Making The Most Of A Small Closet
I have a 5′ x 5′ closet at our long-time home. I don’t have to share it because my husband has just about the same size. Our long-time home is a 1970’s brick ranch. None of the closets in our home are very big. I think we have the two largest closets which I would say don’t really fit into the walk-in closet description that you would see with newer homes. Even our 1st home that we purchased as a starter home before this one had bigger closets. We’ve learned to make the most of our small closets. I have done 2 partial re-configures to the closet over the 25 years we have lived here. Now I am tackling making my third and final re-configure DIY project of this closet. I want to do it right and fully so that I don’t find myself dreaming of a layout that works even better.
I don’t plan to make more space by losing space in another room. It seems kind of crazy to lose space from another room just so I can have a bigger closet. After all, do you really need a bigger closet or just a better layout? I won’t go so far as to say I should just purge more clothes and items because I really don’t think I am that crazy of a clothes horse. I don’t even have a lot of accessories… that is unless you count boots! So all of my other re-configures have been driven by my desire to fit one more pair of boots in my closet. But no matter what your issue is with your collections, here are some ways I found to make my closet more functional and surprisingly make it appear that my closet grew overnight.
Step 1: Review your closet. Do you have any items in your closet that don’t need to be in there? If so, remove them. Then, take a few pictures with your items in the closet. Keep those pictures for when you develop your plan to build back your closet. Look for void spaces where you failed to make good use of your closet footprint.
Step 2: Measure what your closet set up was at the beginning. Know how much rod space you will need for your clothes by type. Do you need 42″ of closet rod for dresses versus maybe 32″ of rod space for pants?
Step 3: Empty out the items from your closet. While doing so, try to keep your items in piles that are similiar. For example, I kept all my dresses in one stack, my jeans in another stack and so on. I wasn’t planning on purging many items but, you still need to start with a blank space. I used the bedroom that our child who really has their own apartment out of state as my unload and store zone.
Step 4: Review the walls of your closet. By removing the items you really get to see how marked up or damaged they are. Maybe your walls just need a clean coat of paint. Maybe they have more damage that you want to repair or cover up. This step also just allows you to see your walls and start planning your layout. It was at this point that I determined all of my previous shelves and rods were going to go (although I demo’d them very carefully so I could re-use the materials for new components and save money). and I was officially going to start with a complete blank space before my rebuild. I choose to do this because my walls had the scars of being 50 years old and also the scars that I left behind during my two previous revisions. I don’t regret either of those revisions because they made my closet more useable for the next few years after each one.
An easy way to DIY a facelift for your closet is to faux shiplap the walls with underlayment. The underlayment does not reduce your footprint by much since it is approximately .25″ thick. If you are worried that faux shiplap will depreciate your house value, I didn’t think so in my case. It’s a closet! Plus better to have pretty, clean walls instead of the pock mark and scarred walls from years of use. (I used 6 full sheets of underlayment. They were $20.65 each so this expense was my biggest expense of my project. I think it was well worth the final look. Originally, I was going to paint the faux shiplap white, but it just looked so pretty and right now whites and woods are in so I kept in natural. It’s easy to paint later if I change my mind rather than paint and regret I did it)
Step 5: Start drawing up your plan! You can use a computer program or do it the old school way and use grid paper left behind from one of your child’s geometry classes from years ago! I personally love the ease of grid paper because I use pen for my wall lines and pencil in all my options. This way if it isn’t giving me the look or space I want, I just erase and try it a little different. Don’t forget to consult your pictures and the notes you took on rod space and shoes space of your previous closet.
While drawing up your plan, consider ways that you can add personality to your closet. ADD A STATEMENT PIECE! Surely you can fit one in… even a small piece. I utilized an antique Engligh cabinet that I had purchased from FBMP about 2 years prior. If I would have had a bigger footprint, there was a bigger antique that I would have incorporated, but like I said, I was working within the original space of the builders walls and studs.
