How to Design Closet Space For Optimum Use

by tracy on September 16, 2009

The size, door location, window location, door swing, ceiling height, and general configuration of closets as drawn on your plans can have a tremendous affect on the square footage available for use within those spaces, not to mention their accessibility and ease of use.

The following tips will help you catch closet design problems on paper, before you end up having to live with them.

Reach-in Closet Design: A reach-in closet is meant to be shallow, but if it’s too shallow, it loses its functionality.

Pay Attention to Depth: The coat closet in this model home is too shallow. The family that purchases this home is going to be in for a shock when they discover that coats protrude into the doorway, preventing theShallow reach-in closet door from closing. Measuring straight out from the wall to the bottom of a long sleeve, clothing hangs 24 inches away from the back wall of a closet. Therefore, reach-in closets need to be a minimum of 24 inches deep after drywall.

Remember that your plans are drawn based on frame before drywall installation. Because a standard sheet of drywall is ½” thick, once installed, the width and depth of the closet will be reduced by 1″ each.  In other words, if the reach-in closet is framed at 24″ deep, it will be 23″ in depth after drywall.

Optimally, reach-in closets should be 30 inches deep if they’ll be housing thick, heavy coats like the one in this picture. After your closets are framed, measure the size to make sure you’re getting what you asked for.

Avoid Deep Return Walls: The walls of a reach-in closet to which the closet doors are attached are known as the return walls. Take a look at the reach-in closets on your plan. Do any of them show return walls of 18 (inside measurement) inches or even deeper? If so, the closet will become more efficient if the return wall lengths are reduced. The drawing below shows why. First of all, as mentioned above, clothing hangs away from the back wall 24 inches. If a reach-in closet is 24 inches deep, any clothing hanging behind hand drawing reach in closetthe return wall is completely hidden from view and difficult to access.

Under the right circumstances, one way to fix this problem is to use larger doors. Say, for example, that a reach-in closet has an 8-foot interior length with two, 2-foot-wide doors in the center. This leaves a 24-inch return wall on either side of the door (as shown in the graphic). Changing to two, 3-foot-wide doors would reduce the return walls to a foot each, making the closet contents easier to see and reach, as shown below.

If the closet is wide enough, another solution is to add two sets of closet doors instead of one. Generally there’s about a foot-wide wall between the two sets of doors. This configuration will reduce the length of the return walls and allow the closet contents to be seen and easily accessed. A return wall of 12 inches (internal measurement) on either side of the closet door is a good size.

Creative Storage: Closets can be used for more than clothing. In fact, here’s a reach-in closet for crafting Craft closetsupplies that makes excellent use of the available space. Sure beats a rod and shelf, doesn’t it!

Size Matters: Are you wondering if the master closet in your new home will actually be large enough to meet your needs? Put your concerns to rest by having a closet designer count and measure the clothing and shoes you’d like to store in the new closet. He or she will then create a custom closet design for you based on the combination of your current needs and any additional requests such as drawers or built-in hampers. This type of pre-planning will let you know up front if your closet size is adequate, plus you’ll get an idea of cost that you can use for budgeting purposes.

Later this week, I’ll finish up with more closet storage ideas.

For even more closet design tips and hundreds of practical ideas for planning and building a better home, visit

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