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7 Deadly Sins of a Walk in Closet Design

Updated May 12, 2018 

So you’re sick and tired of the mess that is your walk in closet. Whether you’re looking for clothes for work – or worse yet – that formal event where you’re trying valiantly to find those seldom used jewelry and accessories, getting ready to go in a disorganized closet can be a pain.

The challenge is who do you call to rid yourself of this closet disaster. Who will not only “feel your pain” but is qualified to evaluate your storage needs and make recommendations to make your space work (and not make any “deadly” design mistakes you can’t fix later)? Since you can’t call “Ghost Busters” here’s 4 types of people who might be able to help: 

  1. The local “handyman” – You could stop at your neighbor’s house who is using a local handyman (who hopefully hasn’t turned into “Eldon the Painter” from Murphy Brown fame). Maybe he can do the job….. but what does he really know about closets?
  1. Put the project on your spouses “honey do list” – OK – the list is a mile long already…but maybe they’ll get to this one pretty soon….but what kind of product will they buy? Will the local home center have options which work effectively and efficiently in your space? Will there be a human being at the store that has any concept about closets to help pick out the right things?
  1. A finished carpenter– There are finished carpenters who do beautiful woodwork. The challenge might be can you afford them? Are they really experts on how to design and plan a closet? Would a wood closet system be the best way to go?
  1. A closet designer – They have the specific expertise in closet design – but will they have a system(s) to fit your budget?

While you can call any of the 4 types above will they know how to design the space to not make mistakes (or deadly sins) which you can’t work around (or if you have to they will cost you money you shouldn’t have to spend if the design was correct in the first place)? The most likely type to get it right would be the closet designer since they focus on this product specifically.

Knowing the 7 deadly sins can help you save money, improve functionality and increase enjoyment of using your closet. Let’s take a look at these 7 deadly sins.

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Deadly Sin #1 – I can’t open these closet drawers fully

Adding pull out drawers and baskets to a custom closet design will dress up the space (and provide cool ways to compartmentalize your jewelry, socks, watches and clothing). Custom closets are the luxury features owners in Dublin, Worthington, Upper Arlington or any nice neighborhood in Columbus would love to have. With that being said if you put drawers in the wrong place it can be disastrous. According to custom closet designer Denise Butchko (a design expert with Butchko and Company in Chicago IL), “It’s best to place your drawer’s front and center in the design. Center them on the door opening and design other hanging spaces or shelves around them. They will look elegant and give you more space!” 

Center drawers in a Columbus Ohio walk in closet design around hanging spaces - Innovate Home Org

A custom jewelry drawer tray in a 5″ high custom closet drawer

Whatever you do, don’t put them behind the closet door so the drawers and door bang into one another. Not a pretty sight. 

Deadly Sin #2 – Not “accounting” for shoe location

In many existing closets there is a rod along the top with a shelf above and shoes laying on the floor in a disorganized mess. Why do your shoes need to be buried on the “down low” – other than you don’t have a good system today to get them off the ground? Moving shoes up is ergonomically better. Then you can see them and know what the heck you have. So don’t commit the deadly sins of burying your shoes. Consider using closet accessories like a shoe shelf or shoe cubby to keep everything available and visible. With flat adjustable shoe shelves you’ll also be able to adjust the space to fit more flats, create a larger space for boots or your mid-highs. 

Here’s a bonus design tip accounting people might like. In accounting you talk about FIFO (first goods in, first good out). With shoe location use the same “accounting principle.” Place the shoe storage as the first area inside your closet – since you put on and take off your shoes as you enter your walk in closet (first shoes in, first shoes off). With you and I buying more shoes all the time they should no longer be the red-headed-stepchild of  closet design (no offense for you red-heads out there!). 

These shoe racks were placed at the entrance to this walk in closet in Gahanna Ohio with a wall hung system making it simple for wheelchair access

These shoe racks were placed at the entrance to this walk in closet in Gahanna Ohio with a wall hung system making it simple for wheelchair access

Deadly sin #3 – Failure to “space out” your dimensions 

You’re not designing a hotel closet which is there for the use of many random people and is seldom used. Your closet is all about you (and your significant other) and the multitude of stuff you have – being used (and sometimes abused) on a daily basis.

Don't #design for everyone or you'll end up with something everyone is unhappy with. - Leisa ReicheltClick To Tweet

Think through how many shirts and blouses you want to hang. How many sweaters do you need to fit on these shelves? Allow about 1” for the shirts/blouses and 10 – 14” wide for the folded sweaters (depending on size). Taking the time to inventory what you need to store can guide the decision making process of how wide dimensionally you need to space apart the vertical sections of your closet to use every inch of space  (you know you need to). 

Taking inventory to get the right vertical distance between walk in closet sections helped this Dublin Ohio closet be more efficient - Innovate Home Org

Vertical spacing between closet sections can be varied to make your design work specifically for what you own

Deadly Sin #4 – The “standard” closet system is in the middle of the air vent or access panel

So your husband went out and bought one of those low-priced standardized closets from your local big box store (so far, so good). He started installing and figured out the supports go right through the middle of your access panel for your plumbing in the bathroom on the other side of the closet. What do you do now? Effective closet design starts with a thoughtful game plan (and possibly different sized sections between shelves and the vertical panel supports). Don’t commit this closet design sin. Know where the outlets, access panels, and air vents are before you buy a system. Better yet get a professional closet designer who will design around these hidden landmines.  Design once so you don’t pay twice! 

