Walk-in Closet Make Over on Budget





Introduction: Walk-in Closet Make Over on Budget

Our master walk-in closet was all white wire shelves. It's not only lack of space for hanging cloth, but also lack of storage we really need. So we wanted to design and build a couple of three cabinet build in units for two sides to solve the problem.

We checked out the home center pre-build units, they are not very budget friendly, plus they are made from particle boards - not our favorite. So we decided to build our own from scratch.

Step 1: Design and Material

We have a 9' x 7' closet with 9' ceiling, and we decided to not make the cabinet to cover from floor all the way to the ceiling, we still wanted to be able to vacuum the carpet in the closet every week, so the cabinets will be hanging from the top to a certain height from the floor. 

I figured everything in my head, but I did draw the rough dimension to show the design. I believe every closet would be different, so if you decide to build your own, most likely you are going to have to resize them to fit your need.

Four of these are double hanging closet and two shelves – as they all have two hanging bars; two of them are just a closet with one bar but three shelves - we don’t have much of longer stuff, so these are narrower with more shelves.

The miter angle cut on the bottom of the side panel is there because of two reasons, one is to avoid straight corner at body level so that we don’t run into it, and two is for static, I think it looks better and the closet will look bigger that way.  

Step 2: Plywood Ripping and Preparation

First, rip 6 of full sheet of 1/2" Birch plywood to three 14.5" strips with my shop made ripping jig, and have a 4 1/4" left over. We will need 18 of wider 14.5" strips for side piece of six cabinets and their shelves. The leftover smaller strips will be used for cross braces on the top and bottom of the cabinet. 

Second, make miter cut on all side panel pieces with circular saw, and cut all shelves to length. I cut a notch at the back side of the side panels for mounting strip, and it will be ¾” plywood with 45˚ bevel cut – it’s called “French cleat”. If you Google it, you can find more information. I took one of the pictures on the internet just to show what it looks like.

Third, cut all cross braces into length.

Then use router and straight edge to cut 3/16” deep dado on the inside of the panel. The size of the dado should be the same or just a hair wider of the thickness of the plywood that is using. This is an extra step, because the dado is not only going to help for aliment, but also increase the rigidity of the structure.

After the machining is done, everything get sanded and sealed with primer, then painted before assembly.

Step 3: Cabinet Assembly

Since the cabinets will be mounted side by side, so the outside will never be seen, everything could be put together with glue and screws straight through. Pre-drill all the holes at the dado side to provide an exact location of the screw holes, and cabinet get assembled piece by piece with glue and screw, make sure to pre-drill and countersink holes from outside before drive the screws in.

Tip here is to use two hand screw clamps at the end to set two side panels up for assembly, because it’s very difficult to hold panel and shelf together, align them square and drive a 1 5/8” screw through with just two hands, that’s where the dado and clamps come in really handy. Before the glue set, measure two corners diagonally to make sure the cabinet is square.

Step 4: Hanging Bars and Mounting Cleat


Hanging bar mounting cleats were made from a strip of ¾” plywood.


Cut them at 4”x3” pieces, chamfer on one side for the better look. Drill an 1 ½” through hole at the center, sand them on all edges, cut them into two halves, and that will become the brackets at two side. Spray paint them and they are ready.


Bars are made from 1 ¼” EMT conduit cut to length with sawzall and bi-metal blade, they are rigid enough and very economical. Just make sure to remove the burr and sand the edges. 


Step 5: Hanging Bar and French Cleat Installation

Mounting the hanging bar brackets uniformly is a little tricky and requires a jig.

I went through all the cloth hangers we have and measured all of them for the clearance needed from top to end of the hook, and found that 3” would be plenty from bottom of the shelf to the top of the bar for easy access. The brackets top edge will be sitting 3/4” below the top of the bar (with 1 ½” OD), plus some needed room for face frame, thus, a piece of 4”x4” scrap was used as the positioning jig. Two pencil marks were 1 ½” at top and bottom from one edge of the jig.

