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Build a Closet Dresser and Easy DIY Closet Shelves

Maximize space in a reach-in closet by adding a closet dresser and easy DIY closet shelves! This tutorial can save you thousands of dollars by doing it yourself, rather than hiring an expensive installation company or purchasing a closet system.

DIY closet shelves
DIY closet shelves
DIY closet shelves
closet dresser

This project went wild on Instagram when I shared a preview before we even had it finished! We fielded questions about everything from the materials we used to closet configuration, so I’m sharing every detail here.

Maggie’s room had been a storage disaster for months and months, because in her small bedroom there were very minimal places to actually store things. So we created this easy closet dresser and DIY closet shelf solution, and so far it’s working perfectly.

Before you dive in, be sure to look at these other home improvement projects to try. Pin your favorites to make sure you can find them again easily.

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Adding a Closet Dresser and DIY Closet Shelves to an Old REach-in Closet

The kids’ rooms in our house both have the original reach-in closets, build in the 1950’s. They each had one long bar and one long shelf across the entire span of the closet.

A couple of years ago, we put a shoe cubby centered in each closet, with some temporary hanging racks on either side of the cubby. It was a bandaid at best (and at worst, actually made the closet messier somehow).

We wanted to create a DIY closet shelves that utilized more of the space and amped up storage possibilities.

DIY closet shelves

Cost Comparison: Closet Systems, Installation Companies, and DIY Closet shelves

So we began to price out closet installations and closet systems. We priced out a local closet installer, a national chain closet installer, and build-it-yourself closet systems online from both IKEA and The Container Store.

Both of the installers’ quotes came in at almost exactly $5,000 to add shelves and drawers to two reach-in closets (the size of each closet is about 24″ deep, 90″ wide, and 96″ tall). When we priced out IKEA and The Container Store systems, they each totaled around $4,500 for the two closets.

Our all-in total to create closet dressers and DIY closet shelves for both closets combined was $1,200. So we saved over $3,000.

closet dresser

Save Space in a Small Bedroom with a Closet Dresser

As Maggie’s room is so small, we decided to save space in her floor plan by adding a closet dresser to her DIY closet design. After doing the math, we figured out that her hanging space (calculated in feet) wouldn’t be reduced at all, and we could gain some shoe shelving and extra drawers.

We did the same in Henry’s room; although he has plenty of space for a dresser, we decided that boys probably don’t need as much consideration for hanging racks and some drawers could help provide extra storage and organization.

Here is Henry’s closet before we built it out (also holding some of Maggie’s things while we worked on her room. This photo gives me anxiety.

diy closet before demolition

And here it is after the build, but before we filled it with his belongings (below). So much more functional!

DIY closet shelves

Choosing the right Closet dresser

If you’re adding a closet dresser to your DIY closet shelf plan, consider a few things.

  • Take accurate measurements of your closet footprint, especially noting the depth of your closet.
  • Be aware that you’ll have to have both doors open to get into your closet dresser drawers.
  • Note that it has to be somewhat centered, as if you move it all the way to one side the drawers will be prohibited from opening by the front wall of your closet.
  • Look for a dresser with vertically stacked drawers (rather than side-by-side) if your closet space is small.
  • Be sure you like the way your drawers open; many dressers have drawers on tracks that don’t fully extend, which can be annoying.
closet dresser

Supplies You’ll Need

Closet Measurements

I’ll say it one more time — be sure to measure your closet accurately.

Take measurements of the width, height, and depth. Also measure the depth of the front wall and frame to know your reach-in capabilities. Cut your wood for the DIY closet shelves accordingly.

