My husband and I bought an almost perfect house back in 2015. It met most of our criteria except that it lacked was a proper master suite. The bedroom was small but it wasn’t the worst. The bathroom and closet on the other hand… pretty horrible. So we came up with a renovation plan to make the master suite of our dreams. It involved gutting the closet, master bathroom and the den that was behind both of those rooms. In this post I’ll share the steps that we took to create the master closet that I had dreamed up. When I first started this custom closet I hadn’t yet built drawers so I designed it using IKEA TARVA and IVAR. Turns out drawers aren’t nearly as hard as I had imagined but using IKEA dressers is definitely an even easier alternative.
Here is what the project looked like on demo day. I remember the feeling of Oh, no, there is no turning back now! The room to the left with the light on is the old closet and the red room in the back is the old den. We removed all of the plumbing, framed for a door to the den/new bathroom and then moved the closet wall to the right to make the closet as big as we could with still allowing a hallway where the old bathroom was.
Here is a picture after we had framed for the walls and installed drywall. The closet is the room to the left, the bathroom is now in the back and we have a hallway to get to each of the rooms from the master bedroom. This photo was taken from the master bedroom.
And here is the new closet space. It was about 18″ deeper than the old closet and the door was now in the hallway rather than the bedroom.
We painted the walls, laid some new hardwood flooring and then we were ready to start building the master closet! Looking back, I have no clue why I wasted my time paining a closet that I was going to almost completely cover the walls with wood. I don’t know if I hadn’t fully planned out my design or if I just forgot but don’t do this if you build a similar closet. It’s a waste of time and paint!
The closet build!
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This picture is of one of the lumber hauls. I don’t have a truck so we had Lowe’s rip the plywood boards down to a size that I could fit in my small SUV. They don’t charge for this so don’t assume that you need to find a friend with a truck or rent one to complete a project like this.
This closet using the IKEA TARVA and IVAR wasn’t cheap but compared to what you would pay for someone else to build you a custom closet it’s a steal. We spent around $1,400 for materials. At first we had looked at closet systems at Home Depot and Lowe’s. It would have saved us a ton of time but the quality wasn’t what we were hoping for. We also went to the Container store to check out their selection. I found a system that I liked but it was $2,600 for a 6′ section. I would have needed 3 of them so um….. NO THANKS! Here is a list of the materials that we used. I didn’t list quantities or provide a cut list because everyone’s closet will be different dimensions. If you read through the steps that I show below you can easily modify the dimensions for your space!
2×4 boards (for base)
3/4″ hardwood plywood for base, sides and shelves
IKEA IVAR 3-Drawer Chest (We used two of these)
24″x48″ craft boards (One for on top of each IVAR Chest of Drawers)
1×2 boards (for the face trim)
Pocket Hole Screws
Pointers for Designing a Closet
There are a few things to consider when designing a functional closet. If you’re looking for dimensions and have questions on depths and heights for hanging rods in closets check out this post from HGTV that provides all of the details that you need. You’ll want to think about things like depth and height of the hanging clothes, height of shoes and maximum reachable heights for hanging clothes.
Are you ready to see how we turned an empty space into the perfect master closet?
Step 1. Build a Base Frame
Use 2×4 boards to build a base. The depth of the base should equal the width of the IKEA chest of drawers so if you are using the TARVA make it 15 3/4″” and if you are using the IVAR make it 19 5/8″. Since our design used both of the dressers you can see that the bases on the left and right wall are a little bit wider than the base on the back wall (because the IVAR is deeper than the TARVA).
We had a weird bump out in the back left corner that we had to work around which is why I designed that corner to be shelves from floor to ceiling. For the base we added supports every 18″ or so and screwed the frame together using wood screws. After it was set in place and we confirmed that it was level and then screwed the back into studs in the wall. This thing isn’t going anywhere!
Step 2. Add Plywood to the Base
Cut 3/4″ hardwood plywood to match the dimensions of your base frame and then attach it using glue and a nail gun.
Install your IKEA Dressers. My design included three of the IKEA Dressers. The 5 drawer TARVA was centered on the back wall and an IVAR was centered on each of the left and right walls. It worked out really well for my space that centering the dressers allowed for the proper space for hanging shirts to the right of the TARVA on the back wall and left usable space for hanging clothes and building shelves everywhere else.
