Columbus: 614-545-6888

Free Consultation
Columbus: 614-545-6888

10 Foolproof Steps to Design a Custom Built in Wardrobe or Armoire

So, you found the perfect condo or apartment in the city, or home with character in an inner ring suburb…. except for one thing. You have NO IDEA where you’re going to put all your clothes. The small walk-in master closet barely fits your massive shoe and purse collection. Where can you find space? The miniscule reach in closets in the other rooms WILL NOT be the answer.

Then while scouring Pinterest for ideas a picture caught your attention. It was a custom-built wardrobe closet which was built INTO the room. Ah ha, now that’s an idea where you can gain space WITHOUT messy remodeling AND add to the character to the room, you thought.

And while the idea of a custom wardrobe closet (AKA an armoire) is intriguing, you don’t have a clue how to design such a thing or who(m) can build it for you.

Well – if this describes your dilemma you’ve come to the right place.

You see as a custom closet designer (and owner of a company who helps condo, apartment, and homeowners figure out the ‘puzzles’ which are their closets) – I’ve seen a space challenge or two over the years. And sometimes the right answer (especially in space-constrained homes) IS NOT to eliminate a bedroom and make it a huge closet (although we do love these projects), but IT IS to build INTO a room with a beautiful furniture piece which adds distinction, and style…and most importantly more storage.

And in this article, I’ll look at 10 steps you can use to design a custom built in wardrobe or armoire whether you live in Columbus Ohio, Columbus Georgia, Columbus New Mexico…or any town in between. Let’s check out the steps.   

Step 1) Ask, “What do I want to store, and what’s best to store in it?” Should it be ‘built in’ or resemble a finished piece of furniture?

What’s great about a custom built in closet vs. a random furniture piece you throw into the room, is it can (and should) be designed specifically to fit your things. This requires first considering if you want or need to fit long formal garments (like dresses, suits, slacks) or casual clothes (like shirts, blouses, and jeans). If so, you’ll need hanging rods in your custom built in wardrobe.

Second, think if you’ll need place for small things (like socks, jewelry, underwear etc.), if so, drawers will be essential.

Third, as Patty Miller from Boutique Closets and Cabinetry said to me, “Determine if you want a built-in – wall to wall/floor to ceiling look – or if a furniture type wardrobe (which won’t be so massive) will make more sense. Especially if you have 9’ or 10’ ceilings the furniture style wardrobe can be a smart choice.”

Step 1 a floor to ceiling built in wardrobe credit Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry | Innovate Home Org | Dublin, OH | #ClosetSystemDesign #ClosetLayout #Builtinwalkincloset

Image Source: Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry

And lastly (and this will likely be one need you’ll want help figuring out) is what’s the best (and most space-efficient) way to store those items. This is where most people struggle. They know how (in the past) they’ve hung up most of their clothes (because a hanging rod was all they had in previous closets), but when you’re adding a wardrobe (usually because you lack space) you’ll often need to change HOW you’re storing to get more clothes in this new space. This is a topic we’ll explore more in this article.

Step 2) DO NOT start by hiring a trim carpenter to design and build the closet for you

First, I’ll tell you I have NO AXES to grind with trim carpenters. However, when you think about it, what do trim carpenters excel at? ‘Er in one word that would be…

Trim carpentry!

 They focus on trims and moldings and cabinetry used in every room in your home. And – occasionally – they’re asked to design and build a closet.

They’re NOT thinking about ideas to store necklaces, so they won’t get tangled. They’re not thinking about the optimal width and depth for drawers in a custom wardrobe. They’re not worrying if the closet is adjustable so it can ‘flex’ as clothing styles change.

Bottom line – they’re not specialists in closet design (just as your General Practice Doctor will (hopefully) NOT be scrubbing in to do your heart surgery. But there are specialists in designing custom wardrobe closets, and they’re closet designers. And as Beth Patrick, Senior Designer with Closet Factory of Cleveland says, “Just because you see a pretty design on social media, doesn’t mean it will have the right layout to fit your storage needs. This is where a Certified Closet Designer can help most.”

And if you’re still thinking (because you LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your trim carpenter) to have them do the job, read 9 Reasons You Shouldn’t Hire a Trim Carpenter to Design Your Custom Closet (and 3 Reasons You Should).

Step 2 custom accessories and closet mirrors credit Boutique Closets and Cabinetry | Innovate Home Org #CustomCabinets #CustomClosets #ClosetLayoutDesign

Step 3) Determine how deep the closet wardrobe cabinets need to be

In most wardrobe closets there needs to be space for hanging clothes. And what most people never think about is the fact that clothes on hangers come out 20-21” from the wall. And  for this reason a built-in wardrobe needs some sections which are 24” deep so the cabinet doors won’t smash your clothes.

Step 3 - 24 inch depth in a wardrobe cabinet Innovate Home Org Columbus copy | Innovate Home Org | Columbus, OH #CustomClosetDesign #Builtinbedroomcloset #CustomReachincloset

And IF you’re going with 24” deep cabinet with doors, you’ll also need to ask:

  • #1) Do you have enough wall depth for a 24” deep cabinet?
  • #2) Will there be enough room to open the doors AND stand behind the cabinet to grab your things for the day?

