The Pros & Cons of an Ikea Pax Closet Wardrobe System (written by a closet designer)
I’ll admit right up front I have no stock in Ikea and (crazy as it may seem) I don’t like they’re Swedish meatballs (although I do LOVE their crispy oatmeal chocolate cookies!).
And I’ll even admit on a few occasions my custom closet design and installation company has lost sales to our Columbus Ohio Ikea mega-store (and I’ll even share an example in this article why Ikea made more sense than buying from my business – bummer).
And while there are awesome advantages (‘er pros) to the Ikea Pax wardrobe closet, there are also dumb disadvantages (‘er cons) I want to make sure you know. And you may wonder, why I want you to know the pros and cons? Here’s why.
First, I don’t want you ‘thinking’ you hit the jackpot of closet savings only to find out after the fact the limitations of this system.
Second, I want you to know where an Ikea system is smart, and where it’s not. It’s like Dad used to tell you, “You need the right tool (or closet system in this case) for the right job.” Bottom line – you need to know what’s best for you for your specific closet shape, size and design.
And lastly, I want you to get a closet system which ‘lives’ and ‘works for you. There’s nothing dumber than spending money on a new closet, only to find out it does a substandard job helping you find and store your clothes, jewelry, shoes (you name it).
So, without further delay, let’s dig into the pros and cons of an Ikea Pax wardrobe vs. a custom closet system.
Pros (Advantages) of an Ikea Pax Wardrobe vs. a Custom Closet
Pro #1– Price, price and can you say price!
When you can get a 68” wide x 22” deep x 79” high wardrobe with 3 drawers and 4 shelves for $435 picked up at the Ikea store, that price is pretty doggone good.
Ikea has always provided form, function at an exceptional value. However, you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and DIY the project (or hire someone to build it for you). I know my wife and I got 10 good years out of my oldest son’s bedroom set (and, as you know, boys aren’t easy on furniture!).
You’ll also find Ikea will be more cost-effective than systems like Elfa from The Container Store or even custom closet systems from a company like mine (hey- did I actually say that?).
If you want a low, low price for your microscopic budget AND if their sizes and configurations fit your storage needs, Ikea can be an excellent value.
Pro #2 – Lots of fun accessories (at inexpensive prices)
If you have a ‘junk drawer’ in your home – you know what a hassle finding things with massive amounts of ‘pieces parts’ thrown into a small space can be. This is also where accessories can save you time and ACTUALLY make you enjoy your closet.
In the Ikea Pax line, there are velvet lined jewelry drawer boxes, drawer dividers, shoe pull out shelves, and metal baskets available in 19” and 39” wide sizes. One drawback you’ll need to know –accessory options are far smaller for their 13” deep line vs. the 22” deep size.
Pro #3 – IKEA pax can fit perfectly in new construction if you design your closet around the system sizes
I’ve seen beautiful examples of Ikea Pak closets and bloggers ‘extolling’ (note – I threw in a big word to impress you, is it working?) the value (and economics is certainly one of them) of this system. And in the article below this blogger designed the space around the system. It saved her a lot of money in the process.
Image Source: Driven by Decor
If you can design your closet around the Ikea system sizes, you can get a stylish and cost-effective result. Now, if you’re working with an existing closet this strategy is not quite so simple, and you’ll need Ikea hacks to make this product work (more about this later).
Image Source: Driven by Decor
Pro #4 – You can build storage into your bedroom without an expensive trim carpenter
Whether you’re living in a downtown Columbus loft or a New York City high-rise, your reach in or walk in closet storage can be maddingly miniscule. But there’s another way to gain storage EVEN IF you have a teeny-tiny closet. That way is to add a built-in closet wardrobe into your bedroom.
While a wardrobe closet can be a good idea, here’s the ‘rub’ (or scenario) which all-too-often comes with it. Picture this situation.
You call out a custom trim carpenter to quote building a custom wardrobe for your master bedroom. He FINALLY shows up – one month later (you know he’s REALLY, REALLY busy – sarcasm intended). He FINALLY sends you the quote (after you called 3x to get it). You practically have to be resuscitated when you look at the bottom line. The price blew you away (and not in a good way). You conclude a custom-built wardrobe is a pipedream.
