How to Build Closet Shelves {Easy and Cheap}

Creating your own closet shelves can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to maximize storage space in any closet in your home. Whether you’re working with a walk-in closet, a standard double closet with sliding doors, or a smaller space, custom DIY closet shelves can be tailored to your needs and preferences. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the steps and materials needed to create these shelves, transforming a standard closet into an organized and efficient storage solution.


If you’ve ever been dissatisfied with the storage capacity of your closet, you’re not alone. Many homes come with standard closet designs that may not fully meet your storage needs. However, with a little creativity and some DIY skills, you can build custom closet shelves that maximize the available space and keep your belongings organized. In this article, we’ll take you through the process of creating DIY closet shelves, providing you with a practical and efficient solution for your storage challenges.

Assessing the Need for Custom Closet Shelves

Before diving into the DIY process, it’s essential to assess the need for custom closet shelves. The closets in many homes, especially bedrooms, often come with basic features such as a single hanging bar and a high shelf. While these standard configurations may work for some, they often fall short when it comes to optimizing space and accommodating various storage needs.

Consider the example of a shared closet for children. In this scenario, a single hanging bar and a high shelf may not provide enough storage for clothing, toys, and accessories. The challenge is to design and build custom shelves that not only increase storage capacity but also make it accessible and user-friendly, especially for children.

In the case of the author’s children’s shared closet, the initial setup featured a single hanging bar and a bookshelf, along with a small bookcase added for additional storage. However, it was evident that this design wasted valuable space and didn’t effectively cater to the storage requirements of the children.

Designing Custom Closet Shelves

When considering custom closet shelves, it’s crucial to start with a well-thought-out design. The design phase allows you to plan how you want to configure the shelves to best suit your needs. Here are some key considerations when designing your custom closet shelves:

  1. Shelf Space: One of the primary goals is to create ample shelf space for storing a variety of items, including clothing, shoes, toys, and accessories. Think about the types of items you need to store and ensure that your design accommodates them.
  2. Accessibility: If the closet is used by children, as in the author’s case, it’s essential to make sure the shelves are accessible to them. Consider the height at which the shelves will be installed and whether your children will be able to reach them comfortably. Encouraging independence in organizing and retrieving their belongings is a valuable consideration.
  3. Future-Proofing: While designing your closet shelves, think about the long-term use of the closet. The design should be versatile enough to accommodate changing storage needs, even as your children grow. This foresight ensures that the custom shelves remain functional over the years.
  4. Sliding Doors: If your closet has sliding doors, keep in mind that only one half of the closet can be accessed at a time. Your built-in shelves should work well with this limitation, providing efficient storage in each half.

The author went through a process of designing several potential layouts for the custom closet shelves, using painter’s tape to visualize how they would fit within the closet space. After considering various options, a final design was selected that included low shelves or cubbies, a long hanging bar, and a high shelf for optimal use of vertical space.

Gathering Materials and Tools

To bring your custom closet shelf design to life, you’ll need the following materials and tools:


  • MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard): You’ll use MDF to create the shelves and dividers for the cubbies. The thickness and dimensions of the MDF will depend on your specific closet size and shelf depth.
  • 1″x2″ Pine Boards: These will be used to create the side shelf supports. You’ll need two 14″ pieces for each shelf.
  • 1″x2″ Poplar or Pine Boards: These will serve as the facing for each shelf and provide a finished look. The quantity will depend on the size of your closet and the number of shelves.
  • Spackling and Caulk: These materials are essential for filling any gaps and nail holes to achieve a smooth and seamless finish.
  • White Paint (or a color of your choice): You’ll need paint to finish the shelves, creating a clean and visually appealing appearance.


