40 Things To Think About When Planning A Walk In Closet: A Detailed Guide To All Things Closet Design

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Photos By Christa Tippmann

I distinctly recall standing bundled up in the dead of winter inside the shell of our master closet during our build. Ahh…January in Colorado. But I digress.

I was determined to make THE BEST USE of our master closet space. Armed with a roll of blue tape, my notebook, and a measuring tape, I spent several hours mapping out possible layouts for shelves, rods and drawers.

It was freezing.

A little frustrating.

And totally worth it.

Because all the time and energy I devoted to carefully planning meant that now, years later, we have a functional, fully customized space that keeps things neat and provides a pleasant place to get ready each day.

As usual, I did a lot of research about closets:

  • read dozens message boards
  • studied many, many layouts
  • saved hundreds of inspiration pictures

I’m going to jump right into it because this is a looooong list with a lot of info, and I know your time is valuable.

I’m walking you through

  • Preparing for your project
  • Planning a great layout
  • Organizing your walk in closet
  • Styling your gorgeous new dream closet.

40 tips for planning a walk in closet

Planning A Walk In Closet: Phase 1


The first step in every project for me is mental, and closet design is no exception.

Spend some time thinking about the following:

1. | What do you need to store in your closet?

Grab a pen and a paper and take inventory of everything. Every single thing you want to store in your closet. If you’re not sure… include it anyway. Are you wanting to store things in your new closet that have been previously stored in other places in your home?

Often people have parts of their wardrobe stored in basements or guest bedroom closets. Make sure to include everything in your inventory list.

2. | How much space does your stuff actually need?

Once you have your inventory, grab your tape measure.

Measure the clothes you currently have hanging in your closet(s).

  • Measure how much horizontal space your clothes are taking up (ex. all my shirts take up 36″ of hanging bar space).
  • Measure the maximum vertical space of each group of items (ex. I need 52″ for my longest hanging dress).
  • Measure the length of shoes to know how deep to make shoe shelves.
  • If it’s a shared closet, do this for each person’s belongings. You may need more or less hanging height than your partner!

3. | How do I want to use this closet?

Everyone is different, and the way they want to use their space is different.

  • Do you want the closet to have a boutique feel you can linger in? Or is it ok if it’s strictly functional?
  • Are you a crazy shoe collector? You might need to dedicate more space to shelves.
  • Do things tend to get messy in your closet? Maybe you need more drawers or door fronts to hide the mess.

4. | What has (and hasn’t) worked in the past?

Draw a line down the center of a fresh page. On the left, write things that have been good about your past closets or organizing strategies you’ve tried in them. On the right, jot down things that have been annoying, stressful, or problematic.

Keep this in mind during your project. Keep doing what works… and look for solutions to eliminate past pain points.

For example, if I know I my t-shirt collection has a way of growing out of control every few years, I might want to dedicate two drawers to t-shirts instead of one. Or if folded sweaters on shelves always end up a jumbled mess… I need to look for an alternative method for storing them.

5. | Are there any accessibility issues?

The ability to reach everything relatively easily (both to retrieve and to put away) is important and should be considered when planning a walk in closet.

  • Consider the height of each user when placing most frequently used items. In accordance, different parts of the closet may need to have rods and shelves at different heights.
  • Make sure the door swing doesn’t impede your ability to use your space effectively.
  • Some closet layouts make items hard to access (I’m looking at you, corners). Be very aware of this when planning your layout.
  • I like to plan ahead of time for a place to store a dedicated step-ladder for reaching upper shelves with ease.

6. | Take note of anything out of the ordinary you’d like to store or house in your closet

Organizing peoples’ closets is interesting. Most of the time, I find that people have a few non-clothes related items stored in their closets:

  • Luggage
  • Books
  • Collections
  • Momentos
  • Safes

Because a closet is one of the most private areas of the home, you may want to dedicate some real estate to personal items.

If so, remember to plan accordingly!

7. | Are you willing to make changes?

Let’s say when you were young, your mom always hung your jeans on hangers. So when you grew up and started doing your own laundry… you defaulted to hanging your jeans as well. I think this type of habit is really common for most of us when it comes to closets.

But sometimes it’s good to mix it up! I would like to lovingly suggest that as you plan your closet…keep an open mind!

Sometimes the best solution might be different from what you’re used to.

For example, most of us are NOT used to storing the majority of our clothing in drawers because most older closets don’t have drawers. We’ve always relied primarily on hanging space because that’s what we’ve had available.

But if you’re lucky enough to be planning a new build or custom remodeled closet… built-in drawers (the more the better) will absolutely change your life.