Image Source: The Pink Millennial
Then you saw the 22 7/8” deep Pax wardrobe which could be added into your bedroom at a fraction of the cost. Maybe your dream wasn’t dashed yet, you said to yourself. With a little DIY elbow grease the bedroom wardrobe closet is within striking distance for your all-too-thin budget.
Pro #5 – A wide selection of sliding and hinged doors
If the last thing you want to see is messy clothes, shoes, and sweaters in your closet, I’m with you. With Ikea’s (reasonably) broad selection of 9 7/8” and 19 ½” wide hinged doors and sliding doors for 59” and 78” wide systems you can hide your messiness behind closed doors.
And as a matter of fact, my Columbus custom closet business lost a project because a customer wanted a low cost way to get all their hanging clothes behind closed doors. The standard prepackaged IKEA pax white cabinet boxes and doors saved them money vs. our customized product. Boy – I hate losing jobs!
Depending on the width and height combination you need (note – there are fewer door choices in the 79” high system than the 93” system) you can find a cork-front hinged door or a mirrored sliding door or a black framed glass door. Not too shabby a look. And you can do it on a budget.
Image Source: W-T-Fab
For every positive point, there is (unfortunately) a counterpoint
So, now that you’re jazzed up about the Ikea pax wardrobe closet I’m going to ‘bring you down’ a notch or two (sorry about the subtle – and bad – closet pun thrown in there). This system does have it cons and you need to know them to determine if it’s your best option. Read on to understand the ‘other side of the fence’ (and the challenges of a Pax wardrobe closet).
Cons (Disadvantages) of an Ikea Pax Wardrobe vs. a Custom Closet
Con #1 – Getting an Ikea Pax wardrobe closet installed isn’t as ‘easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy’ as you may think
Installing a Pax closet IS NOT one simple Allen wrench away from completion. Here’s 3 problems you’ll (likely) encounter when you sink your elbows into the job.
Problem #1 – What are you going to do about your pesky baseboards? Here’s a (not fun) fact you need to know. IKEA will not schedule to install your closet UNLESS your baseboard trim has been removed (if you decide the DIY option is not for you) before installation. This can be a BIG PROBLEM IF your home resembles This Old House AND you’re not an experienced DIY’er. Have a game plan for your trim before you begin. Are you comfortable removing the baseboard trim or will you also need to pay a handyman to do this for you also?
Problem #2 – Outlets, grates, light switches, windows, soffits and access panels – The problem with switches, outlets, grates, windows, access panels and soffits is they’re NEVER talked about in those decorator blogs who just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Ikea pax system. However, it’s something which ‘rears it’s ugly head’ in soooo many closets.
I can tell you this for a fact because I’ve measured thousands of closets and seen ‘obstructions’ (as Jay Pritchett and I talk about them in the closet biz – OK – I’ll come clean and admit I’ve never actually talked to Jay) get in the way…. ALL THE TIME!
Standard pax cabinet widths (there’s 3 options), and heights (79” and 93” and depths (13 7/8” and 22 7/8”) don’t always ‘play well’ with your floor grates, outlets, light switches and access panels. Know where your ‘obstructions’ (or you can call them pain-in-the-rear issues) are before buying any cabinets.
Otherwise you might spend more for your closet than you expected because you have to move an outlet or light switch or access panel. After rerouting these items you could have had a professionally installed closet system done cheaper (all-in-costs) than the ‘standard-sized’ IKEA cabinets you bought. And another bonus is all the design and planning would have been done for ….
Free (by a custom closet company)!
Problem #3 – If you need every inch of space (and wall to wall closet storage), be prepared to begin the IKEA ‘hack games’ right now
Let’s say you have a 72” wide wall and NEED to use every doggone inch of it. You think the Pax system (which comes in 19”, 29” and 39” sections) is perfect for you. Then you ‘do the math.’ Then you say “Oh s***! How can I make this work?” You start kicking around size combinations.
Can I use two 39” sections? No, 78” is too big.
Can I use one 39” and one 19” section? No, 58” is too small.
OK, how about two 29” sections and one 19” section? Nope, 77” is close, but no cigar.
You think, ‘Pax math’ is more difficult than Junior High geometry.
Here’s a reality.
Your weird closet won’t play well with standard sized IKEA sections.
