Before & After: Small Reach-In Closet Renovation

reach in closet renovation

A few months ago I revealed my new closet! My handy husband renovated my small reach-in closet. I posted the process on Instagram Stories and had lots of questions about the specifics of the renovation. I will tell you that while I had the vision for what I wanted, my husband gets all the credit for actually bringing it to life.

reach-in closet before renovation

The existing closet looked like it could be original to our house from the 1950s. It was one bar all the way across and one shelf on top of it. So much vertical space was wasted and the support for the bar and shelf was literally coming out of the wall, the shelf was extremely bowed and it could have fallen down at any moment. I was just waiting to hear it crash it in the middle of the night!

Meg Biram - Closet

Because it is a narrow reach-in closet, it was difficult to get to my clothes on the sides that were blocked by the walls. This might come as a surprise but I actually don’t have that many clothes. I was only using about 3/4 of the bar, and was hanging my jeans which is unnecessary. So I knew I could deal with less hanging space than what I had previously (I store my coats in my husband’s closet because he hardly fills half of it up).

reach-in closet renovation

We decided that putting the bars on the sides — the left side for long items, and the right side would have two bars for shorter items — would be the best use of space for the amount of clothes I needed to hang.

Meg Biram Closet Renovation - shelving

I also wanted to utilize the vertical space so we put in a new top shelf and raised it up several feet from where the previous shelf was. We also added shelving on the sides so the shelf was more of a wraparound shelf up top. I had to eek out every piece of space I could for my shoes!

Meg Biram - shallow reach-in closet renovation

Putting the bars on the sides meant that I had to find a shelf for the middle of the closet, but I would need to be able to reach around it to get to my hanging clothes the sides. I didn’t want to make my clothes impossible to get to! So I was looking for a shallow shelf with open sides. I found THE PERFECT wall-mounted shelf at CB2. Not only was the shelf super easy to put together, it was literally only two screws in the wall, but it works perfectly for my space.

meg biram - closet renovation - white shelf

I still have room for more sweaters and pants on the shelves and the top two shelves that currently have boots on them. I might switch out the shoes on those two shelves with the seasons for whatever shoes I’m wearing the most at the time.

small reach-in closet renovation - meg biram

The top shelf that my husband built houses all of my off season shoes and heels and a few large handbags. I had more shoes than I had shelf space (shoes are apparently my thing) so I got some clear shoe bins to make use of all of the vertical space. I could easily get more of these shelves and put them all the way across the top shelf if my shoes collection keeps growing but currently I don’t need more than I have.

Hooks in closet

I got four hooks for the open wall space for my hats and a few handbags.

hooks in closet renovation - meg biram

I could definitely pare down my clothes from what is shown in these photos. I probably wear about half of these clothes (or less).

reach in closet renovation - meg biram home

So, how did we do this closet renovation? Well, luckily my husband is super handy and knows how to do this type of stuff. He’s very thorough with measurements, he thinks out every possible solution and problem, does research, and likes to do things the right way, even if it takes longer.

meg biram - closet renovation cb2 shelf

We chose to do the closet in this custom-built way versus purchasing a closet system because we wanted it to fit the space exactly how I wanted, and it was WAY cheaper to do it this way. If you’ve priced custom closets you know they can get crazy expensive, and often anything affordable isn’t necessarily high quality.

meg biram - closet reno - neutral sweaters

After I had sketched out what I wanted, and found the perfect shelf to fit in the middle, we dedicated a weekend to getting this project done.

during closet renovation

First we (by we I mean my husband) took the existing shelf, bar, and support beam out of the closet. Then he sanded and spackled the holes in the closet and I painted two coats of a bright white paint in the entire closet and on the closet ceiling. This was my only manual task, painting.

white closet - meg biram

I had already ordered this bookshelf and we waited to do the project until it arrived so we had it ready to go. More details on the shelf later.

shelving in progress

We wanted to reuse the wood shelf that was already in the closet (and I would repaint it) but once we got it out, it was so bowed it was impossible to use. So my husband got on long piece of wood for the top custom shelf, and two smaller ones to make the shelving come to the front of the closet over each bar. So that basically the top shelf he built was in the shape of a U.

