Introduction: Built-in Closet, the Easy Way

About: I like cheese.

Our condo had those dreadful white wire shelves, apparently arranged to minimize the useful storage area of the bedroom closet. For our holiday gift to ourselves this year, I decided to convert the closet to a custom built-in.

Being both cheap and relatively inept, I designed a shelving system that echoed the original aesthetic of our condo, and was possible to construct using my rudimentary carpentry skills.

While it's not perfect, we're rather pleased with the final product. It's increased our useful storage area considerably, and looks much nicer.

One final point, before I jump in. This isn't a full-blown Instructable, given that the dimensions of our closet are likely to be unique. Rather, I'll explain the process and my rationale, and you can make your own choices.

Step 1: Basics = Existing Furniture + Cleats

Again, I am no carpenter. Understanding this, while still being relatively cheap and concerned that the end product look nice, I decided to design the closet around furniture we already had, that was taking up scarce space in the bedroom. We used two MALM dressers (from your favorite Swedish supply store), a wider six-drawer model, and the half-width seven-drawer model with vanity top. You could use any storage furniture you like, but your mileage may vary.

These two pieces form the core of the design - every other piece of the closet connects directly or indirectly to them. As such, I wanted to be certain that those pieces were as stable as possible. To do so, I first cut notches from the bottom-back edge, so that the backs of each would fit flush to the closet wall. Then, using 5/16" bolts, fender washers (for spacing), and corresponding t-nuts, I bolted the two dressers together. Because the top of the smaller dresser lifts up, I needed clearance between the two dressers. If this weren't an issue, I would probably have skipped the spacing washers.

All shelves are attached to a wall and/or dresser using 2x2 cleats, pre-drilled and countersunk, attached using drywall anchors (avoiding studs - marked in painters tape - which, in our building, are steel). While I don't know that I would use the same system to support bunkbeds, they are quite strong enough for clothing.

Step 2: A Cleaner Look

I used 3/8" FSC-certified birch plywood for the shelves. To cover the edges and match the baseboard trim, I covered the edges with 1x3 or 1x2 clear pine, with grooves routed to fit over the plywood edges. Once these were glued and tacked in place with brads, they add quite a bit of rigidity to each shelf. The ends were attached to the dressers using wood screws, and to the walls via holes I made with a borrowed Kreg jig, screwed into drywall anchors drilled and inserted at the appropriate angle.

A word about the shelves - one of the advantages of using pre-built dressers is that it greatly simplified measurement of the shelves. One "feature" of our condo is that, for whatever reason (poor workmanship, settling), relatively few walls are actually flat. This means that the space for shelves - in otherwise identical locations - may vary by 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. To account for this, I measured the distance from the dresser to the wall (or wall-to-wall, for the crosswise shelves) for each shelf, numbering each cut piece for assembly.

That said, working from "what is," rather than a more general idea of the dimensions of the closet walls, allowed me to get a nearly exact fit for almost every shelf. Any gaps are due to my nascent carpentry skills. And to allow for expansion, due to changes in humidity.

Yeah, that last thing - let's go with that.

Step 3: Hanging Clothes

Remember those 1x2 facing pieces? I needed space for hanging clothes, but didn't really want to close off that space with overly-wide facings. Instead, I cut 45-degree miter angles into the 1x2 pieces, and ran one along either side of the central hanging cubby. To keep the upright "shelves" from shifting, I used corresponding 45-degree pieces, glued and screwed to the top of the larger dresser, as well as a larger shelf running approximately 14 inches from the closet ceiling (Sir Not Appearing in this Film).

I measured the other, "crosswise" shelves to fit exactly (with facings) against the facings along the bottom, front, and back of the hanging cubby upright supporting "shelves." These were both glued and screwed together, so that the entire structure is ROCK. SOLID.

The closet has two other areas for hanging clothes, beneath the crosswise shelves. To create sturdy mounting points for the hanger rods, I repurposed cleats, gluing and screwing them together to double their height (necessary for the particular rods we used), and cutting the resulting assembly to have a clean, trapezoidal shape. These were each glued and screwed into the shelves above, and then the hanger rods attached.

Step 4: Finishing the Shelves

While the dressers already had a lacquer finish, and we were going to paint the facing pieces to match the baseboard trim, the shelves had to be sealed. After consulting with my friend Brian at the West Seattle Tool Library (where I did all of the off-site work for this project, such as cutting pieces to size and routing the facings), I decided to go with an oil-and-wax rub.

This being a clothing closet, I thought cedar oil might be nice (it is). To make the rub, melt beeswax in a double-boil until it liquifies, then add oil - any oil that won't go rancid will do - mineral oils are commonly used. I went with about a 40-60 ratio. YMMV. Stir until everything is well-blended, and then stir some more. I kept going until the wax started to cool enough that it was beginning to thicken.

Once the rub has set, I used a rag to apply it liberally to the shelves, avoiding the edges that would be glued to the facing pieces. After letting each shelf sit an hour or so, I used soft buffing pad and a drill to burnish the shelves and remove excess wax. I was quite pleased with the outcome - they smell great, and the slightly red tone accents the light green of the trim.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Of course, we also needed space for our shoes. Again, we went to our local Swedish supply warehouse. Their shoe racks aren't expensive, but being cheap, I decided to change the 5-bar design to a 4-bar design. After buying four racks, that meant I could build five shoe racks.

I'm too lazy to get pictures, but I designed the racks so that they can be removed, to allow easier access to the shelves along the left side of the dresser assembly. I drilled holes for wooden pegs in each of the shelf facings (and matching pieces on the wall side), and then drilled equivalent half-holes (clamping the two cap pieces of each shoe rack together so that they would match) to fit over those dowels. If that's hard to visualize, it's not terribly important - it still works well.

We also needed a place for belts and ties, which I made by repurposing a large trivet (also from our Swedish friends), attached to another section of plywood, cut with beveled edges to fit the space along one side of the door. It works rather well.

Finally, I added a 4-lamp LED system to the underside of the lower shelves, since these didn't catch as much light from the light in the ceiling - it also makes the vanity area more functional.

Step 6: Finis!

We think it turned out well - my wife says she is surprised how much she likes it, given that I didn't really know what I was doing. She's even given me permission to start designing a small workshop to fit inside our hall closet, which I'll start work on right after we replace the flooring and expand the pantry. Success!

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