Sorry it has been a long time between posts… I have an excuse though! I’m pregnant!!! The first trimester has not been overly kind to me so I have had to slow down a bit and take it easy. I’ve still been pushing on with my projects, but things are definitely taking a lot longer. None the less, hubby and I managed to fit out our wardrobe the other weekend to give us much more useable space.
Doing a “project plan” will not be very useful for you as I’m sure your wardrobe is a different size. But I thought a general “how to” and “lessons learnt” post may be useful. We definitely found this one of our more challenging projects, and we made a few mistakes along the way that we wouldn’t have if someone had given us a few tips beforehand.
So the background to our wardrobe and how we ended up doing a DIY fitout:
We already had “built in” robes in the master and the spare room, however neither were functional because the actual opening on each was quite small. i.e. there was a lot of space on the sides and top of the wardrobe that was inaccessible. To give you an idea, here is a picture of our wardrobe wardrobe before the reno:
The master wardrobe is a very awkward size… only 50cm deep and 2600 long. So we knew fitting it out would be difficult. First, we got a few wardrobe companies out to quote – nearly gave me a heart attack! Thousands! We then considered fitting it out with flat-pack inserts, but quickly went off that idea when we realised all of the brands we could find were 60cm deep. We even considered knocking the whole wardrobe down and putting up modules of flat pack floor-to-ceiling wardrobes from Ikea or Bunnings. But we eventually went off that idea because we were concerned it would look cheap. Plus, with those flat packs, you lose 30 or 40cm in height from the kickboard and space above the wardrobe.
So we decided fitting out the existing wardrobe ourselves was the best way to go. We paid a qualified builder $650 (including materials) to knock out the nibs/top of both wardrobes, and take them back and up as far as possible. It was money well spent! Look how much bigger the master looks!
Once we had the true internal wardrobe dimensions and measurements for the door frame, I set about designing inserts that would not only store a lot, but would work well with sliding doors.
What you’ll need to build your own wardrobe:
- Melamine panels. These are available from Bunnings in a variety of sizes. They are about $25 for a 2400mm long panel (we probably spent about $150 on our panelling for the one master wardrobe). They come in either the 595mm depth or 445mm. Because our baskets were 500mm, we went with the 595mm and cut each panel down.
- Special flat pack screws. These are available from Bunnings for about $5 for a pack of 12. We used just over 1 pack for our wardrobe. Invest in these – they work. They are long and thick, and have a wide, deep thread – so they grip the chipboard well.
- Clothes rod and hooks, plus a hack saw if you need to cut the metal rod.
- Cutting tools. There are a variety of ways to cut melamine. The easiest is to know your measurements when you go to buy, and ask Bunnings to cut them down to size for you. If you want to do it yourself, use a table saw or a hand-held circular saw with a fine-tooth blade. Set the depth so that the blade is only about 3 mm deeper than the melamine – this reduces chipping. However you need to accept the fact that cutting this stuff neatly isn’t easy – it WILL chip. One side is always worse than the other; so do some test cuts and work out which way you need to feed the wood into the blade. You could probably get away with using a jig-saw for the cross cuts; however we decided against this because it is hard to get a straight cut with those, and the blade tends to be flexible and can lean as you cut.
- A long and a short level. The long level will help you to get the panels vertical, and the short level will help on the more narrow panels (e.g. the shelves) and also on the drawer tracks.
- Long ruler. Accuracy is important in this project, so invest in a good quality 100cm ruler – it’s more accurate than a tape measure. Use a writing pencil (not a builder’s pencil) to mark measurements and rule lines.
- Drill with drill bits to fit the flat pack screws.
- Liquid Nails or small L-shaped brackets (depending on your design and construction plan)
Useful wardrobe building tips
- Use shelving to keep it simple. If you want to put in drawers or baskets – draw, draw and draw again! Calculate everything more than once before you buy and before you cut.
- Measure your wardrobe before you design. By that I mean, measure the depth at both ends, up high and down low. i.e. 4 measurements for the depth. Do the same for the height and the width. You will find that the wardrobe isn’t square. What does this mean for your fitout? Well, you’ll need to cut your panels to the smaller of all of the measurements. And you’ll need to make sure your drawers etc are going to fit on the side with the short measurements.
- If possible, put a back on your modules. This will hide the fact that your wardrobe isn’t square. We couldn’t put a back on ours because the 16 mm thick melamine would have stopped the drawers from fitting. The structure will be strong enough without a back… just not as pretty. We had to push our panels right to the back of our wardrobe to give it stability, which meant an uneven gap at the front. But to be honest, it’s barely noticeable:
- With each cut, be mindful of where the piece is going and which side needs to be the neat side. Try to put the messy side where you’re least likely to see it.
