It’s really tricky to get a photo of these closets. I’m tucked in the bathroom to take this one. We also have no windows at this end of the apartment so it can appear dark. #smallspaceproblems.
So we basically live on a boat now, ha! Not really but we added custom closets to our front entry recently and suddenly it feels like every wall in our space is a secret cabinet of some kind. I am completely in love with them. The closets have been an idea in my head for a couple years and I’m not sure what finally made me convince Trevor that I thought it was worth the expense. He trusted me, even when I wasn’t sure I was making the right call. Ripping out walls and doors always makes me nervous!
We worked with a local millwork company (Precisionwerkz, who I have worked with for years in my day job and would trust with my life, or at least all of my millwork projects ;) ) to fit out the existing space and take advantage of our high ceilings. The main reason we determined that the closets were worth the effort was for the added storage above the existing closets. Part of me was thinking, oh let’s just edit more, we don’t really need so many things. But the reality is that the kids are getting bigger and their stuff is getting bigger even though our space isn’t. We feel this most in the winter months with all of the coats, boots, and rain gear. Our existing closets were completely fine. But we had a few complaints about them…
Our ceilings are about 10’ high but all the doorways in our apartment are standard height. So in all of our closets there is wasted square footage up high that is impossible to access. In our bedroom we removed the bulkhead to access that space and ever since we have been staring at the wasted space above our jam-packed entry closet. In addition to the upper cabinets the main closet also gained some height which has helped with bike helmets and Trevor’s boxing gear.
We have a small pantry closet to the left of our kitchen, beside the entry closet, that is about 16” wide and 24” deep. The size never bothered me too much, sure we can’t keep lots of bulk items but it fits enough for our family and makes us eat what we buy. But the pantry was pretty deep and dark. It was hard to see what food we had and things were always getting lost in there. I always dreamed of those pull out drawers but the thick door frame made it impossible to install them.
We removed our existing closet doors and cut the walls back to the studs. Then we added birch plywood closets with mdf painted doors with soft closing hinges. Additional millwork panels were added to created a flush look. And by we, I mean a professional millwork company (the previously mentioned Precisionwerkz). We kept the existing walls and provided access for sprinklers and existing electrical boxes.
We chose birch ply for the interiors of the closets as it was a material the millworkers had on hand from previous projects. There can be a lot of waste in custom millwork so when possible I try to opt for materials that would otherwise be wasted.
Mid reno, the closets intact but doors and frames removed. 600sqftandababy Custom Closets.
What our new closets added to our space:
By knocking out the existing front wall and doors we were able to add cabinets at the top. We left them open as we planned to store seasonal or under-used items in boxes. These additional cabinets feel like we have some room to breathe again. We were able to take items from our most used closets, our master closet and linen/bathroom closet and move them up into these cabinets. Specifically our box of travel accessories, our 2 bankers boxes of files, a box of exercise bands. Our other closets are no longer bursting and importantly we were able to give Theo one half of a Pax in our master closet which previously had been shared with our file boxes (I’ll plan to share his simple closet sometime soon!).
In addition to the upper cabinets the main closet also gained some height which has helped with bike helmets and Trevor’s boxing gear.
Functional Pantry Closet
By removing the thick door frame we instantly gained more access to our pantry. The critical piece was to add sliders to the shelves so we can actually see our food. Game changing! Also we previously had builder special wire shelving which was frustrating as food often fell over. Having plywood drawer/shelves is much more convenient and functional.
Our Pantry is not very photo-worthy yet. I haven’t made it a priority to organize it yet but wanted to show you how it is looking. We repurposed some existing baskets and are finding our little pantry closet to be an ideal solution for our small kitchen.
I worked with the millworkers on the design based on dozens of images I had pinned of European apartments with flush cabinets (my pin board is here). The circle cutout handles are just a style preference but they’ve been really comfortable to use and easy for the kids as well. Unexpectedly the entire closet has made the entry entryway feel more open and larger. I think it is a combination of no visible door frames, no handles and the full height. It honestly makes me want to redo the entire kitchen and the remaining two closet in a similar style! But then we would need to commit to staying here long term and I’m not sure we are up for that.
The long view of the new closets as they reach into the kitchen. 600sqftandababy.
Budget Friendly Alternatives
I feel really strongly about these closets. They have brought us a lot of space saving solutions in a really pretty package. The custom closets are a luxury earned by spending almost 10 years in the same small space. I know that these kind of closets aren’t possible for everyone so I wanted to mention a few cost saving options. We opted for limited millwork inside the cabinets to save some materials and labour and to keep the closets flexible for future needs. For example we kept our ikea hanging shoe organizers (Skubb link here) instead of adding wood shelves. We also kept the upper cabinets open and used Ikea storage boxes to organize inside (Kuggis are my favourite Ikea storage boxes).
I also wanted to mention that you can create a similar look using Ikea Pax cabinets. I would recommend no hardware or even drilling your own handles similar to ours. If you can plan on drywalling or building flush panelling around the Pax you can create a custom look for much less cost. Pax also come in varying heights and widths so customizing for your space is usually possible with a bit of planning and effort.
Also, my friend Lori who has been through many beautiful diy renos recommended Lowe’s for the type of cabinet slides we have at a good price.
Because we didn’t want to remove any walls in our space but wanted to maximize every inch, custom was the best option for us. In a future space I would heavily consider repeating this custom solution as it gained so much storage and opened up the space by drawing the eye up. But I would add that I’m not sure I would have done this reno when we were using a stroller regularly as our entryway really took a beating with a stroller in it. With a 6 year old and very independent 3 year old we rarely use the stroller now and mostly store it in the car. So the investment seemed worth it.
So that’s our new closets. One of my favourite things about living small is finding creative solutions to make our space comfortable, cozy and efficient. This is one of my favourite solutions yet. Hope it might spark an idea or solution for your small space too.