To get a ‘wall to wall’ solution with Pax you’ll need a ‘hack’ like the one used in this cute girl’s closet in an article titled Ikea Pax Hack: How to Customize a Small Closet with an Ikea Pax System
Image Source: The Pink Dream
Although this custom sizing ‘hack’ works, you’ll end up with a ‘fixed’ (un-adjustable’) closet which will not flex as your needs change (which will be a challenge in this little girl’s closet as she become a teenager (ouch!) and the size of her tops and pants grows). Also – it’ll take you a bunch of time custom cutting parts to make hacks like this work.
Image Source: The Pink Dream
With custom closets you’ll get an adjustable system designed specifically for your wall widths and heights. You’ll be able to move ALL the shelves and rods up and down for the life of your closet (and now have some ‘fixed’ sections which may not suite your current needs).
Con #2 – The height of your ceiling and the height of the standard Ikea Pax system don’t get along
Pax cabinets come in 2 heights – 79” and 93”. So far, so good. But here’s a couple of problems with this.
Problem #1 – You have a sloped or dormer-style ceiling – For a dormer closet you’re pretty much D.O.A. with Pax. For a sloped ceiling you’ll only be able to use the Pax closet in the areas tall enough to fit the system.
Problem #2 – You hate, hate, hate wasted space – Let’s say you have a common 96” high ceiling. With the 93” high Pax system you’ll have 3” of dead space at the top. With the 79” system you’ll have 17” left at the top, which is better, but you’ll be unable to use double hang sections to grow your already jam-packed hanging space.
So, you may be wondering how you can get past these 2 problems. Here’s two solutions:
Solution #1 for the sloped or dormer-style ceiling –
Weird closets demand custom solutions.
In this custom 3D closet design, the sections go ‘up and down’ to max the storage to the height of the ceiling (which varies from wall to wall in this design).
If you have a dormer closet this space was maximized with hanging space and drawers which fit inside the low height of the ceiling.
Solution #2 which eliminates wasted space in your standard 96” high closet
This design– while not fancy – is EFFICIENT. This wall hung closet was installed 84” from the floor. It not only has enough space to ‘double hang’ (i.e. one hanging clothes section on top another), but also uses ‘bridge shelves’ (a feature you won’t get with a ‘cabinet by cabinet’ Pax system) for continuous storage along the top shelf.
Con #3 – Ikea Pax drawers leave A LOT to be desired …the more you know about drawer sizes, styles, and options
I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the Pax drawers. And if you want to know why (and even if you don’t want to know why) I’ll share my reasons below:
Reason #1 I’m not a fan of the Pax drawers – They don’t have a drawer fronts
I don’t know about you but seeing the drawer slides on the bottom of the drawer box isn’t a great look.
Image Source: W-T-Fab
Isn’t this drawer (with a drawer front) far nicer?
Reason #2 I’m not a fan of the Pax drawers – One drawer height DOES NOT FIT All
Pax drawers only come in one height (except for the sliding shelf which can be ‘retrofitted like a drawer). But one height leaves wasted space. For your socks, underwear and jewelry I’d recommend a 5” drawer. For your yoga pants, t-shirts and jeans I’d recommend an 8” high drawer. For your bulky sweaters, sweatpants and blankets I’d recommend a 12” high drawer. Bottom line, one drawer size DOES NOT fit all.
Reason #3 I’m not a fan of the Pax drawers – 39” and 19” drawer widths are not the best size
You may be asking, “Mike, what’s wrong with 39” and 19” wide drawers? Here’s what.
39” drawers are too wide! And here’s why …
I run a business which designs closets for a living. Our widest stock drawer is 36” wide. And you know how often I use them? Maybe 1 to 2% of the time. Why you may ask? Well if you use a 36” drawer (not even as big as the 39” IKEA has) there usually isn’t adequate space for hanging on the sides. So, now you’ll likely want to ask, “Mike, how about the 19” drawer?” Well…
19” drawers are too narrow. And here’s why…
Most clothes when folded are 11” wide. So, to have 2 stacks of folded clothes you need at least 22” of width inside the drawer box. And it doesn’t take my ‘advanced business degrees’ (and yes I got a B.S. -and you know what B.S. stands for – in Business Administration from Carnegie-Mellon University and an M.B.A. from Case Western Reserve University) to figure out 2 stacks of folded clothes won’t fit in 19” wide drawer.
So – you may wonder what the best drawer size is.
IMHO – a 24” drawer sizes is best. It’s not too wide and it’s not too narrow. It also fits 2 stacks of clothes – efficiently and effectively.
