Coat closet shelves – unused space becomes useful storage

The SITUATION

Behold an innocuous coat closet.

But here’s a secret:  It’s the width of a typical coat closet but for some reason this baby is 4 feet deep!

Realistically, the space in the back of this closet is always going to be a royal pain in the tushie to access.  You have to shove past the front row to get to it, and since you can’t easily scan what’s there (without just removing everything in the front row), it’s all too easy to forget you even own whatever is back there.

The previous owners had installed a second hanging bar in the back half of the closet.  Nice idea, I suppose, if you have a lot of hanging clothes that you need to store for long periods (but can’t fold up in boxes for some reason) – like, off-season clothing.  But this is Houston.  It’s mid-January and as I write this, It’s around 70 degrees; I’m barefoot and perfectly comfortable in a short-sleeve t-shirt.  There’s just never a time when you won’t use your “summer clothes”, and unless you routinely travel someplace further north, it’s just not worth owning enough “winter clothes” to justify an entire secret closet to store them.

So.  What sorts of things does one own that need to be stored and rarely or never accessed?

  • Digital media (CDs and DVDs) which have been ripped to digital format for household media streaming use.  Would only need to access if something catastrophic happened to media drive and backups.
  • Old records archives – taxes, home purchase documents, etc. Would only need to access if something major happened – sale of the house, tax audit, etc.
  • Memorabilia – those things that you feel compelled to keep in physical form, but don’t feel a need to pull out and look at regularly.  Frankly, we’re trying to really minimize that group – if it’s important enough to own, it’s important enough to showcase, by framing and hanging it for example.  But still, some such things always exist.
  • Maybe a hurricane supplies kit?  Update it annually and then only pull it out if an actual hurricane occurs.  Would contain spare flashlights/candles, batteries, water bottles (the soft-sided collapsible ones that people use to sneak alcohol onto cruise ships?), etc.
  • Things like christmas ornaments that you’ll need to access only once a year.
Turns out that if you repurpose the back 18-20 inches of space in the closet for shelving,  that’s roughly 26 cubic feet of storage space – and we probably have 26 cubic feet of stuff that we need to access rarely or never.  So.  Shelves it is.
Project requirements:
  • Looks are not important so figure how to do this inexpensively
  • Strength of the shelves is important – things like boxes of paper can be quite heavy
  • Some adjustability would be nice, in case future needs involve storage of taller/shorter things.
Plan:
Will nail 1×2 boards into studs around edges of space roughly every 6 inches up the wall – sides and back of closet.  These should support shelves of 1x stock or 3/4″ plywood.  Will use scrap stock already in garage to patch together shelves.  Assembly should be pretty quick and easy if I’ve located the studs and use a nail gun to install them, and use a spacer board to quickly position and level the boards.  
Parts list:
  • 1x2x8′ boards – a dozen should be more than enough 
  • shelves – 3/4″ thickness stock that’s 30 inches wide, 18-20 inches deep.  Need enough material for maybe six or seven shelves at most.  I have enough scrap to do this already I think; if not, a single 4×8 sheet of plywood would do it.
  • nails
  • consider some sort of stick-on contact shelf paper to make surface of shelves reasonably smooth and easy to clean?  Alternatively could paint or seal them and leave them unfinished.
  • a piece of 1×6 board a couple feet long to use as the spacer for assembly
Tools list:
  • nail gun (or hammer)
  • chop saw to cut boards to length
  • circular saw or table saw for cutting shelves
  • Level
Work plan
  • clear out closet,  remove existing boards or obstructions
  • mark location of studs – all the way down wall.  
    • Think about stud location and figure out if back or side shelf supports should nail into studs nearest corner.  (affects length)
    • Stud location will also affect needed length of side supports.  They need to be at least 20 inches but add more inches if that gives another stud to nail into near front end.
  • Install supports by nailing them into studs starting from back pieces, making sure they’re perfectly level.  Should be able to level bottom one, then the rest easy to add on by using spacer board.
  • Then line up side pieces, again paying close attention to the level-ness of bottom one.
  • Then cut shelves to size, finish them as desired, and install in closet.
  • Then load up stuff!  See how much will fit.
Result
Putting this together was super easy.  
I got many boxes of archive CDs, a couple boxes of memorabilia, a box of archival files (e.g. old taxes), a box of Christmas ornaments, and the Christmas tree in there.  
With the coats in there, it again looks like a mundane coat closet, no idea the back half is holding a bookshelf’s worth of stuff!

Ideas – after finished, consider:
  • The original overhead shelf extended over the coats.  I should restore that, actually, because it will provide some actually accessible storage for a few things.
  • Hang a shoe bag type thing on wall near the front, to hold hats, gloves, scarves, etc.
  • Hang a couple of hooks on wall in the front half, to quickly hang most commonly-used jackets.

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