This is the IKEA TARVA 5 drawer chest that we used. We DID NOT use the legs or frame at the bottom. We didn’t need the added height for our design.
And this is the IKEA IVAR 3 Drawer Chest that we used.
After you build the dressers and get them aligned properly on your base attach them to the wall using the IKEA hardware. We also screwed the base of the dresser into the base that we built for added security.
Step 3. Add Wall Backing
I wanted the closet to look high end so we added wood backing instead of having drywall behind the shelves. For this we used 1/4″ hardwood plywood sheets. We cut them so that the seams would be behind where the shelf walls were so that you wouldn’t see them. The 1/4″ plywood sheets were attached to the wall using a staple gun. I didn’t want the staples to be visible so we made marks where we knew that there would be future shelf boards and used staples there. You can see where I drew a line 12″ below the ceiling where I knew we would be adding a shelf and you would never see the staples.
For each of the sections we built boxes that we then set in place (more detail in step 4). Each box had a left and right wall and a top. Since we built boxes for the sections to the left and right of the TARVA dresser, I didn’t install the 1/4″ plywood to the left and right walls in those areas. It would have just been covered by the 3/4″ plywood walls of the boxes so it wouldn’t have made any sense to do that.
Step 4. Build and Install Boxes for Each of the Sections
By sections I mean hanging sections and/or shelves. When we cut the left and right walls and top for the box we made them 3/4″ shallower than the IVAR dresser to allow 1×2 trim to sit flush (note that 1×2 trim is actually 3/4″x1.5″. Don’t ask me why, I have no clue). you’ll also want to account for the 1/4″ plywood wall backing so the boxes should be 1″ shallower than the IKEA dresser (1/4″ for the wall backing + 3/4″ for the face trim).
To install the boxes we screwed them into studs in the back wall and the ceiling (avoiding visible screws when possible) and also attached them to the dresser using screws. One tip that I have is to take out the drawers and screw the dresser to the box from inside the dresser so that you won’t see the screws.
We added shelves that were 12″ below the ceiling throughout the entire closet. These were screwed into the boxes after they were set in place when possible (you can see a screw near the top right corner). For the last few boxes that we set we had to install the top shelf before we set the boxes.
Step 5. Install a Nicer Top for the IVAR Dresser
Note that this step is only required if you are using the IVAR dresser. If you look at the picture above you can see that the TARVA comes with a nice finished top. You won’t need to do anything special with that. The IVAR on the other hand comes with a top that doesn’t quite look finished. To solve this problem we bought 24″ x 36″ x 3/4″ craft boards and cut them to size. You’ll want the depth of the craft board to match the front of the IVAR dresser so it should be 3/4″ deeper than the walls of the boxes that you built. When we added the trim later everything was flush and looked perfect.
Step 6. Install Shelves
For the shelves we used a Kreg Jig to drill pocket holes which allowed us to easily install a bunch of shelves for our shoes. The pocket holes were on the underside of the shelves. I later filled the visible ones with wood filler so that you couldn’t see them after the closet was painted.
Here is a picture of the start of shelves on my husbands side of the closet. These shelves were for his shoes and are spaced 8 3/4″” apart except for the bottom shelf that was designed for boots and is a little bit taller at 12″.
And here is his side with all of the shoe shelves installed. We also added a shelf in between the two shirt hanging sections in the corner and one at the same level in the center since he didn’t need taller hanging space for dresses like I did. This gave him some more space for folded clothes above the IVAR Dresser.
On my side of the closet We installed corner shelves for my shoes. Remember that awkward bump out in the corner that I showed you when I was talking about building a base frame? Yeah, that made this step REALLY REALLY difficult. It took a lot of sweat, frustration and curse words but we did it! My shelves are 9 1/4″ apart except for the bottom shelf which is 19″ tall since I needed a space for my tall boots.
Step 7. Install the Trim
Use 1×2 boards as trim to trim out all of the unfinished plywood edges. I totally forgot to take a picture of the closet with the trim installed before I painted but here is a lovely picture of me after sanding the closet and prepping it for paint. You can see the unpainted trim a little bit in the background. The 1×2 trim will fit perfectly vertically as it’s width equals the width of the two plywood walls. Where there is only one plywood wall or shelf just align the trim so that it sits flush with the side or top. The trim was attached with wood glue and a nail gun.
