Step 2: Mark Height

Decide on the finished height of your desktop - in most cases this is 28 to 30 in. above the floor. You may have to compromise the height a bit to make provisions for the file cabinet to fit underneath. Once you have the height, subtract 3/4 inches for the thickness of the top, then use a level and pencil to draw a line around the closet walls. This line marks the top of the support cleat for the desktop.

Step 3: Locate and Mark Studs

Use a stud finder to locate the wall framing (Fig. 3). Place a mark above the cleat line to indicate the center of each stud.

Step 4: Support Cleats

Cut support cleats from 1 x 2"stock, then fasten them to the walls, flush with the scribed line, using 2 1/2-in. No. 8 screws. If you plan to install a 25-in.-deep file cabinet, and the cabinet is over 26 in. high, eliminate the cleat in the area just behind the cabinet, otherwise the cleat will prevent the cabinet from reaching the rear wall.

Step 5: Prep Desktop

Cut the desktop from a sheet of 3/4-in. birch plywood. The desktop should be 1/8 in. smaller, in both length and width, than the inside dimensions of the closet.  Determine the location of a wire grommet in the desktop, and bore the hole for it using a 1 3/4-in.-dia. multispur bit.  A variety of grommets are available from Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, 4365 Willow Dr., Medina, MN 55348; 800-279-4441. We used a slotted, 2 1/4-in.-dia. maple grommet (Part14598). This grommet accepts paint nicely or can receive a coat of clear finish.

Step 6: Attach Drawer Slides

If you would like to provide your work space with a pencil drawer, it is easiest to mount the slides on the desktop before installing it in the closet. Determine the width of the drawer you wish to build, then locate the slides on the bottom of the desktop.  There are a number of drawer slide systems for this application, but one that works particularly well is available from Rockler (Part 81117). When positioning the drawer slides, remember to allow room for the drawer face, which adds 3/4 in. to the front of the drawer. Drill pilot holes in the desktop, and then install the slides by driving screws into the top.

Step 7: Install Desktop

Install the desktop in the closet. You will have to tip the panel at a steep angle to get it into position. If the panel is flat, you do not need to fasten it to the cleats, however, if the top is slightly bowed or twisted, fasten it to the cleats with finishing nails or screws.

Cut a piece of 1 x 2" stock to fit snugly between the doorjambs, then fasten it to the front edge of the desktop using glue and 6d finishing nails

Step 8: Install Shelf Standards

Next install adjustable shelf standards to the back wall of the closet. For a typical 4-ft.-wide closet, three 36-in.-long shelf standards should be adequate. Determine the height of the standards on the back wall of the closet and position each over the center of a stud. Drive a screw into the bottom screwhole of a standard, hold a level to its side, then drive a second screw into the stud when the standard is plumb (Fig. 8). Install the remaining screws. Slide the shelf brackets into the slots in the standards, and gently tap them down with a hammer to secure them.

Step 9: Install Shelves

Cut shelves from 3/4-in. plywood, then rip pine edge strips measuring 3/4 x 3/4 in., and fasten them to the shelf fronts with glue and finishing nails. Place the shelves on the brackets and drive screws through the brackets to fasten the shelves.

Step 10: Assemble and Install Drawer

Rip and crosscut poplar lumber for the drawer box. Assemble the box by gluing and nailing the drawer components together (Fig. 10). Check that the box is square by comparing opposite diagonal measurements, and let the glue set.  Cut a piece of 1/4 inch plywood for the drawer bottom, and screw it to the bottom of the drawer box with 3/4 in No. 6 screws spaced 6 in. on center.

Cut the drawer face to size.  The face should overhang the box on each side so that it hides the drawer slides.  Use spring clamps to hold the face in position on the drawer box while you attach it to the box with screws.  Install the drawer slides on the sides of the drawer box according to the manufacturer's instructions, and then install the drawer under the desktop.  Test the drawer for proper operation and make adjustments as necessary.

Step 11: Install Door Hardware

The first step in installing the door hardware is to screw the jamb hinges to the closet's doorjambs. 

Next, fasten each pair of doors together with the full-access door hinges mentioned earlier. Hold each set of doors on the jamb hinges, and check that they can swing freely. If the doors bind on the door trim, remove the trim, and install new trim that is set farther back than the existing trim. The new trim should have a reveal between itself and the jamb of at least 1/4 in. Install the rubber doorstops on the head jamb.

Now use the template provided in the door hardware kit to mark the location of the control arm on the doors.  Drill a pilot hole for the screw, and then drive the screw through the slotted mounting hole in the control-arm bracket.  After folding the doors to the fully open position, screw the free end of the control arm to the head jamb.  Test the doors for proper operation and adjust the hardware if necessary.  Install the knobs and alignment clips as shown in the hardware installation instructions.

Step 12:

Step 13: Finish Your Office

Complete the office by sliding the filing cabinet under the desktop. Cut and reinstall the baseboard between the cabinet and
the closet corner, and cut and reinstall the inside door casing to fit above and below the desktop.  Set the finishing nails used to fasten the trim and fill the nail holes.  Sand off excess nail filler, and remove the dust.  Finish the project by applying a coat of primer followed by a top coat of trim paint.