Part 2: Designing a Small Walk In Closet using Dakota Closets

Part 1 of the closet series described all the pre-work that needed to happen before diving into the design of the closet. That posts walked through how to determine what type of storage we needed and how much. Since we decided to use a closet system that didn’t have design software, we had to pull out the old graph paper and pencils and do everything by hand. While the process is not fancy (or as fun) as using design software, it forced us to think about many of the details before we got started. By the end of the process, we had a good idea of how to assemble the closet.

We ended up using Dakota Closets because their system was flexible enough that we could utilize all of the space in our closet (we talk more about this in the previous post). I also liked that we could purchase everything locally, so if we missed something than it would be an easy run to the store. The price point of Dakota Closet seemed very reasonable but since everything was broken down by item, it was hard at first glance to estimate the cost. Based on some of the other closet systems we looked at, I estimated ~$1,000-$1,500.

Dakota Closets has two different closet systems. They have wall mounted units where you basically attach everything to the wall and it floats above the ground and they have floor units (see pics below). These are units that are supported by the ground although you will attach them to the wall for stability. We used the floor units, so this guide will focus on that.

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Step 1: Review the Materials from Dakota Closet

As I mentioned, Dakota Closets does not have an online design function (have I said that enough), so to efficiently lay everything out we had to get really familiar with Dakota Closet’s products. To get started, I downloaded and reviewed their literature which provided a nice introduction to the different finishes and components of their closet system. Essentially, these items are the building blocks of the closet. The items have standard sizes, which can be combined in a variety of ways to get you the closet of your dreams or at least close enough. Of course, once we had a good understanding of the system, we knew that we could customize it to make it work for our little “problem wall.” The main goal was to customize as few pieces as possible, so I took a good look at their standard features.

Side Note: You can write to Dakota Closets and ask them to help you design your closet. We didn’t take do this mostly because I felt that we had a good grasp of what we were doing, but this could be a super helpful if you feel lost or have an especially large or odd space.

The basic building blocks are:

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Uprights: these serve as the sides of the closet units. Since they are single pieces you can make the width any way size that works best for your space. They also have different heights, so you can work around obstacles like a windows. Each unit has a “notch” at the bottom (in the picture, the notches are facing up) which allows the unit to slide over existing baseboards. The notches are 5 inches high. The uprights have pre-drilled holes spaced at 1″ (hole size is ~.25″). The tallest unit (86.5″) has a total of 69 holes. You’ll utilize these holes to attach the shelves, drawers and other accessories.

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Shelves: Shelves come in three standard sizes: 12, 24 and 36 inches. The package includes the cam-locks and the directions on how to attach them. If you are cutting the shelf to a custom size, first score the laminate top with a razor blade and cut the particle board with a circular saw. The 12 inch shelves are used for creating the corner unit. The shelves will also serve as the “top” of the unit.

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Drawers: Drawers come in two sizes: 5 and 10 inch depth. The drawer fronts are sold separately and there are a few different styles to choose from. The drawer kits will need to be assembled and you’ll need to take care when attaching the drawer front to keep everything square. The basic metal slides come with the drawer kits, but you can add on soft-close hinges for only a couple of bucks. If you are trying to pre-plan the exact location of your shelves/drawers by utilizing the pre-drilled holes as a guide, keep in mind that the 10″ shelf is 8 “pre-drilled holes” high and the 5″ shelf is 4 “pre-drilled holes” high.

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Cabinet doors: Cabinet doors are available if you like that look or are using this system in an office or laundry room. They come in two different sizes 20 inch and 40 inch and have a variety of different styles. The door hardware appears to be sold separately (so don’t forget about it!).

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Wardrobe Rods: Wardrobe rods come in two different sizes 24″ and 36″. The packaging comes with hardware to attach it to to the units. The wardrobe rods fit really tight–so be sure to install them before anchoring everything else in the unit. This will give you some wiggle room to squeeze them into place.

Metal Baskets: Dakota Closets uses the Rev-a-Shelf wire baskets with their system. They come in a variety of different heights (18″, 7″ or 11″ – all are 24″ wide ) and you can add liners (or this other fancy liner) to protect your clothes. If you like the idea of a built-in hamper, you could use the 18″ high basket with a hamper insert. Pretty nifty!

Pants Bar: Rev-a-Shelf makes a whole slew of other closet accessories that work with Dakota Closets. This includes a 24″ pants rack. I always loved the idea of a pants rack, but I’ve found that, while I like the look, I prefer to fold my pants.

Valet Rod: Again, another Rev-a-Shelf product is a pull out bar, so you can hang things when you’re getting ready or after you iron them. I recommend checking out their product pages (for this items and the other ones mentioned below) to get a better idea of how they are used.

Belt Holder and Tie Rack: If you have a lot of belts, ties or scarves, I would recommend looking into the belt holder and tie rack. I’ve only linked one of each type here, but they have a variety of different options (like a tie rack with a little shelf/basket thing on top for your wallet/other accessories!).

Step 2: Layout your Preliminary design

After getting to know the building blocks, I finally felt like I had enough information to start laying out the closet. I wanted to use as many of the standard components as possible to eliminate extra work and the possibility of mistakes. Most of the “building blocks” have a 24″ width (drawers, hanging rod, baskets, shelves etc), so it made sense to try to utilize those items the most since they allowed for the most options and flexibility. It was easiest for me to imagine “units” rather than a bunch of individual components. A unit is just the space between two uprights (I hope that makes sense).