'#Design once so you don't pay twice!' Click To Tweet

Deadly Sin #5 – Cutting corners in closet structure and design

In design and in structure cutting corners (while cheaper for the contractor or you as the homeowner in the short run) can cost you the ability to have useable space or result in a system which wants to pull away from the wall. From a structure standpoint  if you use a wall hung system it is properly tied into the studs with the right anchors. For our wall hung systems we can literally have 250 pound guys hang off the support rail. For floor mounted cabinetry use cleats to tie in the vertical shelf support to the walls. From a design perspective if you have a “U shaped” design with shelving around the corners make sure they are 24” to 30” deep – otherwise it will be difficult to use this space for hanging or folded clothes in the corner.

How to design corners of a walk in closet showing a custom closet in Columbus Ohio - Innovate Home Org

Make sure to design 24 to 30 inches from the corner

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Deadly Sin #6 – Don’t plan as if you’re Gumby and can reach anywhere 

If you’re old enough do you remember the green rubbery toy (which had its own show in the late 1950’s and 1960’s) which could stretch and reach anywhere (if not – I’ve put a picture of this lovable toy and his sidekick pokey below)? Yes – I’m old enough – but with a $9.99 bottle of Just for Men I can look younger at any moment!). 

Pinterest - sin 6 gumby

While I wish I had the flexibility of Gumby (maybe I could get closer to this if I just attended those Yoga classes my wife has been trying to get me to go to), I don’t have a stretchable arm that can reach anywhere (and my guess you don’t either). Given this fact we need to design closets to be thoughtful about reaching the top shelf or top rod and storing the right items up there.

If you don't have the flexibility of Gumby you need thoughtful #closet #design. Click To Tweet

For the top shelf it’s usually best to keep lighter things you don’t need to access often. If you’re vertically challenged (or need the assistance of a wheelchair) consider adding a pull down rod to bring clothes on upper rods down to meet you.

Pull down rod system to reach clothes on upper levels good for universal and accessible design walk in closets - Innovate Home Org Columbus Ohio

This pull down rod can help anyone reach items on higher vertical rods

Deadly Sin #7 – Trying to fit 5 lbs. of S*** into a 10 lb. bag. The overdone closet design

When I was growing up my Dad used to say don’t try to fit 10 lbs. of S*** (fill in the expletive here) into a 5 lb. bag. Basically it’s possible to become so enamored with all the fun “bells and whistles” of a new closet design (adding doors, drawers, valet rods, jewelry boxes…the list can go on and on) you overdesign the space. A clean, organized and effective life is often simplicity in design (think about the IPhone and how easy it is to learn this unit “on the fly” is an example of design simplicity).

To ensure a cleaner, minimalist design first take an inventory of all the items you have in your closet and determine what you’re not really using and can give away. If you’re in Columbus Dress for Success is a great organization that helps women who need clothing for work you could donate your seldom used things to. Pare down first, then think what storage components you need to keep things nice and tidy for your new custom closet design (note a Professional Organizer can also help you with this). After you’ve streamlined the closet (and thought of items you might like to add to the closet like jewelry or home office storage that’s in other rooms) then you’re ready to do your design (and not overdesign) your space.


While these 7 deadly sins of closet design might be scary, it’s nice knowing you haven’t started your project yet.

If you have questions, comments or need help with a closet design  or would like a Free 3D Closet Design call the numbers below or add your thoughts to this post.


For help with a Columbus home organization project call Innovate Home Org in Columbus at 614-545-6888 or in Cleveland call 216-658-1290.

Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Foti or my companies’ @InnovateBuild and @InnovateHomeOrg  for more information about closet organization, design and a bit of wacky humor thrown into the mix.





Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Mike Foti

Mike Foti is the President of Innovate Home Org, a division of Innovate Building Solutions. You can learn more about Mike here.

Comments (4)

  • Avatar

    Debra Bradtord


    An informative article. to be sure, and beautiful, efficient designs. However, much like a well designed closet, precise grammar gives a polished, professional impression. Last paragraph, third sentence, “Pair down first” should be written as “pare down first.” Not be critical, but iif I had written this article, I would certainly want to be aware of the error, so that it could be corrected. Thanks you…


    • Avatar

      Mike Foti


      Thanks – revised the error you pointed out. Have a nice day – Mike


  • Avatar



    Y!E!S!!!!!!!!! Right on time as I’m making plans to convert my lovely dressing room into a full blown closet. I realize this article is like 3 years old, but I’m almost always “tardy for the party” on these things. Thank you for such a well thought out article!


    • Avatar

      Mike Foti


      Alycia – I’m glad the articles is useful to you. If you need more input please check out the other closet design articles on the site. Where do you live? Are you looking to have this installed? Mike


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