how to extreme

Building Basic Closet Shelving

Punch!, Shelving June 17, 2008 Sonia

OK guys, riddle me this: How can my lovely young bride say, “I don’t have enough closet space” and then within hours proclaim, “I don’t have anything to wear”? Whether your clothes horse is a closet hog or you really don’t have much closet space, following a few simple guidelines can make a big difference in how to get the most out of the closet space you do have.

The chances are pretty good that the original rods and shelves in your closets were built with priority given to saving construction time and material. Improving your closet is all about efficient use of space. If the goal is to store as many clothes as possible (a worthy goal indeed, according to the wife of my youth), then you need to start with pencil and paper—graph paper works great—and ignore how the closet is now.

Photo courtesy of ClosetMaid


Pencil a Plan

Make a scale sketch of the closet. Measure the horizontal and vertical dimensions of each wall. In a standard non-walk-in closet this will be only the back wall. Divide up this wall space into the space that works best for your stuff.

My wife hangs up almost everything so a maximum of closet rod space is ideal for her. I need hanging space for a few collared shirts required to get on certain golf courses, otherwise my stuff wads up and stacks on shelves.

When designing closets, keep in mind that hanging clothes need 40 inches of vertical space (42 inches for taller people) with the exception of long dresses, overcoats, capes and chest waders—you know what you have.

Now you can divide up the closet however you want.

Knowing clothes closets should be at least 2 feet deep helps when planning partitions for walk-in closets. Laying out the closet clockwise, end a section of clothes rod at the right end of the first wall, then, turning 90 degrees to the right, measure 2 feet from the left wall of the next section and start with a partition. This leaves the right amount of room for clothes on the first wall to hang without interference.

A basic bedroom closet gets a cost-cutting single rod and shelf. For this basic closet, you can mark a level line on the closet walls at 68 inches and nail 1-by-4 cleats along this line. The cleat supports the shelf and provides an anchor point where rod supports can be installed to secure the closet rod. The side cleats (at the ends of the shelf) can run wall to wall in a shallow closet (2-1/2 feet or under) but they must extend a minimum of 15-1/2 inches from the back wall to support a 16-inch shelf and provide backing for the rod cups.

Only use the shorter version of the cleat if there is framing to support the cleat. Otherwise, run the cleat wall to wall.

Pay attention to the header above the door opening when deciding on the depth of the top shelf. You can substitute a 12-inch shelf to allow more room to get items between the shelf and the front wall of the closet. The side cleats for a 12-inch shelf over a closet rod need to be at least 14 inches long to provide an anchor point for the rod supports.

The same bedroom closet can have greatly improved storage area by simply adding a partition in the center and making a double rod and shelf on one half. Or, if closet length allows, you can put in two partitions about 16 inches apart and install a column of shelves in the middle, with a single rod and shelf on one side and a double rod and shelf on the other.

Keep in mind how the doors operate. If you have bypass doors, a stack of shelves in the middle may not work as well as they would with bi-fold doors, which open out of the way in the center.


Step Back

One design principle you’ll need to follow is to step back each level to get a reveal where shelves and cleats and partitions come together. The reveal does several things for you. Often shelving has a bull-nosed edge, so you have a radius where the vertical and horizontal pieces come together. By stepping back the supporting member, you can eliminate the gap where the eased edge doesn’t touch the straight line of the adjoining piece.

A reveal can also hide discrepancies in the walls by requiring less precision where components come together. Most wood framed walls have some quirks like bowed studs and some are out of square or are not plumb (true vertical). In other words, instead of trying to get all of the front edge to come out on the same plane, you simply accentuate the difference in plane so it looks planned, which, of course, it is.