  • Miter Saw or Circular Saw: You’ll use this tool to cut the wood planks to the correct lengths, ensuring precise and accurate cuts.
  • Nail Gun: A nail gun is recommended for securing the wood pieces in place, making the assembly process more efficient. If you don’t have a nail gun, a hammer and nails can be used, although it will take longer.
  • Stud Finder: A reliable stud finder will help you locate and secure the shelves to the wall safely.
  • Level: Ensure that the shelves are installed perfectly level for a professional and polished look.
  • Tape Measure: Use a tape measure to determine the exact dimensions and spacing for your custom closet shelves.

Building Custom Closet Shelves

The process of building custom closet shelves involves several steps, from installing the basic shelves to creating cubbies for efficient storage. Here’s a breakdown of the key steps:

  1. Preparing the Closet: The first step is to clear out the closet, removing any existing closet rod, shelf, and supports. Patch up any nail holes with spackle and give the closet a fresh coat of paint. To simplify the process, reinstall the same shelf and curtain rod, positioning them higher in the closet.
  2. Basic Shelf Installation: Start by installing three simple shelves that span the closet space. These shelves will serve as the foundation for the cubbies or storage compartments. Painting the pieces before installation is recommended for a faster and more efficient process.
  3. Attaching Shelf Supports: Use 1″x2″ boards to create side shelf supports, with two 14″ pieces for each shelf. Nail these supports into the studs on each side wall of the closet, ensuring that the shelves are level. If you’re building straightforward shelves, you’ll also need to add wood supports along the back wall of the closet. Cut a 1″x2″ board to the length of your shelf minus 1.5 inches and screw it to the studs along the back wall of the closet.
  4. Creating Cubby Dividers: If you’re designing cubbies within your closet shelves, cut additional pieces of MDF to the required size. The author used 14″x14″ dividers for the bottom two rows and 9″x14″ dividers for the top row, based on the shelf depth and height. Secure these dividers in place using nails through the shelf above, creating a sturdy framework for your cubbies.
  5. Adding Facing for a Finished Look: For a polished and finished appearance, add 1″x2″ poplar or pine facing to the shelves and dividers. These facing boards give the custom closet shelves a cohesive and professional look. Use finishing nails to secure the boards in place. Poplar boards are a great choice for their thickness and durability, but if you prefer a more budget-friendly option, pine boards can also be used. Be sure to use a good primer if using pine, as it can bleed through and yellow white paint if not properly sealed.
  6. Finishing Touches: After the shelves and facing are in place, fill any nail holes with spackling and caulk all seams to achieve a smooth and seamless finish. The final result is a professional-looking custom closet shelving system that enhances the functionality and aesthetics of your closet.

Organizing Your Custom Closet Shelves

Once your DIY closet shelves are in place, it’s time to organize the closet to suit your needs. Depending on the closet’s purpose, you can use a variety of storage solutions, such as fabric storage cubes, plastic baskets, or bins. Consider the items you need to store and select containers or organizers that make it easy to access and maintain order.

In the case of the author’s children’s shared closet, fabric storage cubes and plastic baskets were used to store clothing, shoes, accessories, toys, and other items. These storage solutions offer practical ways to keep belongings neatly organized and readily accessible.

Before and After Transformation

The final step of your DIY closet shelving project is to step back and appreciate the transformation. The before and after photos of the closet reveal the remarkable change achieved through custom shelves. The once-wasted space in the closet is now fully utilized, with a beautiful and functional storage solution that adds value to your home.

Considerations for Sliding Doors

If your closet features sliding doors, it’s essential to keep in mind that only one half of the closet can be accessed at a time. Therefore, your custom-built closet shelves should be designed to work effectively with this constraint. By providing efficient storage in each half of the closet, you can make the most of the available space.


Building custom closet shelves is a practical and cost-effective way to maximize storage space and transform standard closets into efficient and organized storage solutions. By carefully planning the design, gathering the necessary materials and tools, and following the step-by-step process, you can create custom closet shelves that suit your specific needs and enhance the functionality of your closet. Whether it’s a shared children’s closet or any other storage challenge, DIY closet shelves provide a solution that combines practicality with aesthetics, making your closet a more valuable and organized space.

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