As my dad used to say, “Don’t try to put 10 lbs. of s*** into a 5 lb. bag.” A custom wardrobe closet which is too big for the space is a problem you don’t want.

Step 4) Make sure you don’t have to ‘dig in’ to find things

Since you’ll likely have some 24” deep sections in your wardrobe closet (since you’ll be hanging clothes) AND you need to use every inch of the space, you’ll also want to store UNDER your hanging clothes AND be able to see all the contents. And in a 24” deep space it can be near-impossible to see what’s in the back, under hanging clothes.

It’s for this reason it’s smart to use slide out drawers so you can bring your shoes or shirts to you rather than having to push clothes to the side to ‘attempt’ to see what’s in the deep, dark crevasses in the back.

Step 4 slide out scoop drawers in custom wardrobe credit Wendy Scott Boutique Closets and Cabinetry | Innovate Home Org | Columbus, OH #Reachincloset #Designyourcloset #CustomWalkinclosets

Image Source: Wendy Scott Boutique Closets and Cabinetry

Step 5) Learn that Mom wasn’t ALWAYS right…OK, at least when it comes to understanding closet design  

I can hear this like it was yesterday, Mom yelled, “Michael, HANG UP YOUR CLOTHES!” Sure, I was a boy. Sure, I was a slob and Mom was trying to neaten me up – at least before I got married and somebody else had to put up with me. But the other reason Mom told me to hang up my clothes is because I shared a reach in closet (which only had hanging space) with my older (and uglier) brother Frank.

I learned (over the years) to hang up my clothes (and my wife Rose is thankful for this).

However, when it comes to a custom wardrobe closet design, I’d contend, this obsession with hanging clothes is not good. You see what I didn’t realize (at least until I became a closet geek through this business) is you can get 2 to 2.5X more clothes folded in a drawer than hanging on a rod.

So, when it comes to a custom wardrobe my Hamilton-esque recommendation isn’t to ‘talk less and smile more,’ (as the character playing Aaron Burr says in the play Hamilton) it’s to ‘hang less, and fold more.’ Realize one simple fact.

You’ll get more contents in your wardrobe with more folded vs. hanging clothes.

Step 6) Understand, size matters when it comes to door and drawer widths

If you want your custom wardrobe to be cost-effective, it’ll be smart to work with standard drawer sizes. These common drawer sizes are 18”, 24”, 30” and 36” wide. However, I’d argue drawer sizes are NOT created equal. And I’d also argue the 24” and 36” widths are better. Here’s why.

You see most folded clothes are 10-11” wide, so with a 24” or 36” wide drawer you’ll fit 2 to 3 stacks (respectively) in drawers of this size. However, with an 18” wide or a 30” wide drawer, you’ll only get 1 ½ stacks or 2 ½ stacks wide. So, unless you’re planning to cut your t-shirts, yoga pants and sweaters in half, 18” and 30” aren’t optimal.

Step 6 efficient folded clothes in a custom wardrobe closet Columbus Ohio Innovate Home org | Innovate Home Org  #CustomClosets #builtinwalkincloset #ClosetDrawers

In addition, make sure your door widths aren’t too large – especially if they’re wood doors – because this could lead to warping. Keep door widths to 22” or smaller. With cabinets 24” or wider, use double doors.

Step 6 double doors in a contemporary high gloss custom wardrobe credit Patty Miller Boutique Closets Cabinetry | Innovate Home Org #customcloset #Walkincloset #Customclosetdesign

Image Source: Patty Miller Boutique Closets Cabinetry

Step 7) Give your custom wardrobe closet room to ‘flex’

Most drool-worthy custom wardrobes built for celebrities are built W-R-O-N-G. Yes, you heard that right. The people spending the big bucks on wardrobes are getting projects which SHOULD HAVE been done better. And you may be asking, “Mike, why the heck do you say this?”

Well –most celebrity wardrobe closets are built WITHOUT holes on the inside of the cabinets so rods and shelves can be adjusted. And because what you’re wearing (and therefore what you’ll be storing) changes over time, the ability to reposition rods and shelves is uber-important.

In short (and maybe more importantly if you ARE short), make sure your wardrobe sections have adjustment holes on the side so you can change the layout if needed.

Step 8) Make sure the finishes and door and drawer styles fit your décor

While you could grab a random wardrobe cabinet from a furniture store, the problem is if it doesn’t work in your decor, or it’s too big, or too small or not deep enough.

The challenge is a wardrobe closet IS NOT a one-size-fits-all solution. You need to coordinate door, drawer, hardware and finishes to work with your room (whether this custom wardrobe closet is in a bedroom, living room or other space).

And as Wendy Scott of Boutique Closets and Cabinetry said to me, “Don’t just put a box in the middle of the room. Consider the overall look. Make sure to add design by staggering heights and depths.

For example, if you want a contemporary look, a flat, Euro-inspired (slab-style) door front with sleek hardware could be the ticket.

