Closet Design – Top 5 Tips For Space Planning

Closet Design – Top 5 Tips For Space Planning

The Ins and Outs (and Tight Squeezes) of Closet Design: 5 Space Planning Tips


Are you remodeling or building a closet or storage room? Want to make sure that space will be easy to access and use? There are right ways and wrong ways to plan and design the layout for any closet, whether it’s a walk-in or reach-in.


In my adventures as a professional organizer and closet designer, I’ve come to realize that there are 5 fundamental rules for good closet space planning. Space planning is my favorite thing to do with my brain.  Want an example of an exasperating closet that I demolished and transformed into a dream closet?  Check it out here. 


The 5 tips are:

  • push one clothing rod into the corner
  • plan for standing space
  • place the door on the long wall
  • put the top clothing rod at 7′ or lower, and
  • pull drawers open into standing space


(And then I ran out of applicable “p” verbs.) These five tips will keep you from making big mistakes in your remodel. Mistakes, I might add, that sometimes even professional closet companies make.


How to read a floor plan: First, if you are unfamiliar with floor plans, imagine you are a bird in a tree. You are above the room, looking down through the ceiling onto the floor. In the floor plan illustration below:


  • the blue part is a shelf along the back wall
  • the dotted line is the edge of the clothes, sticking out beyond the shelf

That dotted line is a very important aspect of space design in a closet, as you will see, especially with corners.


Space Planning Tip #1: Push One Clothing Rod Into The Corner

There’s a right way (and some wrong ways) to design corners in closet. Corners are especially important in a clothes closet. This is because clothes on hangers need to have room to hang freely. If there are shelves or clothing rods on the adjacent wall that intrude on that corner, clothes can’t hang there.


If you measure the space taken up by hanging clothes, as I’ve done below, you will find that clothes on hangers will take up to 21″ to 24″ of space, from the back of the wall.



Closet Corners – The Right Way

See below for a close-up illustration of the right way to design corners. On one wall, the dotted line (the edge of the hanging clothes) goes all the way across to the end of its wall. On the adjacent wall, the dotted line stops 24″ before it reaches the end of its wall.


A correctly designed closet corner in the wild: Here’s what a correctly designed closet corner looks like, below, in a photo of TCS Custom Closets at the Container Store. See how the clothes on the right wall hang freely, with no interference from the clothes hanging on the back wall? That is because the clothing rods and shelves on the back wall stop, before they reach the right wall.




Closet Corners – The Wrong Way

What happens when closet corners are not designed this way? Well, there are several ways to do it wrong, which will make the corner unusable.


Not enough space: Here is one way to do it wrong. See below, how the built-ins on the back wall are positioned too close to the clothing rod on the left wall? How are you supposed to hang clothes in the back corner of that left wall? Answer: you cannot.



Seems obvious that this won’t work, right? You would be surprised at how often closet designers miss this aspect of space planning.


Crossed clothing rods: The most common wrong way to design a closet corner is to cross the hanging rods. I see this mistake a lot. See below, how the bottom clothing rod will be fully usable, but the top two clothing rods will not? The clothes on those top rods are going to collide.  So that corner space will stay empty and unusable. Empty closet corners = wasted space.




Now that you understand how corners work, let’s talk about standing space in closets.



Space Planning Tip #2: Plan For Standing Space


Plan for enough standing space in front of the items you are storing. This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to overlook.


In other words, don’t fill the closet with so much clothing storage that there is no room for you to access it. In the example below, you would have to swim through the clothes, and it would be hard to pick out your perfect outfit for the day.


People need 24″ of open space: Remember how hanging clothes need up to 24″ from the back wall to hang freely, before being interrupted by structures on the adjacent wall? It turns out, in a bit of lovely symmetry, that people also need 24″ of standing space, between rows of hanging clothes.


6 feet wide walk-in closet: So, that means that in a walk-in closet, if you want hanging clothes on opposite walls, the width of the closet must be at least 6′. See below for an illustration.



If the closet width is a lot less than 6′, you cannot put hanging clothes on both sides. I mean, you CAN certainly try it, if you want. But you won’t be happy with it. You will not have enough open space to comfortably walk in, turn around, bend down, or reach up.


5 feet wide walk-in closet: If your closet is 5′ wide, you can put hanging clothes along one long wall, and shallow shelves on the opposite long wall, like this.




4 feet wide walk-in closet: What if your closet is 4′ wide? Well, you can put hanging clothes on one long wall, and still have 24″ left over to walk through. On the other long wall, think about wall-mounted hook racks for shallow things like belts, scarves, ties, jewelry, etc.