How to Install DIY Closet Shelves

  1. Start by assembling the dresser. If your dresser has legs like one of ours did, you may want to elect to leave the legs off. We chose this to reduce the dresser height for our daughter, but it also makes for a more cohesive and clean look.
  2. If your dresser has a lip over the side edges, it’s a good idea to cut out a notch so that your closet towers abut the dresser as closely as possible. Measure your tower pieces and notch the dresser lip out.
  3. Measure and cut the tall peg board closet pieces to your desired height. The top of them should be the height that you’d like your top shelf. Be sure to consider what you’ll be storing at the top and leave an appropriate amount of space to be able to slide your items into the closet between the closet frame and top shelf.
  4. Attach one of these tall pieces to the side walls of both sides of your closet with screws, finding studs where possible. Be sure to leave the peg holes facing out.
  5. Now slide the dresser into the center of the closet and attach the other two tall pieces to either side of the dresser, with peg holes facing away from the dresser. Measure and ensure that these are the exact same height off the ground as the outer two tall pieces, and that the peg holes align with the holes in the outer pieces. Be sure to place screws strategically so they won’t impede drawers.
  6. Place a long shelf across the top of the four tall panels, creating the top closet shelf. Screw these down into the sideboards.
  7. Caulk all corners and any cracks. A great way to clean caulked corners (if you don’t want to use fingers) is to run a popsicle stick over the corners after you apply the caulk. It creates a smooth curved finish.
  8. Finally, cut shelves to the appropriate width. Add closet rods and shelves as desired.
DIY closet shelves
demolition on reach in closet
closet dresser
DIY closet shelves
DIY closet shelves
DIY closet shelves

Final REsults

We couldn’t be happier with how both of the closets turned out! It’s multiplied the storage, especially in Maggie’s room, so much that we have space to spare. (I’m sure it will get filled eventually!)

Here is Maggie’s finished closet:

closet dresser
diy closet shelves
closet dresser

And here is Henry’s:

DIY closet shelves
closet dresser
DIY closet shelves

These images are as the closet stands now — I didn’t do any fancy styling or remove any items to make the images look more Pinterest-worthy. I thought it was important to show how these closets actually function and what they can hold.

I’d love to know if you try adding a closet dresser or DIY closet shelves! Be sure to rate our DIY below if you do. xoxo

DIY closet shelves

Closet Dresser and DIY Closet Shelves

Yield: DIY Closet Shelves and Dresser
Active Time: 12 hours
Total Time: 12 hours
Difficulty: Difficult
Estimated Cost: 1200

Maximize space in a reach-in closet by adding a closet dresser and easy DIY closet shelves! This tutorial can save you thousands of dollars by doing it yourself, rather than hiring an expensive installation company or purchasing a closet system.

Materials

  • Dresser
  • Closet shelf boards with pre-drilled peg holes
  • Screws
  • Rods
  • Closet pegs
  • Caulk

Tools

  • Saw
  • Drill

Instructions

  1. Start by assembling the dresser. If your dresser has legs like one of ours did, you may want to elect to leave the legs off. We chose this to reduce the dresser height for our daughter, but it also makes for a more cohesive and clean look.
  2. If your dresser has a lip over the side edges, it's a good idea to cut out a notch so that your closet towers abut the dresser as closely as possible. Measure your tower pieces and notch the dresser lip out.
  3. Measure and cut the tall peg board closet pieces to your desired height. The top of them should be the height that you'd like your top shelf. Be sure to consider what you'll be storing at the top and leave an appropriate amount of space to be able to slide your items into the closet between the closet frame and top shelf.
  4. Attach one of these tall pieces to the side walls of both sides of your closet with screws, finding studs where possible. Be sure to leave the peg holes facing out.
  5. Now slide the dresser into the center of the closet and attach the other two tall pieces to either side of the dresser, with peg holes facing away from the dresser. Measure and ensure that these are the exact same height off the ground as the outer two tall pieces, and that the peg holes align with the holes in the outer pieces. Be sure to place screws strategically so they won't impede drawers.
  6. Place a long shelf across the top of the four tall panels, creating the top closet shelf. Screw these down into the sideboards.
  7. Caulk all corners and any cracks. A great way to clean caulked corners (if you don't want to use fingers) is to run a popsicle stick over the corners after you apply the caulk. It creates a smooth curved finish.
  8. Finally, cut shelves to the appropriate width. Add closet rods and shelves as desired.

Notes

If you're adding a closet dresser to your DIY closet shelf plan, consider a few things.

  • Take accurate measurements of your closet footprint, especially noting the depth of your closet.
  • Be aware that you'll have to have both doors open to get into your closet dresser drawers.
  • Note that it has to be somewhat centered, as if you move it all the way to one side the drawers will be prohibited from opening by the front wall of your closet.
  • Look for a dresser with vertically stacked drawers (rather than side-by-side) if your closet space is small.
  • Be sure you like the way your drawers open; many dressers have drawers on tracks that don't fully extend, which can be annoying.

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