Besides just statement pieces, you can also find bookcases and other furniture that can be incorporated into your design. I have found it cheaper (and quicker) to buy a pre-owned bookcase and make it look like a built in. Besides saving money on materials, you can also save DIY hours because you didn’t have to build the items yourself.
I changed the front face of my pre-owned bookcase that I purchased to match the one that I created from the demo’d shelf boards that I removed. I used a lot of scrap wood and didn’t worry about whether or not it already had a coat of stain on it because I knew all the pieces that I made would be painted white for a cohesive look when I started building back my closet.
Step 6: Build your components. This medium piece in this picture was mostly made from scrap wood and shelf wood. I only had to purchase a 1×3″ board for the top facing header and a 1×4″ board for the bottom facing baseboard. They just needed 32″ of each board so another 32″ of each of those boards were utilized on the tall bookcase I purchased off FBMP. Then I just needed to purchase a few 1×2″ boards to complete the side facing on my tall unit. I spent less than $40 to buy those boards and $50 to buy the original tall bookcase. So for less than $100, I made quite a bit of storage options for my closet.
My original goal and the plan that I drew up had purse storage above the tall unit. I had about 23.5″ of height before I got to my ceiling height. But once I started to realize that I still didn’t have enough boot storage space, the small unit that I made became more of an all purpose storage that I can change to fit my needs whenever I want to. The small unit was once again, made from leftover demo’d shelf and new front facing boards. It is not shown here in the pictures, but you can see it in the final pictures of the unit that is placed on top of the tall unit.
Step 7: This is the step where it all starts coming together. It is like when a house gets it’s kitchen cabinetry and people state their build starts looking like a home. Now, it’s the time to put all your components in. Decide where they need to be placed and anchor them to your walls. If you decide to vary your plan suddenly for your design, take a few minutes to see if that choose will actually look good on your paper plan before anchoring. Did you loose rod space that you will later need and regret? I actually loved that my design did not change and I was super happy with my end result.
There are a few other things to consider that will make your closet appear larger. Since small walk-in closets mostly have rods that go down each side, once all your clothes are in, the walkway seems even smaller. Let’s face it your clothes will extend another half way into whatever space remains. There are a few other things to consider that will make your closet appear larger. I choose to make my layout where the rods were mostly all towards the back of my closet. That makes my closet appear more spacious than it actually could be. Plus previously my rods were place about 11-12″ away from my wall. I brought all the dress rods back by 1/2″ to 3/4″ closer to the wall and the rods where my pants would be hung slightly more than that.
Another thing to consider is that shelving units can make your closet feel more spacious than just using rod storage methods. My walkway also is bigger because I added in shelving units that were 12″ thick and even my antique piece is about 12″ thick. Because my pattern alternated with the cabinet on the left being as soon as you walked in the closet and the one on the right was placed about center down, my walkway expanded because you don’t have hangers extended into it. Also,my previous shelves were 14″ deep. They made my closet appear dark and enclosed. The shelves that I choose to add back in, all were 12″ deep. The extra 2″ had just been wasted space earlier as I realized when I measured that my boot storage only truly needed a 12″ shelf at the very most.
I placed most of my longer formal dresses and jumpsuits in the corner where I could have potentially had unuseable space. It was a great way to problem solve the issue and I love that I didn’t waste that 15″ of space just because I wanted to add an antique cabinet in for an unexpected touch.
I say just take your time and really plan your small closet so it can have it’s fullest and prettiest result. You can have a dreamy closet even on a budget if you re-use some of the stable items and shelving from your demo’d boards. A good option is to make a materials list of things you will need for your closet and send it to your local friends. They may just have some of the items in their garage and they really have been hoping for an opportunity to purge some of them anyway. Thrift stores, FBMP, and garage sales are also great places that you can get “good bones” pieces to your storage components. I was able to redesign my closet for under $350. I was happy with that end price because it just saves more money for the one splurge I enjoy… buying more boots!
Thanks for following along on this project and I hope you’ll stay tuned for my next DIY project. In the meantime, stay safe and happy!
The Mother Trucker