The preliminary sketches were done to get a general idea of the number of units on each wall and the general layouts. The sketches are not perfectly to scale because I didn’t account for the width of the upright units (3/4″). I laid out each wall and very roughly decided what I wanted each “unit” to look like. I laid out the rooms from the “Top Down” view an label each wall A, B , C and D and drew elevations of each wall so I could get a good idea of how everything would work.

Since the scale wasn’t perfect, I needed to have a more detailed diagram of the design to ensure that the wall units would actually fit on the wall (so, you know actually take into consideration the width of the floor uprights). I lad it out on the computer where I could dictate exact measurements with accuracy. I just used PowerPoint for this portion of the design, but you could use a variety of other programs (Photoshop, Illustrator) or online websites (Homestyler).

The uprights are 3/4″ thick. To make sure I had the proportions correct, I imported the floor plan from Homestyler and measured the distance of a known length in PowerPoint (i.e. wall 1). For example, I created a rectangle that went along all of Wall 1 and divided the length by 75 (since that wall is 75 inches) and that gave me the approximate portion to 1 inch (so in my example .05 inches in PowerPoint = 1 inch in real life). I then used this to generate the size of the different “units” in PowerPoint. I Included the length of the shelves plus the upright widths. I then plugged these units into the design.

In general, my design held. However, on Wall C (also referred to as Wall 2) I had to make part of the units smaller. I knew we had to customize that unit already because the standard materials were too deep (that wall is only 12.5 inches deep). I adjusted the size of the “corner” piece size slightly and then fit in whatever shelving I could. I already knew that I wouldn’t be able to have drawers or a hanging rod on this wall, so I was really excited to get any type of storage I could in there. To be honest, the final, final measurements of the shelves on Wall C were not determined until we were ready to actually install it and the rest of the units were in place. It’s a tight space, so we wanted to see everything in place before moving forward. However, this design was enough to tell us what materials we needed (remember– the other closet systems didn’t even want to put anything on this wall).

Step 3: Finalizing the Internal Components

Now that I modeled the room and knew what “units” I could actually fit, I had to finalize the design of the internal components–meaning the shelves, drawers and accessories. This is when all those calculations that I did in the last post came into play. I looked at how much short hanging (~55″) and long hanging (~17″) I needed. I reminded myself that I wanted 8 drawers total (4 for me and 4 for Jeremy). Armed with this information, I could finally complete the interior design of the closets.

I had a total of 6 units (they are numbed in the floor plan above) and two corners. The corners are more “connectors” and not usable space. Due to this, I focused on those 6 units. I laid out each unit and slowly started to build what each unit needed to be. I also color coded the different components (this will help you when you calculation what to order). As you can see, Unit 1 is a 12 inch space and it’s entirely shelves (blue lines= 12″ shelves). I did not determine the exact spacing of the shelves until we assembled the closet. Unit 2 is 24″ wide and includes short hanging (bold black line =hanging bar), a couple of 24 inch shelves (one for the top of the unit and one for directly above the drawers, orange line = 24″ shelf) and 4 drawers.

Unit 3 is compromised of double short hanging. I needed two hanging bars and two 24 inch shelves. Unit 4 is a direct replica of unit 2 as this will be Jer’s side. Unit 5 is long hanging. Luckily, we had space for some shelves at the bottom which added extra storage and some stability to the unit. Lastly, unit 6 was a 15 inch wide unit (green =custom cut) with custom cut shelves to fit. I wanted to keep our existing hamper, so I needed the bottom to remain open, so we could slide the hamper in there.

Since having a cohesive look was important to me, the corner units really matter. The corner units are composed of a 12″ shelf and a corner H-bracket (see above). You screw the corner H-Bracket to the 12″shelf on one side of the sideways H. You will then attach the shelf to the upright using the standard cam locks. At that point. you will simply slide the other open side of the H-bracket onto the shelf of the other unit. I tried to demonstrate this further with the illustration below. The blue line represents the 12″ shelf, the H-bracket is red and the orange line represents the 24″ shelf on the other side of the unit.

I also pulled the image below from one of Dakota Closets’ installation manuals which shows the H-bracket attachment at a different angle. In this image, they refer to it as a “custom cut shelf” but you can use the standard 12″ shelf or you can cut it down to fit your space. This is what we did for the other corner (the one that connects unit 5 to unit 6).

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With the design plan finalized, we we’re ready to purchase our goods and start the fun part–assembly!!

Step 4: Make your Purchasing List and Order your Materials

The completed design made it easy and quick for me to make the shopping list. I found the elevations the most helpful as I just counted how many of each piece I needed. Below was the shopping list. The total cost for all the closet supplies was less than I expected, $784!

ItemQuantity
Uprights9
12 inch Shelves14
24 inch Shelves14
10 inch Drawer Kits8
10 Inch Drawer Fronts8
24 inch Rods5
H Brackets (Corner)6
L Brackets5

Other Tips & Tricks When Using Dakota Closets

When using the floor uprights, try to have two or three shelves minimum per unit. This will add stability to your unit.

You’ll need the L-brackets to attach your units to the wall. We only installed a couple per wall and drilled them right into the studs. Attach the L-brackets after you complete your entire closet.

If you are utilizing the corner brackets, try to use three per unit.

Look at the assembly instructions of Dakota Closet kits to give you an idea of how to attach the cam locks and corner- H brackets. This is the one we look at most frequently.

Dakota Closets have a few videos to help with the install of your closet. It’s a pretty general overview but will show you how to attach the shelves with the cam-lock system and give you a general feel for the process.

When cutting any part of the Dakota Closet system (i.e. upright, shelves), first cut through the laminate-like top using a razor blade and then use a circular saw to cut through the fiberboard.


I can’t wait to show you the funnest part of the process – the mood boards and then the final product! I couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out!

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