shoes on top shelf

My husband knew exactly what sizes of wood to get at the hardware store after countless measurements and sketches. He had them cut the wood to his specs at the hardware store (most big box stores have this service in the wood department). He put in a support beam and secured it with glue and screws, the top shelf sits on top of the support and the side pieces (that form the U) are secured to that long main shelf with brackets on top so you can’t see them when you are standing looking at the closet. All of the seams were caulked and I painted any edges of the wood that needed to be painted (but the wood he got had a white finish on it already). So all of the wood and support beams are white.

meg biram - closet reno

There is another shelf and support beam on the right side of the closet for the lower rack which he installed in the same way, with the support beams under it.

small reach-in closet renovation - meg biram

My husband got three wood bars and (with some sort of circular drill bit) drilled holes in the support beams where they needed to be for the bars (before he put them up). We had to insert the wood bars during the shelf-building process, as they aren’t adjustable like a shower curtain, they are permanent! To do all of this right takes lots of measuring and knowing where things need to be supported, etc. I cannot take any credit for that part. He did it all and I couldn’t have done it without a handy husband with a knack for measuring, math, woodworking skills, and experience in construction. I know most of you probably don’t have that so this might not be possible for you to DIY but you could also use a different type of bar that doesn’t go into the wood supports like mine does. Also, you might be able to hire a carpenter to do this for you for less than the cost of a premade closet. My husband doesn’t even do this for a living and finished the project in a matter of hours.

empty closet after renovation

At first, my husband wasn’t so sure about the shelf I had picked to go in the middle of the closet, he thought it would be too small for all of my stuff, but once it was all together he completely agreed with me. A bigger/wider shelf with sides would have made it much harder to get to the clothing racks and would have made the closet feel small and cramped, which is why I wanted a shelf that had open sides. My shelf only has one bar going down each side — it’s open.

meg biram - neutral sweaters

I also got rid of quite a bit of clothes and shoes before putting everything back into the closet and continue to do so.

closet renovation meg biram

Once the top shelf, the lower shelf on the right side, and the bars were in, we put the bookshelf in the middle. After I sat with the closet for a week I decided to get some hooks for the unused space on each side of the middle shelf. I had previously thought I would do that, but wanted to make sure once the bookshelf was in that it was the right thing to do. It definitely was! While I loved the negative white space, it’s a small closet! I need to use the space!

clear stacking shoe boxes

I knew I would probably have to get a few clear stacking shoe boxes to get all of my shoes to fit. I did, but I didn’t need that many. I could still fit more on the top shelf to fit more shoes if need be.

meg biram - closet - clothing

I wanted the shoe boxes to be open so I didn’t have to mess with a door or drawer, just easy to grab and go. If you get the ones I have, you buy the lids separately because if you stack them, you only need a lid for the top one.

Meg Biram's Closet Renovation

The last thing we did once the closet was all put together was take off the doors to the closet! The room (my home office/closet) is small, and they were just in the way and I knew I’d never keep them shut since I never did before when my closet was a hot mess. We put the doors in the attic so that the next owners of the home can use them if they want (not that we are moving any time soon after our experience).

meg biram - closet - sweaters and shoes

Since there are no doors on the closet, that means that I have to keep my closet very tidy since it’s on display, but I think that gives me more incentive to keep it neat!

sweaters stacked in closet

I honestly couldn’t be happier with how the renovation turned out. My husband said, “It looks like a department store!”

The cost and time it took to create the closet and do all the steps — sketching, measuring, shelf hunting, hardware store shopping, demo, painting, installing — was a matter of hours. I let the paint dry overnight but nothing took very long.

handbags hanging in closet

Having a functional closet that I love, that is on display, makes me not only want to keep it clean, but I don’t really want to look at and store stuff I don’t wear, so it gives me extra incentive to be more honest with myself about what I should get rid of.

The DC area is so expensive and has a lot of older homes, it’s hard to find large closet spaces, so you have to do with what you have. The upside to small spaces is that renovating them is usually inexpensive and you can have your space be really nice for a fraction of what it would cost in a larger home.

Besides the closet you see featured in this post, I also have a dresser in our bedroom, and I have my coats stored in my husband’s closet. That’s it. No more clothes hiding anywhere! I try to keep my wardrobe really pared down.

shoes on floor in closet

Small Reach-In Closet Renovation Before & After


Final Photos by Emma Weiss. In-progress photos by Meg Biram.

Before & After: Reach-In Closet Renovation