Closet Organization: Easy DIY Closet Shelves

Learn how to build easy and inexpensive custom closet shelves to suit your needs and make the most of your storage space.

June 24, 2020

Custom closet systems can be expensive and a lot of work to install. Of course, there's the option for a pre-fab closet kit, but they do not always address your storage needs. Instead, build your own closet shelves with basic materials and get it done in an afternoon. Follow our step-by-step closet shelves DIY.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Supplies and Materials

  • primed 1x2 pine
  • 1/2" MDF boards
  • 2-1/4" hollow dry wall anchors
  • 8' closet rod
  • closet rod brackets
  • closet shelf bracket
  • 8' 1x12 primed pine board
  • paint and supplies
  • power drill and bits
  • miter saw
  • jig saw
  • tape measure
  • level

Before: Unusable Closet Space

Our son's closet needed a major makeover. It's a basic reach-in closet with bi-fold doors. We installed a pre-fab closet system years ago but did not remove the carpet when we upgraded the floor (Image 1). The closet system had plenty of shelves but lacked any real usability. Also, in order to increase the useable area in our son's bedroom, we wanted to move his dresser into the closet. The current set-up did not allow for that move. The closet system did not make great use of the corners of the closet. It was hard to move things off and on the shelves since they ran parallel to the closet's length.

For our makeover, we wanted to make use of that "dead" space by installing two closet shelves on one side of the closet, a hanging rod spanning the width of the closet and a top shelf spanning the width of the closet. The other side would be left open to accommodate larger items (Image 2) and hanging clothes.

Remove Doors

First, we removed the old closet doors, interior fixtures, carpet and baseboard. Then, we patched and painted the walls, trim and ceiling as well as installed new flooring and baseboard trim.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Measure for the New Shelves

Our closet shelves will use a simple cleat system to hold the shelf boards. Measure the dimensions for the four wall cleats that will support the two new side shelves (there will be two per shelf, so four total), and two side shelf tops (Image 1).

Measure the lengths for the new closet rod and top-shelf. In our closet, the original 1x6 x 25-inch shelf supports were still in place, so we used the distance from wall to wall inside the shelf supports for the closet rod length and the distance from the wall to wall above the supports for the top shelf length (Image 2).

Cut and Paint

Measure and mark the lumber for the two side shelves, four wall cleats for the side shelves, closet rod and top shelf (Image 1). Cut the side shelves, wall cleats for the side shelves, closet rod and top shelf (Image 2). Prime and paint all wood parts after cutting (Image 3).

Note: We used flat paint to prime and semi-gloss on top to match the existing trim. Learn more about paint finishes.

Prepare the Cleats

Measure and mark the heights of the wall cleats for the side shelves on the front and rear walls. We placed the shelves 18 inches and 36 inches from the floor (Image 1). Mark level lines at the location for each wall cleat on the front and rear walls (Image 2). Drill anchor holes in the cleats centered about 2-inches in from each end (Image 3). Mark and drill the mounting hole locations for the wall cleats. Hold a pre-drilled wall cleat against the wall with its top aligned with one of the level lines on the front or rear wall. Use a nail or thin drill bit to mark the wall through the pre-drilled holes in the wall cleat. The wall cleat should be installed in the same orientation in which it was held to mark the wall. For this reason, it is best to mark, drill and mount each cleat individually (Image 4).

Install the Cleats

Hollow wall anchors are available in different sizes. The anchor bolt must be long enough to allow the spring-loaded anchor clip to open after passing through the combined thickness of the cleat and drywall (Image 1). Follow the directions on your hollow wall anchor system for the size of the hole to drill in the wall. The hole may seem excessively large, but remember the hole must accommodate the girth of the anchor, not just the bolt (Image 2). Push an anchor bolt through each cleat, then screw on the anchor clip just far enough so that it will not fall off when you push it through the wall. Two or three threads on the bolt should be showing past the clip (Image 3). Mount the wall cleat. One at a time, depress the anchor clips, insert them into the mounting holes in the wall, and push them through until you feel the clips spring open (Image 4). Hold the cleat up to the level line as you tighten the anchor bolts (Image 5).

Install the Shelves

With wall cleats in place for two end shelves (Image 1), lay the pre-cut and painted end shelves on the cleats (Image 2).

Install the Hanger Rod and Shelf

Use the closet rod and top shelf center support to mark the locations for the closet rod end brackets. With the support flush to the rear wall and top aligned with the existing 1x6 x 25-inch wall cleat, mark the location of the closet rod support on the face of the wall cleat. Repeat on the opposite end (Image 1). Mark the location for the closet rod and top shelf support bracket in the center of the rear wall, aligned with the existing top shelf wall cleats (Image 2). Install the closet rod and top shelf support bracket. If the bracket is over a stud, use screws. If not, use hollow wall anchors (Image 3). Install the closet rod end brackets on the marked locations of the existing wall cleats. Be sure to install the half bracket with the open end at the top (Image 4). Insert the closet rod and lay the top shelf board in place. Secure both to the middle support bracket with 1/2-inch wood screws (Image 5).

After: Much-Needed Storage

The new closest shelves provided much-needed, organized storage that made use of the "dead" corner space. The shelves are low enough for our son to grab what he needs and wide enough to hold plenty of storage bins. The shelf above the closet rod will be used for seasonal storage.

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

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