Wednesday, May 1, 2013



As the youngest of four children one would think that staking claim to closet space would have been a challenge for me growing up. Actually the opposite was true. Our family home had four bedrooms. My parents inhabited the master suite and that left three other rooms to split between the four children.  My sister who was eleven years my senior, was the oldest. Consequently, the privilege of getting a private room was deemed as her birthright. My two older brothers were delegated to share the largest of the rooms because they were both boys. This left me odd girl out and by default I was awarded my own room like my sister.
Brother Mike, Sister Holly, Mom, Brother Pat, and Me
at my 30th Birthday Party seventeen years ago
My Sibs and I with Mom
 Christmas sometime in the late 1990's
My room was definitely the smallest of the four but the closet was equal in size to the others. As my siblings matured and eventually flew the coop, I gradually absorbed the spaces that they vacated. By the time I went college as commuter in 1983, I had all three rooms and three closets at my disposal. Although youngest children often complain about too many hand-me-downs and domineering older siblings, to be completely honest there are definitely some great perks to being the youngest in birth order.

When I left my parents home after graduating from college, I was fortunate to find a two-bedroom apartment that I rented with my roommate, Monique. The apartment wasn’t very fancy, but it had nice sized rooms with great closet space. Plus my parents still allowed me to store most of my out of season things at home. I had grown very accustomed to being able to spread out my belongings without having to share storage space.

However, when I got married at the age twenty-two I was in for a rude awakening. My husband and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment that had a single walk-in closet. For the first time in my life I was forced to share closet space and it threw me for a bit of a loop. The space was cramped and my husband didn’t have the same closet habits as myself.  Getting ready for work each day was a daunting challenge with inaccessible, tightly packed clothes and toe-stubbing obstacles created by his possessions on the floor. The situation was definitely a point of contention in our new marriage. Unlike my siblings who had grown up and moved out, my new husband was here to stay. Lucky for him, he was a very cute guy who had stolen my heart or I might have encouraged him to move out just like my sister and brothers before him.
The four of us together on the last day I would have my own closet
Needless to say, by the time we built our own first home with four bedrooms I was very ready for the larger sized walk-in closet in the master suite. Plus there would be three other walk-ins in the spare bedrooms that would allow me to again spread out.  It was like a dream come true! I would no longer have to fight my poor husband for storage dominance.

Unfortunately, all dreams, good or bad, come to an end in the light of day. My bliss was cut short over the next 5 years as I gave birth to three children who moved into the bedrooms and began to fill the extra closets with their own clothes and toys. As the kid’s possessions grew in number our own closet appeared to shrink in size. My displaced clothes came home to roost back in the master bedroom and I found my self struggling to find clothes buried in the over crowded racks and tripping over stacks of items on the floor. It was like being a newlywed all over again…but not in a good way.

When we eventually built our “Dream” home in 2001, master bedroom closets were a big priority. At this point I was completely done with sharing and the blue print was designed to accommodate two separate walk-in closets in the master bedroom. We went one step further and hired a professional closet organizing company to come in and design custom shelving, racks, and chest of drawers in the “his and hers” closets. The result was phenomenal. Not only did the closets look wonderful but they functioned wonderfully as well. Getting ready each day and keeping things accessible and organized was a breeze.

As I said before, it seems like really good dreams sometimes end abruptly. This time it was reminiscent of that reoccurring dream many people have where they feel like they are falling backwards and when they land with a slam in bed they are once again jolted back into reality. My husband’s career sent us free falling into relocation from Ohio to Pennsylvania, which included a year of rental properties as well as buying and selling homes.

The rental home that I lived in for one year during the transition between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh was a very tiny charming old house. It was built after the Second World War at a time when closets were an afterthought in most floor plans. In a few short days I went from having the best closet I had ever had in my life to the worst closet I had ever had in my life. The closets in the rental were so small that my daughters and I kept the majority of our clothes on rolling racks in the creepy old basement. When I got ready each morning I would take great care to give each article of clothing a good shake to make sure there wasn’t any little six or eight leg critters sleeping within.
My post-war rental home
To add insult to injury the master closets in our new Pittsburgh home, although fairly roomy, were poorly arranged and meagerly equipped. There was a single large walk-in with an impractically small amount of wire shelving and partitioned wire hanging racks that didn’t allow for sliding clothes back and forth. In addition there was a separate wall closet with a set of sliding mirrored doors. The door opening was much smaller than the actual closet, which made a large portion of the space inaccessible and unusable. I still remember the first weekend I commuted from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. I pulled my suitcase into the master bedroom to unpack. When I opened the closet doors and saw that my husband’s belongings were filling every inch of both closets, I knew instantly that this was going to be a big problem when I eventually moved in for good at the end of the year. That old newlywed feeling hit me once more but as far as the closets went the honeymoon was definitely over.

