21 Do’s and Don’ts You Need to Know to Gain Storage (and eliminate mistakes) in a Small Walk in Closet
So, your small walk-in closet is a DISASTER! Join the crowd.
As an owner and designer of custom closets in Columbus Ohio I’ve seen thousands of closets and I get the same comment from people BEFORE I step into their closet. They’ll say ……
“Mike, sorry about this closet. It’s such a mess.”
I tell them there’s no need to apologize. Most closets are D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival) before you even put one stitch of clothing inside them. They’ve been slapped in by the builder as an afterthought. They’re not designed to be efficient or effective. They’re DESIGNED to check off the ‘this home has a closet box.’
And when you want a new design which doesn’t repeat the mistakes of your closet’s past, you may be clueless where to begin.
I get this, and I’m going to help.
You see below I’ve outlined 21 do’s and don’ts which will not only help you get your arms around a closet design which works (and adds storage), but also one which adds style.
So, let’s dig into the ‘do’s and don’ts so you can start actually enjoying, not apologizing for your closet anymore.
#1– DO put your top shelf at the right height
Here’s a closet mistake which is as common as white on rice. This mistake is your top shelf is set too low, which doesn’t allow room for double hanging (that’s an industry term for one set of hanging clothes on top another). For most 8’ high small walk in closets your top shelf should be 7’ from the floor (or 84” high). When you move up the top shelf to 84” you’ll have room for 2 sets of hanging clothes below. This INSTANTLY doubles your desperately needed hanging space.
Image Source: www.closetenvy.com
#2– DON’T use corner shelves
People think corner shelves look so nice. And I’ll grant you they do look nice. However, here’s 3 reasons you need to do without corner shelves…especially in a small walk-in closet.
- Reason #1 – They take up too much room – Corner shelves are usually sized at 30” x 30” which is a ton of real estate for a small walk in.
- Reason #2 – Corner shelves are doggone expensive – If you’d like corner shelves brace yourself to pay muuuuch more for them than straight shelves in your closet.
- Reason #3 – They’re angled in an inefficient way – Since your clothes are set in ‘somewhat’ square or rectangular piles, you’ll have dead space in angled corner shelves.
Bottom line – I’d stay away from corner shelves in small walk-in closets.
#3– DO understand the advantages and disadvantages of wall hung vs. floor-based closet systems.
Wall hung closets (ones which are mounted onto the wall) are nice because they use less material and are budget friendly. Their primary drawback is they can’t be as deep as floor-based closets. Therefore, they hold less.
Floor based systems, in contrast, give the finished furniture look. You can have multiple depths. However, these benefits come with a higher cost than wall hung.
And while there’s no ‘correct or incorrect’ decision on which is best it’s always smart to know the advantages of each. Learn more by reading How to Choose between a Wall Hung and Floor Mounted Closet Organizer.
#4– DON’T use 12” deep shelves and repeat past closet mistakes
Most wood and wire closet shelves are 12” deep. And while these shelves work OK if you have small feet and you’re storing shoes on them, most people aren’t using their shelves for small shoes. They’re using shelves for bulky jeans, sweatshirts and sweatpants. These bulky clothes hang over the edge of 12” shelving. They make your closet look messy.
Insist (space permitting) on 14” deep shelves. They’re the industry standard for professional organizers. And with this advice I’ll give you one warning and let you in on one ‘dirty little industry secret’ few people will tell you about. You see companies try to ‘sneak in’ 12” because it saves them money. Watch out for this tactic. Sure, it saves them money, but doesn’t give you a better functioning closet.
#5– DO add drawers for more style AND space
Drawers not only make a closet look elegant, but what many don’t realize you’ll also be able to store 2 to 2.5 times more things folded in a drawer than hanging on a rod.
You can add depth to your storage with drawers which can be 16”, 19” and 23” deep. Also, drawers hide the messiness which IS your partner or spouse.
#6– DON’T buy a closet system without seeing a 3D design
I don’t know about you, but most people can’t visualize a closet (or anything else for that matter) in 2D. If penciled drawings of closet sections (like seen below) mean nothing to you raise your hand.
When you see a 3D closet design, you’ll see how the space will live for you.
#7– DO insist on adjustability
The #1 problem most people are ‘stuck with’ in their current closet are fixed hanging rods in the wrong location. As we talked about earlier, they’re set too low for double hang sections and too low for an efficient amount of space above the top shelf. This lack of adjustability results in ‘walk-in dead’ spaces. This equals a screwed-up closet. This is blunt, but true.