3 feet wide walk-in closet:  Sometimes, under stairs, you might have a 3′ wide storage space. What then? For obvious reasons, you will have to preserve 24″ of walking space. That leaves you with 12″ for shallow shelves, which can be excellent storage for pantry items or household items like light bulbs, etc.


Speaking of narrow closets, let’s talk about where to put the door.


Space Planning Tip #3: Place The Door On The Long Wall

For narrow rectangular walk-in closets, place the door on the long wall, instead of on the short wall. Why? Because that will give you better accessibility, and better usage of valuable wall space.


Door Placement – the Right Way

Door on long wall: See below how the entire 5 1/2′ long wall in this narrow closet is filled with useful clothing storage? This is possible because of the door placement (at the bottom of this illustration). When the closet is small, standing space is essentially limited to the door access space.




Door Placement – The Wrong Way

Door on short wall:  See below, how the door placement on the short wall interferes with the usability of the long wall? Note that it wouldn’t matter if the door swung out, instead of in. The door placement determines the standing (and walking) space. And here, the standing space cuts right through the potential storage on the long wall. In this example, because of the unfortunate door placement, the usable space for clothing storage was reduced from 5 1/2′ (the long wall) to 3 1/2′ (the short wall).




Space Planning Tip #4: Put The Top Clothing Rod No Higher Than 84″

If you’ve ever had to stretch to reach the top clothing rod in a closet, you’ll know why this is important. See below for examples of closet design mistakes that make the top rod inaccessible without a stepstool.


Clothing Rod Height – The Right Way

The top clothing rod should be no higher than 7′, adjusted for your particular height. You don’t have to be able to touch the actual clothing rod itself. But the rod must be low enough for you to be able to reach the clothes hanger and lift it off of the rod.


The illustration below shows some long-hang space with a single rod, and double-hang space with two rods. For double-hang, as a general rule, the bottom clothing rod should be somewhere between 38″ to 44″ high. The top rod should be somewhere between 78″ to 84″.



Clothing Rod Height – The Wrong Way

The problem comes when closet designers design double-hang spaces, but also try to insert extra shelves or storage cubbies in there. I see this mistake a lot. Perhaps they believe that it makes the closet look nicer, or more interesting. But the reality is that the homeowner will have to get on a step-stool to fetch a shirt from the top clothing rod. The top rod shown below is likely about 8′ tall.




Even more cubbies! Here is a second example, with extra cubbies! You’d need a taller stepstool to reach that top rod, which is likely at least 9′ tall.



So now that you can walk into the closet, and use the corners properly, and reach everything, the last thing to think about is where to put drawers.


Space Planning Tip #5: Pull Drawers Open Into Standing Space

Drawers must open into the space you are standing in. Again, it sounds obvious, right? You would be surprised at how often I see drawers set in corners or other problem spots, where they can’t be opened or accessed.


Drawer Placement – The Right Way

Wherever you can stand in front of something, a drawer could be pulled out there.


Reach-in closets with drawers: In a reach-in closet, place the drawers in front of the door opening. In the illustration below, the arrow indicates the direction the drawer will open.




Walk-in closets with drawers:  A typical walk-in closet could have drawers on different walls, as long as they aren’t hitting anything when opened.


Drawer Placement – The Wrong Way

Don’t put it in the corner: No matter how well the drawer unit fits into the corner, don’t put it sideways in there. You won’t be able to have anything on the back wall, if you want to be able to open the drawer.


Again, don’t put it in the corner: You don’t want to open the drawer and have it hit clothes on the adjacent wall.


Basic Closet Design Mistake

Want to see what that looks like in real life? I took a picture in my client’s closet. A famous closet design company had installed drawers that hit his suits when the drawer was opened. Basic Closet 101: don’t make the drawers bump up against the clothes.


Can I Help Design Your Closet?

Now you have the fundamentals of good closet design. But there is a lot more to closet design than just these tips. Can I help you with your closet design or remodel? Contact me!

  • Wow! I had no idea how many factors there are in designing a closet. You are clearly an expert, Carol.

    • A Jones For Organizing says:

      Thanks Janet! There are more factors that go into planning a closet – I could write a book on all of the closet design mistakes I’ve seen. But these fundamentals will get most people into a well-designed space.

  • Olive Wagar says:

    Thanks for so much useful information, Carol! Appreciate the great illustrations, too!!

  • >

    Contact us