Closet islands are a popular feature of many high-end closets. They offer both functional storage and aesthetic appeal. And you don’t necessarily need a big budget to get one. Learn to build a professional quality DIY closet island and get that custom WOW factor into your own walk-in closet.
Planning Your Closet Island
The first consideration when adding a closet island to your DIY custom closet is space. Do you have enough room for this feature? Closet islands are usually relegated to larger walk-in closets. You need to leave about 36-inches of open space on all sides of the island. Therefore, you are probably looking at a minimum closet size of 10 feet by 10 feet.
The type of island you can have in your closet will also be determined by the size of the space. The island will typically contain drawers, shelves, cubbies, and/or cabinets in any combination with a countertop above. You do not need to include all of these components in your island, but the ones you choose will effect your final cost. You should definitely include these components on at least two sides of the island. After all, if you only have one side with storage, you are basically looking at a freestanding dresser in the center of the closet, not an island.
The standard size of closet island components is different for closet islands than it is for kitchen islands. Even though you can technically make it any size you want, your DIY closet island will most likely be narrower than your kitchen island which is almost always made from an arrangement of kitchen base cabinets. This is good news if your closet is on the smaller size.
Choosing Your Closet Island Components
Drawers are the most popular type of island storage, but also the most expensive. If you decide to splurge with drawers, You should stick to standard sizes so that you can get drawer organizers and dividers that fit. Standard closet drawers come in widths of 18, 24, and 30-inches. Lengths (front to back) can be 14, 16, or 20 inches. Assuming you want drawers on both sides, the island will need to be a minimum of 28-7/8-inches wide to accommodate two 14-inch drawers with a backer board in between.
The least expensive and easiest closet island you can build yourself is one composed of shelves. Shelves are a great closet solution if you are on a budget. Use them alone or in combination with drawers to reduce the cost and complexity of the island. Although shelves can technically be made in any size, you will want them a minimum of 14 inches deep, just like the drawers. This size shelf accommodates folded sweaters, jeans, or rows of shoes. You can go a bit deeper (16-inches or 20-inches) but not shallower if you plan to use them for stacks of folded clothing and footwear.
Each bank of shelves should be no more than 30-inches wide if made from laminate or 36-inches wide if made from wood. Wider spans of shelves will need to be supported by a center panel every 30 or 36 inches to prevent sagging once the shelves are loaded.
Cabinets are also popular in closet islands. Since cabinets are basically just a bank of shelves with a door covering the front, they follow the same size constraints as closet island shelves. Cover your shelves with cabinet doors when you want to hide them. The doors can also provide security in your closet because they accept cabinet door locks.
Cubbies are useful if you need the length or width your closet island to equal less than 28-7/8-inches due to the dimensions of your room. 14-inch deep cubbies are a great organizing tool for shoes and purses. However, smaller cubbies can be used for collections of fashion accessories like belts or scarves as well as many other items. These cube-shaped organizers are very versatile. Size them to whatever dimension you need to make your island work within your closet space.
The material you use for your countertop will determine the height that you need to build your other components. Build your closet island to a finished height of 36-inches. That means your cabinets, drawers and shelves need to be constructed to a height of 36-inches minus the thickness of the countertop material. If you choose a stone countertop, the countertop will be 1-1/2-inches thick — the same as in a kitchen. However, closet island countertops do not require the same durability as a kitchen countertop. An industrial grade 3/4-inch laminate (M2 grade) works equally well in the closet. Simply adjust the height of your panels depending on the material chosen.
How to Build a Closet Island
Step One DIY Closet Island
The first step in your closet island construction is to locate where the island will be placed in the closet. Follow the size and space requirements outlined above to determine your closet island dimensions. Use painter’s tape to mark the location on the floor where you will build the island. The tape will be easy to remove later and won’t damage the flooring.
Step Two DIY Closet Island
The second step in your closet island construction is to place the end panels for your island and lock them in place. These panels should be cut and finished to the height and width of your closet island. Remember that the height will be 36-inches minus the thickness of your countertop material. Place one vertically on either end of the closet island with a sturdy 3/4-inch backer board cur to the height and length of your island in between the vertical panels to hold them in place an “H” configuration. Position the backer board so that the side of the closet island with drawers and/or shelves and cabinets has the appropriate depth to accommodate these components. This number will be at least 14-inches for standard size components. If both sides of the island receive the same size components, put the backer board down the middle as in the diagram below.
Step Three DIY Closet Island
The third step in your closet island construction is to install the top shelf and the toe kicks. You will have two top shelves on your island regardless of whether you are including shelves for storage. These shelves run across the top of the island providing support to the entire unit. The countertop will sit on top of these shelves. Therefore, they should be locked in place with screws and/or locking cams. Likewise, lock the toe kicks in place. The toe kicks should be installed following the general guidelines for all floor-based closet system installation.
Step Four DIY Closet Island
Attach a bracket to support the bottom shelf above the toe kick on both sides. The toe kick always needs to be installed before the bottom shelf. Position the bottom shelves and lock them in place with screws or cams just like you installed the top shelves. You will be able to see the screws/cams. They can be covered with fast caps if you are working with laminate or wood plugs if you are using plywood.
Step Five DIY Closet Island
Next, mount the countertop to your closet island. The countertop is supported by and secured to the top shelf. Place the counter on top of the island and secure with 1-1/4-inch flat screw through the top locking shelf. Note: If your countertop is made of very hard stone rather than wood or laminate, you may need to use construction adhesive in exchange for the screws.
Step Six DIY Closet Island
After you’ve finished the frame, it’s time to install all the interior components of your closet island. That means you add the drawers and shelves for storage to your closet island last. Drawers installation will vary depending on the type of drawer slides used and the height of the drawers. The best drawer runners for closet islands are soft close under mount slides. If you are using this type of drawer, refer to our article on Soft Close Drawers for drawer slide position and installation. Otherwise, follow your manufacturer’s instructions that will be specific to their drawer.
Storage shelves should be installed using moveable shelf pins that are inserted into the side panels of the island. This ensures that shelves can be adjusted to accommodate different size items as your needs change. If you are using doors to create cabinet storage for your island, install these last using the door hinges that came with them.
Now that you have your closet island, the true fun can begin. It’s time to fill your closet island with all your “stuff.” Do this in an organized manner. If you are using drawers, accessorize them with jewelry organizers and other dividers to keep everything in it’s place. If you are using shelves or cabinets, add shelf dividers and attractive baskets or boxes to keep stacks of clothes in place. Fill your cubbies with your collections and then step back to admire your work
A well-designed closet island is a thing of beauty. It dominates the well-appointed walk-in closet in a way that no other closet component can. And with just a little planning (and a lot of elbow grease) it can be yours. Enjoy!