There’s probably nothing more life-changing in day-to-day life than what a custom closet offers. The traditional closet, with its one hang bar, or a wire rack, is such a waste of what could be amazing storage. In our last home, where we lived for 10 years, we had eventually put some type of DIY custom closet in every storage spot. We even created a built-in wall system in our laundry room, with doors and crown moulding, using DIY closet materials. I’ll be showing you how easy it is by walking you through thehallway closet that I customized for this fall’s One Room Challenge.
Get to Know What’s Available
I feel pretty lucky that we have a Menards nearby. The Dakota Closet Systems collection they sell is by far the easiest and most customizable when it comes to DIY. You can buy a “kit,” but you don’t have to. The reason we don’t usually buy kits is because closets are typically not the standard width the kits need them to be. I also like designing the space myself and using every square inch. Other big box stores normally only sell kits, which tend to be a bit more expensive and more constraining. Are they affordable? Sure. As easy to get everything you want? Not so much. But, definitely an option!
As you identify what’s available in your area, you’ll want to understand the measurements of the shelving, bars and the uprights/dividers, also known as the the “walls” of each small section of the closet. With Dakota Closet Systems, the uprights are .75″ wide, and the shelving comes in 11.5, 24 & 36 inches.
Design Your Custom Closet
Using a tape measure, take measurements of the width and height of the closet. Standard closets are deep enough for hangers…typically deep enough for 24″ hanging, but it’s a good idea to check the measurement. Keep in mind that some closets, like my hallway closet, have doors with small walls on each side of the door frame, allowing the closet width to be wider than the door. Depending on how wide those entry walls are, you will be considering them in your design. Example: I love adding pull out hampers in bedroom closets, but they have to be placed in a position where they can pull out fully. Hanging rods and shelving are great options in those more “confined” spaces. Use paper and pencil to sketch your closet with measurements.
You can continue on paper to draw the layout of the closet you’d like to install, (making sure you know the brand’s exact measurements.) Use a calculator to define the sections available based on those measurements. Don’t be surprised if you end up with 3 or 4 sketches as you work through the possibilities. There are a number of online closet creation tools. I use the Closet Building Tool provided by Menards. For my hallway closet, I used the tool, knowing I would have to create a custom-sized shelf on the far left to account for the odd width. I put the smallest shelf system option in place (11.5″ width) to show the basic layout, but the real width was 15.75″. That meant I would have to cut shelves to customize it.
My Hallway Closet
This makeover was a game-changer for our family. We went from a heap of a mess, to an organized beauty in just a couple days. It’s possible to install a DIY closet system in one day, but sometimes it takes a little longer, depending on the measurements and the prep work…
Start the Prep Work
In addition to designing the closet, you’ll have to prep the space.
- Empty the entire closet.
- Remove any hang bars, wire racks or hardware.
- Optional, but highly recommended: Patch holes, sand & paint. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
If you want your uprights (the dividers of each section) to rest on the floor, you’ll have to cut the trim out so everything is level and flush against the wall. I use a multi-tool, aka an oscillating tool, to do this neatly.
Buy Your Materials
Chances are you’ve already visited the hardware store closest to you. If not, it’s a great idea to browse what’s available. They don’t always have all the DIY options online, so take some time and get to know those aisles. If you’re buying a kit and fitting it in place, you’ll probably have everything you need to get started. One of the best things about DIY custom closets is that you can add additional shelving and features even after the basics have been installed. Shelves are capable of adjustments to customize the space. You can add drawers or hampers…the sky’s the limit.
With my hallway closet, it was a small space, so the design only needed 4 uprights, plus two standard sections: a 24″ section for shelving and hanging and a 11.5″ section for shelving. The final section would require custom cut shelves, so I purchased a 24″ shelf kit to add that.
If you’d like your custom closet system to hang from a track, either resting on the ground or up off the floor, familiarize yourself with the “hang track” pieces they offer for this method.
Collect Your Tools
If you select a kit, it may identify the tools needed on the box. When using a DIY system to piece together, it requires a few more tools, especially if you’re customizing the size of a section.
- Tape Measure
- Stud Finder
- Carpenter’s Square
- Rubber Hammer
- Shims (Optional)
- 2.5″ or 3″ construction screws for securing outside uprights
For more customization…
- Chop Saw
- Spade Drill Bit or Forstner Bit for Holes
- Cam Lock Connectors
- Shelf Support Pegs
How to Build the Closet
You can build parts of your closet prior to installation. This can make it easier to do the install. Keep in mind the sizes of the sections you are going to need and how easy it will be to put them in place. For wider closets, you can usually build small and medium sections ahead of time, connecting those together once inside the closet to make bigger sections, like 36 inch.
With my small closet, I was working with only 4 uprights. Two would be installed against each side wall, and two would be creating the 11.5″ section. I installed the side uprights first, securing them against the wall with screws that went into the studs. Then, I built the 11.5″ section on the floor outside of the closet, lifting it into place in the middle.
I used the 24″ shelves to connect the top of the 11.5″ section to the wall upright on the righthand side, locking it in place, one at the very top, and one in the middle area. The bottom section here was going to be coat hanging, with shelving at the top, so I had already decided where the shelf would be placed.
Creating Custom Sections
If you have to create a “custom sized” section of your closet, you may want to build that section first–if it’s small enough to fit into the closet once it’s put together. The reason I don’t typically do that is because if you mix up the measurement, build the section and then try to install the standard pieces, it might not fit as snug as you’d like, or it might be too large, requiring you to undo your work.
Once I had my 24″ standard section connected to the 11.5″ middle section, it was time to measure for the final section. I had previously secured the lefthand upright to the wall. I used my tape measure to identify the width of the custom shelf I needed to cut. It was cut with the chop saw at 15 & 5/8 inches.
I used the holes of the shelf (in the shelf kit) to create a template by rubbing over them with crayon. You can see the results of the crayon rubbings that match the holes. That template will need to be reversed to be in the right position on the other end of the shelf.
So, in a highly innovative move, I held the paper up against the window to trace the outside edge of the crayon rubbing with a pencil. That template was then taped in place. I added a center dot so I would be able to place the 3/4 inch spade drill properly.
I used my drill with the spade bit to create the holes. For a cleaner approach, once the designated diameter of the circle is appearing, you could finish the hole with a Forstner bit, which would keep the opposite surface clean. The spade drill has the middle point that guides the bit, but also ends up poking through the top of the shelf due to the depth needed. As you can see from the photo, I practiced a few holes in the cut-off piece before actually attempting the real ones. Success!
Because I created the same opening that is standard to this closet system, I was able to use the same hardware–the cam lock connectors.
My custom-sized shelf worked amazingly well to secure everything in place!
Once two custom-sized shelves are installed and locked securely, at the top and middle, it’s easy to cut a few more shelves out of less expensive (but matching) shelf pieces and just use shelf supports for those, no extra drilling required. I bought a 72″ x 15.75″ blank shelf panel from the Dakota collection. It was cut with the chop saw at 15 & 5/8″ wide and 14″ deep. This allowed me to make three additional shelves for only $18!
Socks, shoes, mittens, gloves, hats…and a stack of rugs to swap out. This closet has it all! It’s been such a great addition to this closet space.
Get Organized in 2024!
Are you in need of a custom closet this year? It doesn’t have to cost you thousands of dollars–you can DIY it! Reach out to me with questions, I’d love to help you get started!