  • Most clothes can be hung up OR folded.
  • Purses can be stored in bins OR displayed OR hung on s-hooks.
  • Belts can be rolled up inside drawer inserts OR hung from hooks.

What will be easiest for you to access and maintain?

Planning a Walk In Closet: Phase 2


Ok. You’ve given some thought to what you have and how you want your closet to function. Now it’s time to make a plan!

8. | Sketch your wall space in 2-d on graph paper.

  • Each individual wall gets its own straight on-view.
  • Pay attention to scale. I usually use use 1 cm. square as 2 ft. for rough sketches.
  • Make sure to block out space in corners; space can only be used on one side. (See the example below.)
  • Quickly sketch out whatever combination of shelves, rods, drawers, etc. you will need.
A Closet Sketch From My “New Build Notebook”

9. | Remember to use vertical space. Incorporate high shelves!

Don’t waste valuable space! Even if you don’t think you’ll use the high shelves… plan for them anyway. Depending on your ceiling height, you’ll want shelves about 12-18″ from the ceiling.

10. | Include a focal point

If you want your closet to look amazing, consider planning your focal point first. This is something that breaks up the expanse of clothes and gives your eye a place to rest. This could be a bank of drawers, an armoire-style hutch, or a showstopping wall mirror.

Tip: Place this directly opposite from the closet entrance if possible.

11. | Decide whether you want adjustable shelving system

When I was planning a walk in closet for our new build, I saw the same advice over and over (and over). Insist on an adjustable shelving system.

I get the reasoning behind this: needs change, you may not live in the house forever, flexibility is good. For most people this is probably great advice.

But I ignored it. In our build, I simply didn’t want to spend the money on our closet. I had other places where I wanted to splurge (helloooo wall treatments!). And I knew that if I planned our closet carefully, our trim carpenter could build us a basic closet that would work well for us.

I wanted to mention this in case a closet system is out of reach for you (projects have budgets). I assure you, you can still have a perfectly beautiful and functional closet!

12. | Plan a place for dirty clothes

You need a place to put your dirty clothes, that’s just a fact of life. Don’t forget this when you’re planning a walk in closet! It could be inside a cabinet or just a hamper on the floor… but make sure to include it on your sketch if it will be housed in your closet.

13. | Prioritize Drawers

I already mentioned this, but it bears repeating. If at all possible, prioritize drawer space. Drawers contain + conceal things. They make it easy to put things away AND grab what you need. Add some drawer dividers and file fold your clothes. Your life will be revolutionized.

Here’s what to store in drawers:

  • Socks
  • Lingerie
  • Workout Gear
  • T-Shirts
  • Jeans + Pants
  • Sweaters
  • Jewelry+ Sunglasses
  • Belts + Ties
  • Shoes
  • Swimwear
  • Purses + Bags
  • Non-Clothing items

You get the gist? Yeah. Pretty much everything can be stored (and stored better) in drawers. Save hanging space for dress clothes, shirts and sweatshirts and include as many drawers as possible for everything else.

Tip: If drawers are too expensive, you can achieve a similar effect by using storage bins and baskets on shelves. I utilize a mix of both.

14. | Consider a Packing Island or Storage Bench

This is for those of you working with a larger footprint. But if you have a relatively big space for planning a walk in closet… don’t waste the floor space! Packing islands are great because they help you squeeze in even more drawer space (score!).

Need a smaller option? A 2-drawer bench might be a nice addition for storing extra shoes.

15. | Be intentional with electrical placement + outlets

Ahh… details. Electrical outlets are VERY handy in a closet. If you’re lucky enough to have them, consider where they will be of the most use to you in the early stages of planning a walk in closet.

If you have a dresser unit, for example, you can place an outlet on top to plug in chargers or a lamp.

Also, make sure the light switch is in a convenient location!

16. | Speaking of electrical…

If you are wanting a super luxe closet, now it the time for plan for integrated LED lighting such as spotlights or track lighting. Your contractor and electrician will need to make accommodations early on for these little luxuries.

17. | Choose corner treatments wisely

Corners in closets can be a conundrum, especially if you’re short on square footage and want to use up every single inch.

There are lazy Susans, corner shelving units, and other solutions dedicated to solving this problem. This is one area where I recommend spending some time researching while you’re planning a walk in closet. Knowing your options means you can find the best possible choice for your particular closet setup!

18. | Extra space? What about adding a vanity or a desk?

Most of us are short on space in closets, not the other way around. But maybe you’re converting an unused dining room or bedroom into a closet or you’re in the design phase of a new construction project and the sky is the limit.

Lucky you!

A gorgeous vanity with plenty of drawers for storing makeup, hair supplies, and accessories sound like a dreamy addition to a closet doesn’t it? You could even add a LED makeup light to ensurue you get the perfect makeup application every time.