Con #4 – Ikea Pax cabinet pattern and color options are limited.
In the early 1900’s Henry Ford famously said, “You can have any car color, as long as it’s black.” And you may be asking what made the founder of Ford Motor Company limit car color options to simply black? In one word it was efficiency. Eliminate options. Stamp out more of the same cars. Cut production costs and keep prices low.
Ikea’s philosophy around the Pax closet wardrobe cabinet colors is like Henry Ford’s. You can choose any color as long as it’s white, black, or brown. So, they’ve advanced from Henry Ford’s one color to a grand total of 3 colors.
And maybe you’re fine with that. However, what if you want more style? What if these options get you jazzed up?
- You want a different color top for interest than the drawers and cabinet framing
- You want a gray wood grain look because it’s hot?
- You want a truly textured feel without breaking the bank with a custom wood closet. The laminate custom wardrobe system shown below can be the solution.
With custom closet designs all these possibilities are possible(is that redundant) and they’re possible in the same design! With the ability to mix and match limitless combinations you don’t need to ‘settle’ for a design everyone else has.
If all you need is white, black, or brown, Ikea Pax can work. If your desired look is more adventuresome, you’ll need to look outside the big Ikea box (or ‘hack the daylights’ out of a standard Ikea system which can get pretty costly).
Con #5 – If the ‘devil’s in the details’ – you’ll find the devil lurking in your Ikea Pax closet
My Dad was a stickler for the little things (and I bet a few of you reading can relate). He’d say to me, “Michael, don’t cut corners!” Although Dad left us 30 years ago – his lessons still ring in my head today.
So, what does my Dad’s lesson about the little things have to do with the Pax wardrobe closet system (or any other system for that matter)? Well it’s this. It’s hard to feel good about the longevity of your closet when some of the finer details are downright cheap. And here’s 3 ‘finer details’ of the Pax system which aren’t too fine… in my book.
- Detail #1 – The white wardrobe rods – The white rod with plastic side connectors DOES NOT exactly scream out quality to me. Wouldn’t an oil rubbed bronze or matte nickel oval closet rod be a nicer detail?
- Detail #2 – The drawers and pants racks don’t fully extend – I want (and I need) to see what’s in the back of a drawer. Since the Ikea drawer slides don’t fully extend, it’s harder to see everything you’ve got. Most custom closet companies have full extension drawers.
- Detail #3 – Cardboard ‘backing’ to your wardrobe – The Ikea pax cardboard ‘back panel’ reminds me of cheap department-store furniture. Sure, cardboard was OK for your kid’s (I-Hope-It-Lasts-For-A-Few-Years) bookshelf, but it’s not exactly the finishing touch you want for your closet. With professional closet systems you’ll get a durable (and easy to clean) laminate back panel. It’s stylish, functional and NOT FLIMSY!
How can we help you next?
So – now that you’ve read the pros and cons of Pax closet wardrobe system do you think it’s for you?
I’ll admit I’m impressed how Ikea drives down the cost of a closet and makes it more affordable for you. However, I think the sizes (i.e. the limited availability of heights and widths), design limitations (color selections and finishing options) and installation hassles do not make me a big fan.
Besides – I have the ‘burden’ of knowing what I know as a custom closet designer (and owner of a Columbus home organization business). I see the challenges in designing and installing custom closets (with height and depth variations, outlets, soffits, light switches, and windows in the way etc.). I see how customizing spaces helps maximize storage (and gets you the sharpest design). I know what I know…and I can’t take that knowledge back.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter what I think, or what I know.
It only matters what you think, and what you know is best for your closet.
So – on a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 being the best – how would you grade the Pax Closet Wardrobe system? Would it help you to maximize storage for your specific closet? Would it give you the best look – and best value for your money? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.
If you don’t want to hassle with a DIY closet and want advice from a professional closet designer me and my team would love to help. And here’s the good news….
We’ll also give you a Free 3D design (OK – I’ll do this if you live in Columbus or Cleveland Ohio). However, even if you don’t live in Ohio, I likely can find a friend of mine from the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals who may be able to help you.
So, if you’re frustrated with your existing closet call us at 614-545-6888. Although you might ‘risk’ getting me (and my wacky personality with it) on a closet design appointment – I think we can offer you options, ideas, and sizes you won’t find with a standard Ikea pax wardrobe, or similar store-bought alternative.
Thanks for reading,
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