Design Topic of the Week:
Using Space Wisely: A Closet Makeover

The closet renovation was the first priority on our long list when I moved to Pittsburgh full time last June. Only this time, we would not have the same budget as we had when we built our “Dream” home a few years back. The year of commuting, the expense of the long distance move, and the higher cost of living in Pittsburgh would not allow our budget to cover hiring a contractor this time around. Any closet improvements would need to be strictly DIY.  After quite a bit of research I was lead to what I like to call, “A new home owner’s best friend” otherwise know as IKEA. 

The IKEA store is known for it’s reasonably priced storage solutions and I was very pleased to find a customizable closet organization system that would fit our needs. Although IKEA has amazing products the deep discounts come at the price of sweat equity and self-assembly. IKEA is not for the faint of heart. There are usually lots of parts and screws and the directions resemble the comic strips you find in the Sunday newspaper, very few words and lots of pictures. It can be quite intimidating but my deep desire to once again have a functional closet and my need to accomplish this on a strict budget outweighed my fear of misinterpreting the hieroglyphics. In the end IKEA won me over with quality design at a great price and my husband and I dived into the world of IKEA to renovate and organize our closets.

Choosing and installing closet wardrobe frames and accessories is very involved but following in my footsteps may help you to demystify the process.

The first thing we did was to formulate a strategy. The plan was to configure and install wardrobe units in the master bedroom walk-in closet that would have adequate short hanging storage and shelving to accommodate both my husband’s and my clothing. This would also include creative storage for my Imelda Marcos collection of shoes. In addition we would remove drywall around the sliding door closet to create a larger opening to better access and utilize the space. In this opened up space we would install two wardrobes for long hanging storage and built-in chests of drawers and a smaller wardrobe with shelving to serve as a linen closet. These would be finished off with cabinet doors and trim molding. We set a time frame of three weekends for completing the project. One weekend for building and installing the units in the walk-in, one weekend for demo of the sliding door closet, and one weekend for building and installing the units and accessories in the sliding door closet.

Once the strategy was in place. I took detailed measurements of each wall and door opening (height and width in inches) in the walk-in and created a scale floor plan on graph paper. I did the same with the inside dimensions of the sliding door closet.

Next I took a trip to my local Ikea store to investigate the dimensions and storage options for IKEA’s Pax Collection and Komplement (storage accessories) Collection. I noted that the 24” deep frames held more hanging storage than those that were only 14” deep. The 14” depth worked well with shelving and shoe rack options. I also found that there were very nice three drawer units that fit perfectly into the 39” wide, 24” deep wardrobe frames.  Our ceiling height was over nine feet in the master bedroom closets so I was able to determine that we could use wardrobe units that were 93” tall. Being able to physically touch and view the IKEA options helped me to formulate ideas about what types of storage and accessories would work best for our needs.

After my field trip, I had a good idea of what types of units and accessories I wanted. The next step was to research online the exact dimension options of wardrobes from the Pax collection at IKEA. The wardrobe frames come in two depths of 14" and 24", two heights of 93" and 79", and three widths of 39", 29", and 19". (I have rounded these measurements to the nearest inch. Please check the IKEA website for exact measurements.) I then took my scale, graph-paper floor plan and started experimenting with penciling in scale representations of the Ikea wardrobe options.
IKEA Pax Wardrobe Frame
It took a couple hours of trial and error but eventually I had a drawing that worked well for my two spaces and I then was able to take that drawing and make a detailed shopping list. Going to the store with a detailed list that includes dimensions and item numbers for each piece was very helpful. It greatly reduced time and stress. I was able to walk into the warehouse area and hand the list over to the sales associate and have him find and accumulate all of my items.

IKEA Birkeland Door

IKEA Komplement
Interior Chest of Drawers
IKEA Komplement Shoe Organizer
Depending on the number of wardrobe frames and accessories you purchase, it is important to note that the boxes can be very heavy. We were able to transport 11 wardrobe units, 5 doors, several sizes and quantities of shelves, and a number of other accessories in the back of our minivan and SUV. However, the next week we found out that we had blown a rear shock absorber on the minivan and we attributed it to hauling the weight of the wardrobe frames. If your project requires as many units as ours I advise borrowing or renting a truck for transporting them.

When building and installing your wardrobe frames be patient with yourself. It took us over 2 hours to put together the first unit. It’s a bit like working a three-dimensional puzzle and it definitely requires two people for building and installation. However, once we figured out the construction of the first unit it only took 15 to 20 minutes to construct each subsequent wardrobe frame. We very quickly got the process down to a science. One important thing to note is the size of the unit in relationship to the size of the closet door and any angles that might be encountered when carrying the unit into the closet. This is especially important when working with the taller 93” units. We found it was easier to build most of the units inside of the closet to avoid trying to squeeze the heavy wardrobes through the door opening.

