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Before You Redo Your Closet, Read This

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How a well-planned closet remodel and renovation can solve wardrobe problems and save money

Soon after Timisha Porcher moved into her Maryland home, she went on a mission to remodel the master bedroom's closet. The closet's bright orange paint job was the least of the problems. Most of her clothes were stacked in the master bathtub because the closet's rods and shelves were loose or missing. 


She spent £400 and two weekends installing everything. "The finished, empty closet was gorgeous," says Porcher.


Despite her thorough measuring and planning, however, Porcher neglected to take a ruler to the most important part of the closet—her clothes. "The hanging clothes are too long and they cover the drawers of the closet's existing built-in dresser," she says. "I can't believe I missed that." As a result, the dresser remains empty.


When it comes to remodeling a closet, the little details can matter even more than the quality of the finishes, says Eric Marshall, a certified closet designer and board member of the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals (ACSP) who also owns DEA Kitchens and Closets in Phoenix, Arizona. That's why Marshall tries to start every project with a meeting inside the client's closet. "I don’t want clients to clean up for me," Marshall says. "I like to see the problems so I can fix them."


With an eye toward key technical and planning details, Marshall and other designers and DIYers outline their best advice for what to consider when remodeling a closet.

Every closet renovation should start with these key tools 

Porcher, a.k.a. ToolBox Diva, a DIY blogger, approached her closest project like a pro: with a graph paper notebook, tape measure and pen. She took meticulous measurements of the actual closet—floor to ceiling, wall to wall—to ensure she’d use every inch, then drafted the new closet from scratch on four sheets of graph paper, with every square on a page representing six inches. After mapping out every nook and cranny, she bought a white, coated-metal adjustable closet system to fit the space perfectly.


She says the first step in a closet renovation starts with this outline of the closet’s measurements. Then, take a complete inventory—including length and width measurements of your hanging and folded clothing.


To ballpark the amount of horizontal hanging space needed in a closet, Marshall recommends multiplying the number of pieces by the following measurements:


Suits: 2.5 inches

Dresses: 2 inches

Folded pants/skirts: 1.5 inches

Blouses: 1.25 inches


For example, eight men’s suits require 20 inches (8 suits x 2.5”=20 inches) of space on a hanging rod.


Vertical hanging space is equally important when planning the layout of a hanging system and shelving. Start the design with one hanging rod that leaves a 70-inch clearance for dresses, which are typically 60-plus inches long. Shirts and jackets—typically 36 inches for women and 38 inches for men—hang on rods with 42 inches of clearance. An additional rod can be installed underneath for folded pants and skirts, which require 28 inches of hanging space. If the closet’s ceilings are 10 feet or higher, Marshall recommends a pneumatic pull-down rod, which can triple the amount of hanging space.

Clothing Time

In 1930, American women owned an average of nine outfits. Today the number is closer to 30.

Be sure to leave this much room for clothing shelves 

As your clothing needs change, shelves installed on an adjustable track—versus mounted on a fixed bracket—can be moved to accommodate more items. Once any shelving is installed, however, you can’t adjust the depth of the shelf, which should be 14 inches, according to Atlanta ACSP member and designer/builder David Buchsbaum. The standard measurement of folded clothes may vary according to the item, but 14 inches will cover the range without overhang. If your closet is 5 feet wide or less, hang clothes on one side and install shelves on the other. “This leaves about 2 feet to walk down the center,” he says.


Measure the tallest bag, hat or other shelf item in your closet inventory and size the closet’s upper shelves to accommodate these pieces. Shelves at eye-level or below can hold sweaters (typically 10 inches wide when folded), purses and shoes (on a tilted 12-inch shoe shelf). Porcher recommends vertical dividers to keep bulky stacked sweaters from tilting or sliding; Marshall uses dividers to separate purses.


Pro Tip: Standard men and women’s clothing can be hung on 16.5-inch flat hangers or 17-inch contour hangers; men’s suits and XL clothing require an 18- to 18.5-inch hanger. A rod is typically placed 12 inches from the back wall of a closet to accommodate 18-inch hangers. “We found there’s always extra space in the back, so we put our rods 11 inches from that wall because we’d rather give the client extra elbow room,” says Buchsbaum.

The pros agree: this material works best in closets

Melamine (particleboard encased in waterproof, scratch-resistent resin) is the best custom closet material. Not only is white less expensive, clothes also stand out against it, says Marshall.

A pre-fabricated white melamine closet system with rods and shelves averages £100 to £150 per linear foot. Janet Perry and her husband DIYed their 6-by-12-foot walk-in master closet in their California home over two weekends—including rods, shelves and drawers—for about £1,200.

“Hiring a pro to customize a walk-in could cost £5,000 to £20,000, depending on style and finish,” says Marshall. If these numbers seem high for a space to hold socks, data from the National Association of Realtors show that 60 percent of home buyers are willing to pay £1,350 more for a walk-in master closet. Manhattan real estate agent Julie Gans recently sold a one-bedroom for £710,000 on the strength of several tricked-out closets. “The minute we walked in, the buyer fell in love with the beautiful custom closets that slid, twirled and contorted to use every allowable space,” says Gans.

Pro and DIY tip: While some closet DIYers may opt for wire shelving, Perry renovated her closet solely because it had wire shelves and rods. She found that hangers didn’t sit well on the thin rods, the wire shelves were too narrow and her closet’s old system could not handle the weight of her clothes.

Getting Wired?

Anchor vertical tracks on wire shelving 24 inches apart on the wall for a weight rating of 100 pounds per linear foot.

“I had more clothes than I had closets.” — Sammy Davis, Jr., entertainer

Two areas of potential wasted space in the closet: the middle section and corners. “I put a laundry basket on wheels in the middle so I can move it around,” says Porcher. In a closet corner, Buchsbaum installs a Lazy Susan shoe spinner, which costs about £400.

Valet rods

These retractable hooks can be mounted at waist and neck height, allowing you to mix and match tops and bottoms to see what you want to wear, says Marshall.


Warm or neutral white flexible LED strip lights installed inside drawers or under shelving can cure issues with bleak single-bulb overhead lighting or dark corners, says Buchsbaum.

Shoe bags

Porcher’s hanging closet shoe bags saved valuable floor space and helped organize grab-and-go items like gloves.

DIY tip: Porcher advises using a laser level to get hanging rods and clothing shelves perfectly straight. For instance, once you find an initial height to hang a shelf, a laser level projects a red beam across the wall for easy and accurate measurement. Another electronic tool must: a stud finder. “Always aim for studs when installing shelving to support weight,” says Porcher.

Although the unused built-in dresser is still a daily reminder of how the best laid plans can go awry, Porcher says her closet project had one unexpected benefit: a new(ish) wardrobe curated from long-lost clothing found in the re-organization. “I rediscovered clothing I love—and plenty I could live without. My advice: before you buy anything new, get it all organized, and you’ll see your wardrobe with fresh eyes.”