The key to solving this problem (irrespective of whether you use a wood, laminate, or wire shelving system) is adjustability. Make sure your rods and shelves can be moved up and down. This gives flexibility to change your closet layout and use every inch of space.
#8– DON’T let Pinterest make you delusional about what’s possible in your small walk-in closet
I have to admit I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE looking at glam closets on Pinterest. And as a matter of fact this social media site inspired me to write 21 Things to ‘Glam Up’ Your Closet Recommended by Award Winning Closet Designers.
And while I’m a fan of doing everything possible to not only make a closet functional but also fun (with as many bells and whistles as you can afford), it’s critical to not delude yourself thinking your small walk-in closet is going to stack up (yes, that bad closet pun was intended) and become something Kim Kardashian is drooling over.
No, the first key to designing a small walk-in closet is to figure out how to efficiently fit clothes, shoes, and jewelry. Figure out function first. Second, address you desire for fashion. And if you’re unsure how to go about this, get help from a professional closet designer. Smart designers have been down the road before. They’ll marry ‘the big 3 together – fashion, function and finance. If you’re looking for some of these tricks read #9 below.
#9– Do use tricks to add ‘bling’ if your closet budget isn’t big
If we’re being real most of us have ‘Dom Perignon tastes but our budgets are more ‘Budweiser-esque.’ We want champagne style. However, we need to cling to our beer budget.
So, while you may want the fancy closet with the wood Shaker style drawers you need to Get Smart (just like the old detective show) with selections which will work in your teeny-tiny closet. You need ideas which don’t break the bank. Here’s 3:
- Idea 1 – Use cool drawer handles – The handles are the jewelry of your closet. For a cost-effective way to dress things up, ‘bling-out’ with stylish hardware.
Image Source: Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry
- Idea 2 – Use flat vs. shaped drawer fronts – While Shaker, beadboard, eased edge and raised panel drawer and door fronts look stylish, they add cost. Keep the lid on costs with flat European-style drawer fronts.
- Idea 3 – If you want a fancy system, two-tone your closet – Most closets are white not only because they make dark closets brighter, but also because white is the cheapest color to buy. If you want a little style, without getting too crazy with your budget, opt for a two-tone closet like below. It’s fashionably fun, at a budget friendly price.
#10– DON’T put hanging vs. hanging in the corners
DO NOT repeat the mistakes of closets past. Don’t design hanging space which butts against hanging space in the corner. This creates a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ corner (although I’m not sure a triangle can also be a corner…but in this case it just might be true). Solve this problem with the design strategy below. Put shelving on the wall adjacent to the hanging.
#11– DO use thin and sturdy hangers
Those fat plastic hangers or HUMONGOUS wood suit hangers suck up too much space between hanging clothes in an already small closet.
Smart hanger design is one place where thin really is in. My favorite are thin velvet hangers. Clothes don’t slide off. And these hangers don’t eat up room you don’t have.
#12– DON’T buy ‘modular’ closet systems
There’s nothing wrong (in theory) with ‘modular’ closet systems. They’re sold based in common widths to save money. This is a good idea……. EXCEPT……. the widths of YOUR closet walls weren’t built with these modular units in mind. And this leaves dead space at the ends. With custom closets, a professional designer takes two side to side measurements (since most walls usually aren’t square and plumb). They use ‘non-modular sizes’ (especially at the ends) to take advantage of every square inch you’ve got.
#13– DO ‘separate’ your closet if you want to stay together
If you’re the “Felix” (an OCD neat freak) to his or her “Oscar” (he or she’s never met an organization system, they couldn’t avoid) you know a shared small walk-in closet CAN (and has) been the source of waaaay too many fights. And while ‘changing’ him or her (even with a dose or two of behavioral therapy) hasn’t worked thus far – you still need to figure out how to share this closet and not want to kill each other.
A starting point to sharing a closet (without concocting a plot which will land you in jail) is creating a ‘Mason/Dixon’ line separating his and her (or her and her or his and his) spaces. This dividing line can be a section of shelving or drawers. That way you can at least keep your side neat. And if you want more ideas to make the most of shared closets read Storage Wars: 7 Essential Tips to Win the Battle of the His and Hers Closet.
#14– DON’T bury your shoes underneath hanging clothes on the floor. Give footwear the respect it deserves. Give them shelves.
Shoes on the ground, shoes on the ground, you can’t find the pair you need with your shoes on the ground … a ‘somewhat’ famous singer never said.