Note that we also installed baseboards and quarter round at the bottom. The 2×4 base frame with the 3/4″ plywood top is the exact same height as base boards so no modifications are necessary!
There were also a few spots where the joints or staples were visible so we installed quarter round to cover these. These areas included the bottom shelves where the 1/4″ wall backing met the bottom shelf and top of the TARVA dresser where it met the 1/4″ wall backing.
Step 8. Prep for Paint
Use wood filler to fill any of the holes and imperfections. At a minimum you’ll want to fill the nail gun holes.
To prep for paint you’ll want to sand all of the wood surfaces. I used my power Sander that I absolutely love. It got to most spots but I did have to hand sand with just paper in a few areas. I first sanded with 120 grit and then followed up with 220 grit for a nice smooth finish.
I’d also recommend caulking the joints before painting. It looks so much better with nice smooth joints.
Be sure to clean the entire surface before painting as you’ll probably have sawdust covering EVERYTHING. Note that if your rag is too wet you might raise the grain on the wood which means that the wood fibers rise and become rough feeling. If this happens you’ll have to sand again to smooth everything out.
Step 9. Paint, paint and paint again
First prime the entire surface with primer. Then, use the paint color of your choice and apply at least 2 coats. I actually had to do 3 in some areas. This part wasn’t fun but don’t skimp on the paint. You’re going to be taking shoes and clothes in and out of this closet everyday so you want to be sure that the surface is durable.
I used Behr Rustic Taupe for the closet shelves and drawers and a standard white trim paint for the baseboards.
Step 10. Install the hardware
I purchased some Pull Handles from Amazon. Pull handles can be really expensive so I was excited when I found some for relatively inexpensive on Amazon. I was a bit skeptical given the price but when they came I couldn’t believe how high quality they were. I didn’t have an issue with any of them. Follow the instructions for spacing for the handles that you choose and drill holes. Then attach the handles with the hardware that came with them.
Install hanging rods in sections where you want to hang clothes. We purchased the standard rods from Lowe’s and bought the brackets separately. The installation was very easy. We cut the rods to length using an Oscillating Tool.
Step 11. Install Adjustable Shelves
This step is optional. I wanted the shelves above the IKEA TARVA dresser to be adjustable in height since I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to store in that space. To do this we first built shelves that fit the space and had 1×2 trim on the front face. I painted these as well. You can see them laying on the floor in the image below.
To install adjustable shelves we bought a Kreg Tool Company Shelf Pin Jig. It’s a super simple jig that made drilling holes for adjustable shelves easier than I could have ever imagined.
There are a number of ways that you can use it but what we did was clamp a template to the right and left side of the opening with the vertical board flush with the front of the face trim and the horizontal board perfectly centered in the opening.
We then used the Kreg Shelf Pin Jig to drill a set of holes above and below the horizontal board.
This is what it looked like after we set the adjustable shelves in place.
Finished Closet Pictures
The last step is to move your clothes and shoes in! I recently had a three day weekend since my office is closed on President’s Day and it gave me that extra motivation to finally cross this project off my list. We moved our stuff in that Sunday and it’s been so amazing to have a closet near our bedroom again. I still can’t believe that this is our closet or even more that we actually built it!
The left side is all mine. I have a ton of space for my shoes in the corner, taller hanging space for my dresses, an IVAR of my own and two hanging sections for shirts. I use the top for my short sleeve and sleeveless blouses and the bottom for my sweaters and long sleeve blouses. The three drawers in the IVAR are perfect for organizing bras, panties and socks. I’m sure you can understand why I didn’t post a picture of that 😉
The right side of the closet is my husbands space. I envy the women that get entire closets to them-self. My husband has quite the shoe and clothes collection so he needs just as much if not more space than I do. I designed his side to have space to hang his long sleeve shirts and polos in the corner and then space to hang his sweaters above the IVAR dresser. Since he didn’t need taller hanging space for dresses like me, we added a shelf above the IVAR dresser for his pants. He also has floor to ceiling shelves for his shoes.
And here is a picture of how perfect the IVAR chest of drawers is for storing socks. My husband has quite the collection!
Our master suite remodel is the biggest DIY/renovation project that we’ve taken on but I’m so glad that we did it. I learned a ton in the process and ended up with an absolutely beautiful master closet in the end.
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I hope that this post helps some of you with designing and building your dream closet.