- Don’t trust Bunnings to get the measurements right! Check them before you leave the store. They have a disclaimer that their cuts can be up to 5mm out, but usually they are pretty good. It’s the human error stuff ups you want to avoid. We had a huge drama with one of our floor pieces being 16mm shorter than the other (they were supposed to be the same size) and we didn’t realise until we had constructed one side and the drawers wouldn’t fit! GGAAAHHH! That was probably the most frustrating moment of the project….
Here are the general steps I took to build my wardrobe:
- Decide on doors. I searched long and hard for a wardrobe door place that had reasonable prices. I’ve found one! It is the Sliding Robe Door Company in Brisbane (Australia). I haven’t actually ordered the doors yet, but so far they have been delightful to deal with. I’ll let you know about the quality of the product once I get it 🙂 They have a great online store where you can plug in your wardrobe measurements and it gives you options, e.g. 2 doors, 3 doors, 4 doors etc. For our master (2600mm long), we only had one option of 3 doors. A phone call to the company and I was given the actual door size, plus the opening size of 1/3 of the wardrobe. This was vital information to ensure my design, which includes drawers, would work. The 3 doors in the master are going to cost about $800 and the 2 doors in the spare room about $400. For the master, I’m going to pay an extra $170 to get the slimline triple track, meaning each door has its own track. We had a wardrobe in Canberra with 3 doors on 2 tracks and it was a pain in the butt!
- Decide on inside segments. The wardrobe we had in Canberra also had the problem of the drawers and shelves not lining up with the doors – meaning that you couldn’t access some of the storage very easily. So I decided that our wardrobe needed to be in 3 segments so they more or less lined up with the doors.
- Decide on type of storage – long hanging, short hanging, shelves, drawers, baskets, shoe racks, trouser racks, etc. Look at your current wardrobe and decide what type of storage you need most. Measure your clothes on the rack to work out the most efficient hanging space. There are a whole bunch of accessories you can get for flat-pack wardrobes; and it occurred to me that I could still use these even though I wasn’t using the actual flat-pack wardrobe casing. All you have to do is make sure that the inserts you build are the same width as the ones you buy, and that any accessories you buy is the right depth for your wardrobe. We knew we wanted drawers as we find them easier to access than shelving (I’m a short-ass). I found some flat pack drawers at Bunnings but they were only 50cm wide and $50 each. Buying 10 of them would really bump up the cost. I discovered that baskets were much cheaper. I ended up going with the Flat Pax brand baskets from Bunnings. They fit a 900mm wide flat pack and are only $30 each (including the plastic tracks). These were pretty much our only option because our wardrobe is only 500mm deep so the other brands wouldn’t fit. As it was, the ones we went with were 500mm deep so we couldn’t build a back on our wardrobe inserts. They also came in 450mm wide, but that would mean putting up more panelling to support them – which in turn would be more costly and we would lose 16mm of space with each panel. I spent a lot of time at this step measuring and re-measuring to make sure that my drawers wouldn’t hit either the outer frame of the wardrobe or the doors. To do this, I had to consider the thickness of the panels and the width of the basket tracks, and then consider these in view of the wardrobe opening and door openings.
- Think long and hard about construction. The panels (available from Bunnings) to build the structure of the robe are 16mm thick melamine (chipboard with a white coating). It needs support in order to be strong enough, so you need to build separate, smaller “modules” to make it sturdy. When the modules are attached to each other, it is surprising how strong the whole structure is. However, depending on your design, it may be difficult to build the modules outside the wardrobe and then manoeuvre them into the wardrobe – particularly since the opening is likely to be smaller than the inside of the wardrobe. Think about how you can build the modules into the wardrobe as you go. This is how we did ours. Building as you go into the wardrobe means that you might need to get creative about securing panels to each other (since screwing them from the side might not be an option). (Think small metal L-brackets and Liquid Nails…)
- Trust yourself and go for it! And don’t worry if you stuff up a panel or two and have to buy more – it will still be cheaper than using a wardrobe company!
Here is the general design/layout of our wardrobe, and how we went about constructing it:
(click on the picture for a larger version. Notes/instructions are written on each pic)
Ok, that was a rather long post! It seems I’ve missed blogging these past few weeks and now I have a LOT to say! Lol. Hopefully this gives you some insight into building your own wardrobe. If anyone gives it a go, shoot me a line to let me know how it went or be sure to comment below!
Bye for now,