Although you love your shoe collection it gets the worst treatment in your closet. They’re buried under hanging clothes (and they can’t even sit flat on flimsy wire shelves the builder threw up ‘lickety-split’ when constructing your home).
In your closet redesign add flat, adjustable shoe shelves. This strategy ‘promotes’ your pumps and puts spark into your sneakers.
#15– DO remember to have fun with your ‘feature wall’
Most people don’t realize they have a ‘feature wall’ in their closet, but everyone does (even if their closet is a disaster today). You see your feature wall is the best visible wall when you enter your closet. This is the wall which can shine (even if you need to go more ‘budget’ on the other walls). This is the wall which can make you actually proud to enter your closet.
On this wall use fun and functional drawers. Show off your finest clothes (long dresses and suits). Add a fun accessory like a wardrobe rod to stage tomorrow’s clothing. Your small closet can be cool…. really…. I’m telling the truth.
#16– DON’T hang your clothes like you wear them
If you’re like most, you put your blouses and shirts on the top rod and pants and slacks on the bottom rod. This ‘seemingly’ makes sense because it’s how you wear them – from top to bottom. However, using this method is causing you to miss a valuable storage opportunity.
You see because folded pants take up less vertical space, if you put the pants on the top and shirts on the bottom, you’ll gain a shelf for more shoe storage.
#17– DO stay open to changing how you’ve stored for years. Fold more. Hang less.
One of the problems with ‘finding’ more storage in your small closet is many people are as fixed about how they like to store (for example hang EVERYTHING, or I’m a ‘stacker’) as Dad is about his politics. And this can be a HUGE hurdle to a more efficient and effective design.
For example, ‘hanging everything up’ (as Mom used to harp for us to when we shared a reach in closet with our brother or sister) takes more room than folded clothes in drawers or on shelves.
If you want a more efficient closet, fold more, hang less. Don’t be the ‘old dog’ who can’t learn new storage tricks.
#18– DON’T forget to work around light switches, outlets, vents, and windows
So, you go out and buy this ‘whiz-bang’ modular closet system made in budget-cutting standard sizes. You’re dying to roll up your sleeves and put an end to the mess you call your walk-in closet.
You put up the first section. You step back and say, “Fantastic.”
You put up the second section. You say, “I’m pretty doggone good.”
You attempt to put up the third section. You step back and start spewing ‘French words’ even Old Man Parker from A Christmas Story hadn’t uttered. Your modular closet section is landing smack dab in the middle of the outlet (or register grate, or light switch…you name it).
No closet design is successful without identifying (and working around) switches, outlets, soffits, and windows. Don’t buy anything until you’re sure it’ll work in your space. If you don’t want to sweat these small (but critical) details, hire a pro who will be responsible to figure out the ‘zigs and zags’ of your closet and work around them.
#19– DO know how the costs add up
You’re trying to balance what you need vs. what you can afford in your walk-in closet. However, it’s hard to know how to get costs down so you can afford to do the job. Well, here’s simple Closet Economics 101 you need to know.
- #1) Know hanging sections are the cheapest
- #2) Know shelving sections are more expensive than hanging sections.
- #3) Know sections with doors and drawers are the most expensive
When designing – adding a higher mix of hanging will make your project cheaper and conversely, adding doors and drawers’ will drive costs up.
#20– DON’T be afraid to be a PIA (Pain In the *ss). Ask more questions.
When researching a walk-in closet, you have LOTS of questions. After all, this isn’t something you do every day. And this is why you can (and should) ask lots and lots and lots of questions. Whether you’re getting assistance from a professional closet designer (like me or one of my staff… sorry about the shameless plug) or trying to find somebody who knows anything about closet systems in the aisles of a big box store, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If the professional designer or store personnel aren’t willing (or are frustrated helping you), TAKE YOUR BUSINESS ELSEWHERE!
#21– DO get ‘professional’ help (no, not that kind)
As Lao Tzu once said, “A wise man (or woman) knows what they don’t know.”
And if you’re not an expert in closet design it usually pays (in a better – and more cost-effective design) to get ‘professional…. (’er closet design’) help.
Do you need more help with a small walk in closet?
I hope these 21 Do’s and Don’t have put you on the right path to a better small walk-in closet design. If you’re in Central Ohio call me (or one of my team) at 614-545-6888 for answers to your closet design questions or learn more on our closet design blog.
Thanks for reading and putting up with my (sometimes…OK, maybe more than sometimes) wacky humor.
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