Step 8 contemporary high gloss built in wardrobe credit Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry | Innovate Home Org  Powell, OH #ContemporaryCloset #TraditionalCloset #GlossyPanels #DoorPaneling

Image Source: Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry

Or for the transitional style, you can’t go wrong with a white shaker doors and drawers. It’s timeless and works with many decors.

Step 8 white shaker classic wardrobe credit Beth Patrick Closet Factory Cleveland | Innovate Home Org | Columbus, OH Upper Arlington, OH #CustomClosetInstallation #WhiteShaker #ClosetSystemDesign

Image Source: Beth Patrick Closet Factory

And if the traditional, formal appearance is right for you, raised panel doors and drawers will be the answer.

Step 8 raised panel wardrobe credit - Beth Patrick Closet Factory Cleveland | Innovate Home Org Columbus, OH #Wardobecloest #Customclosetsolutions #walkinclosetcost

Image Source: Beth Patrick Closet Factory

No matter what you choose, with a custom wardrobe closet, you’ll have the ability to fit your cabinetry to your design personality.  

Step 9) Design the wardrobe to make the room feel bigger

Here’s one irrefutable fact about built in wardrobe closets. It can and will eat into your room. The nature of adding built-in cabinetry inside a room is its transforming floor space into storage space (without the hassle of a dusty remodeling process).

However, by its nature, a built-in cabinet is also making the room smaller. However, there’s a way (as they say) to turn this negative into a positive. And here’s how.

In many closets you’d love a mirror to make sure you’re ‘pulled together’ before rushing off to your important meeting. And by adding mirrors onto your custom closet wardrobe, you can ‘kill 2 birds with one stone’ (and BTW, is that NOT the most morbid saying EVER?). Adding mirrors on closet doors will make the room feel bigger AND build more function into your wardrobe closet.

Image Source: Wendy Scott Boutique Closets Cabinetry 

Step 10) Cap it off with a top or crown for visual drama

OK, in this step I’m NOT talking about the drama your 13-year-old daughter inflicts upon you. No, I’m talking about visual interest and creating a ‘statement’ (as fashion designers say) in the room. Wardrobe closets can (and often are) the focal point of a room. They deserve to go beyond ‘simple storage’ and create a sense of ‘wow!’

Step 10 crown molding in a custom armoir closet credit Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry | Innovate Home Org #CustomClosetsforsmallspaces #CustomWalkinclosets #Walkinclosetsystems

Image Source: Patty Miller Boutique Closets and Cabinetry

A smart way to accomplish this is with decorative crown or add a finished top. This step adds ‘good drama’ to your bedroom, den or living room wardrobe closet. However, as Patty Miller said to me, don’t try to have your existing crown match up to the existing crown in the room. It NEVER lines up. So, if you have existing crown either make the wardrobe lower – with its own crown (or flat facia board) – or install matching crown in the entire room.

Step 10 custom crown for a custom armoir credit Beth Patrick Closet Factory Cleveland | Innovate Home Org Columbus, OH #ClosetDesign #Builtinwalkincloset #Closetcabinetdesigns

Image Source: Beth Patrick Closet Factory

Do you need help designing your custom built in wardrobe closet?

I know you’re not a closet designer and it’s unlikely you play Jay Pritchett from Modern Family on TV either (unless your name is Ed O’Neill). And while reading these 10 steps is helpful, most people need ‘professional help’ (and no I don’t mean that kind of professional help) with this project.

And if this describes you – and you live in Columbus Ohio – my company, Innovate Home Org would be honored to help. Call 614-545-6888 or click for a Free 3D design.

If you’re in New York or New Jersey – contact Patty Miller or Wendy Scott of Boutique Closets and Cabinetry at 908-975-9381.

If you’re in Cleveland and want help with a custom wardrobe or closet, call Beth Patrick at 216-496-8728. She’s with the Closet Factory of Cleveland.

And if you don’t live in Central Ohio (which I’m sure is most of you), in the comments below let me know where you live, and I’ll work to find a buddy in the home organization business to assist you.

Thanks for reading and putting up with my wackiness!


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 (5)

  • Avatar

    Anita Gupta


    Hello Mike,

    I am in Mississauga, Ontario in Canada. Let me know if someone can help me design my wardrobe.


    • Avatar

      Mike Foti


      Anita – the company I can think of in Ontario is called Closet Envy – they do an excellent job. You can ask for Melissa Jane there and say I referred you. Hope this helps – Mike


  • Avatar

    Chris Maltais



    I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs and articles, which I read right to the end…and I can’t say that about most pieces on the internet!!
    I am in Canada, about 200 miles from Winnipeg MB. Due to a fire, we are starting over, in a newly purchased home, with furniture/wardrobe purchases. Is there someone you can recommend near us? Thank you.


  • Avatar

    Karen Fallon


    I’m looking for a closet designer in Park City Utah


    • Avatar

      Mike Foti


      Karen – I don’t know of someone in particular, but I’d recommend you go to which is our industry association to find someone in your area. Thanks for reading my posts!


Leave a comment