To make sure your units are safe and won’t topple over on you, follow the directions for anchoring them to the wall and to each other with the provided hardware. Until they are anchored they seem a bit flimsy so make sure you have help stabilizing them when you are moving them into place. Once they are anchored they are incredibly sturdy.

The wardrobe frames that we built into the expanded sliding door closet were not as deep as the actual closet space so my husband screwed in two rows of two-by-fours to the back of the closet at the top and middle of the back wall. This allowed us to bring the boxes out to the edge of the drywall opening so the doors could swing freely. It also provided a secure surface on which to anchor the frames.
Two-by-fours were used to build out the back of the closet
and provide a sturdy surface on which to anchor the wardrobe frames
My husband and son took advantage of the opportunity to graffiti the walls that would be hidden
when the closet was completed while Pigwideon the cat took advantage of the temporary perch.
The drywall was removed to snuggly accommodate the wardrobe dimensions
The IKEA Birkeland doors and trim molding was added to finish off the new closet
What once was a small sliding door closet was now two large wardrobes with built-in chests of drawers  plus an extra linen closet. The first wardrobe nicely accommodates my husbands long hanging items and the sectioned top drawer of the chest provides organization for his ties and accessories.

The second wardrobe provides long hanging space for my dresses while the sectioned drawer is perfect for my jewelry. Since the ceiling height accommodated the taller, 93" Pax wardrobe frames, both wardrobes were able to house an additional top shelf for extra storage.

The third, narrow wardrobe was placed at the far end adjacent to the bathroom and accessorized with shelving to create a convenient and spacious linen closet.
Having my own separate walk-in closet was not in the cards for me, so I did my best to provide separate "his and hers" spaces within the confines of the single closet. Directly across from the door we placed two large wardrobe frames accessorized with hanging bars to create four separate short hanging sections for my husband. The high ceilings in the closet not only allowed for upper shelving above the short hang sections, but also additional storage on top of the cabinet.

For my portion of the closet I decided to create a small hallway within the closet by placing opposing wardrobe frames on the walls. Previously the closet had one long piece of venilated shelving across the end wall that only provided long hanging and one upper shelf. By creating this hallway I was able to provide in the same space, four full sections of short hanging with two shelves above, and extra top-of-cabinet storage. While on the opposite wall,  I gained two large 14" deep wardrobe frames filled with shelving for folded sweaters, clothing, and accessories as well as even more top storage. I was virtually able to build a closet within a closet.

The only part of the closet we share is the shoe wall.  I have to admit that I consume a much larger portion of this area. Using the sliding Komplement shoe organizers I am able to house Forty-eight pairs of shoes in a little over half of a 14" deep wardrobe frame. The two top shelves provide space for five pairs of my boots and sweater storage for my husband. The adjacent cabinet holds shelves for my husbands shoes and folded clothing items. One thing to note is, with the three standard widths and two standard depths of frames available from IKEA, I was able to work out a combination that utilized every inch of the closet space almost perfectly with one exception. My shoe cabinet overlaps one of my husband's short hang cabinets slightly. This creates a recessed area and a tiny bit of dead space in that corner. Not exactly perfect, but considering that we almost quadrupled the storage in this closet, we felt it was well worth the small sacrifice.

To finish things off we added a few inexpensive racks of hooks from the local home improvement store to hold belts and some of my long beads and necklaces. The space at the end of the small, created hallway was the perfect spot to put a laundry hamper, while the space on the end of the cabinet by the door worked well for placement of an inexpensive full length mirror from IKEA.

This project was quite an undertaking for my husband and me but a very necessary part of integrating me into the home after the long year of commuting. Although I was skeptical at first that I could ever be comfortable sharing closet space with my husband again, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the organized new spaces functioned in the end. With the help of the brilliant designers of IKEA Furniture, I was actually able to accommodate all of the possessions that formerly lived in my old private walk-in closet and then some. The space saving organizational accessories helped me to store more items in less space. My husband and I also came to the conclusion that the DIY closets that we had put together ourselves were actually sturdier and better quality than the cabinetry that was provided by the custom closet company we had used in our old house.

I won't sugar coat it, this endeavor was a lot of hard work but in the end we saved over two thirds the cost by doing it ourselves and the quality of the product was as good or better than custom. The key to success with this kind of a project is to create a plan in advance. Map every thing out on paper and buy everything you will need before you start. Although we may have killed a rear shock absorber carrying it all home, we were able to keep to our strict three weekend schedule by having all needed materials on hand. We didn't have to waste time starting and stoping because we had to leave in the middle of our work to go to the store. Remember you can always return unused items so it is better to go ahead and get it now and take items back afterwards if they aren't needed.

I am very happy this time to say that my husband and I are like newlyweds again after spending most of the year apart in different cities. Only this time, sharing closet space doesn't mean the honeymoon is over!

Thanks for stopping by! 

Dont forget to check out my Designerelish Crock Pot and Designerelish Pantry pages for more great design ideas to use in your own home.

Drop in next week when the design topic will be 

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