Place the jig on the outside panel with top edge align to bottom of the shelf, side flush with front edge of the cabinet. Position the bracket below the jig with one corner align to the pencil mark, trace the shape onto the cabinet - providing an exact location that it will be inside the cabinet, then repeat the same process from inside, clamp the bracket onto the panel without tracing the shape, pre-drill and counter-sink the mounting holes from outside, and drive 3 screws in.

Clean the closet wall, patch the holes and repaint it as you like. Find all the studs on the wall, and place pencil marks for the locations. Use cabinet mounting screws (pan head 2 ½”) to secure mounting cleat onto the desired location. I left 2 ½” gap from ceiling to the top of each cabinet for crown moulding.

Step 6: Hanging the Cabinets

Hang cabinets onto the wall with French cleats. I made some special notes on the pictures. Make sure to shim all sides in order to hang them plumb and level. Screw cabinets together at the hanging bar locations so that they won’t be seen after installation.

Step 7: Face Trim

I ripped some 1x pine boards to 1 1/8” wide, and dressed them up on one side using router and chamfer bit, they were then sanded, primed and painted.

I used 1 ½” long 18 Ga nails to secure them onto the front of the cabinets. Nail holes were patched, sanded.

Step 8: Crown Molding Installed and Finished

Crown molding was installed all around the top, then I painted face frame and crown molding last for two more coats. There are many ways to cut and install crown molding, I will provide some of the aspects at next Instructables when we update our daughter’s rooms.

Overall, we spent about $350 on all the materials, including plywood, paint, 1x pine boards, crown molding and other necessary stuff. I spent some weekends and some nights on and off, and the whole project took about three weeks long.

Now we have a much better functional walk in closet and great appeal as well.

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25 Discussions


7 months ago

Awesome job! I'm adapting this plan to fit my closet! One question: Since it's been a few years, have you noticed any sagging in the shelves? In my plan, I'll be doing 42" shelves as opposed to your 40" shelves. I was wondering if there was sagging, did you add any kind of support beneath the shelves?

1 reply

Hi, there should not be any sagging for the shelf, as the stuff you put on it couldn't be considered too heavy, also the face frame will support the shelf as reinforcement.
if this is a potential issue , you can always use 3/4" plywood instead of 1/2" material.
Thanks, and have fun with the build.

I would but I just don't have time.. Thanks anyways

Hey am in Harford Co MD can you make me a closet just like urs and how much would you charge? Thanks

1 reply

John, I will take that as a compliment. Thanks for the nice words.

I believe anyone can do this if one willing to put some effort into it.


Brilliant!! Have followed this with a few tweeks for larger upper storage..bolts into cleets and screws through side panels into side walls for added support.. Currently have 1 side of room hanging, the other side, finishing touches and paint to come. Definetly inspired post..thank you!!

any issues with the french cleats? I'm about to start a similar project and was thinking I should beef it up with 2x4 blocks on each side of the plywood. I just want to be sure this thing doesn't pull off the wall once the wife starts stacking it up with clothes.

1 reply

Ours cleats worked perfectly with just plywood.

The key to the French cleats is to find all wall studs and mount the cleats directly on each studs with cabinet mounting screws that are long enough to go through cleats, drywall and still have a good amount of thread into the studs.

Should you have any safety concern, I would be agreed to beef up the cleats, and cabinets themselves as well.

Inspirational. Thanks. Do you find that you have issues with dust settling on your hanging items given that they protrude from under the shelves?

1 reply

Thanks, James,

Not particularly in this case. Of course we needed primer and good paint to seal the closet walls and ceiling, but the dust will still be there no matter what, and we have not found on any of our shirt that had dust accumulated on one shoulder but not on the other.


This looks great! Your instructions and photos are easy to understand. I plan to have a similar closet soon!

1 reply

This is a wonderful example of doing it right the first time. I want to come be your apprentice! Great instructable.

1 reply

Beautifully Done! Love the amount of packing place and hanging place with different lengths of clothing in mind. Would work very well. Thank you for sharing your hard work.

1 reply

We bought a six drawer 31" wide dresser, and place it in the middle against the far wall to complete the closet project. Works quite well.

Followed you ideas for a build and topped it off with a forward set rail between two cabinets in the laundry to hang clothes. Real handy fore those no iron shirts.

Great post! Looks great and affordable! I will take this up with the at home comptroller at home.