Alternatively, the “cloffice” (closet/office) was trending recently and there are some really fun inspiration photos with writing desks integrated into custom closets out there. Check ’em out!

19. | Keep standard basket sizes in mind when planning shelves

When I’m styling shelves for a client in a closet or mudroom, trying to find the perfect bin or basket for a super custom shelf size can be a huge headache. Not only are they hard to find (meaning limited style options), but they are usually more expensive than standard versions.

Do yourself a favor if you’re opting for fixed shelves and stick to standard spacing wherever possible. Anywhere from 8″-11″ is a pretty standard bin or basket height, which means 12″ is a good distance between shelves.

Depth wise, 12″ is the minimum recommended shelf depth for baskets, although a few extra inches doesn’t hurt.

20. | Find a place for a full length mirror

If you have a blank wall, add a full length floor mirror! Back of the door mirrors are also a popular option.

Tip: If you’re short on space, one of my favorite tricks is to have the glass company cut a mirror to place inside the frame of a shaker door.

Full length mirror inset into a Shaker door.

21. | Include a place to sit

Having a place to sit and take off your shoes at the end of a long day is an accessible luxury. Try to plan for a place to sit in your closet. Some ideas:

  • Freestanding Bench (great for long, narrow spaces)
  • Cube Ottoman (compact and easy to move; doubles as a stepstool!)
  • Chair
  • Built-In Bench (add storage!)

22. | Think in “Zones”

Keep like things together and create zones for an organized feel. Thinking this way is so important when you’re planning a walk in closet!

In my closet, for example, I have a “workout zone“. I keep all my workout clothes in one drawer so I don’t have to look for a top in one place, leggings in another. And the drawer directly above that houses socks and sports bras. Since this is what I wear most days, I prioritized putting everything in close proximity to make it easy to prep for an early morning class.

You might have a:

  • Workwear zone (dress pants, collared shirts, ties, blazers)
  • Party Clothes Zone (I don’t go to parties anymore… but maybe you do!)
  • Loungewear Zone (ok, this one I’m verrrrry familiar with)

23. | “Blue Tape” It

This is my favorite advice for pretty much everything design and organizing related.

Once you have a pretty good idea of the layout you think you want in your space on paper, take it into the actual space and map it out using blue painter’s tape. Put tape on wall for shelf/rod placements and on the floor to help you guage depth of shelves and hanging clothes (plan approximately 24″ of depth for hanging clothes).

Don’t like something? Easy! Just peel off the tape and reposition it. This is a great way to feel confident in your design and help you finalize your plans.

For both visual and kinesthetic learners (which is a lot of us), this helps you get a realistic feel for how the space will function.

Not pretty, but here’s what this looks like.

Planning A Walk In Closet: Phase 3





You did it!

You dreamed. You reflected. You spent more time then you ever thought a person could spend planning a walk in closet. And in the end, you built your perfect closet.

The bones are there.

Now it’s time to actually fill it up with your belongings and put everything away in a neat, orderly, and aesthetic way.

My favorite part.

Here are some organizing tips and ideas to help you make the most of your new closet.

24. | Hang Hooks On Blank Wall Space

If your closet layout left you with empty wall space… lucky you! This is a perfect opportunity to hang some hooks. I love hooks in a closet for so many things:

  • Belts
  • Robe
  • Towel
  • Ties
  • Frequently worn items like vests or jackets
  • Necklaces
  • Bags

A row of hooks is especially great if you are a person who hates to hang things up on hangers. A hook can be a great temporary spot to hang things and keep them up off the floor.

25. | Get A Back-of-the-Door Organizer

I love an Elfa back-of-the-door organizer for pretty much every room of the house. But they really shine in closet situations. Pick the perfect configuration for whatever it is that you need to store and prepare to be amazed by how much stuff they hold.

Alternatively, keep an eye out for unusual or interesting shelf units at local stores – I grabbed mine at Sam’s club awhile back and love them.

26. | Give structure to simple shelves with acrylic dividers

I mentioned the messy sweater situation earlier in this post and this is the product that helped me overcome that hurdle in my own closet. The flexible lip slides over any shelf and creates a barrier that keeps stacked items upright so they don’t tumble down into an unstructured heap. I put them between folded pants and sweaters (check out the photo above!).

Bonus: They have little knobs on the front that you can hang a hanger on with the next day’s outfit or a cute accessory.

27. | Use Accessory Hooks On Hanging Rods

If budget or existing restraints has you sitting with more rod space than you need after planning your walk in closet, consider using S-Hooks or C-Hooks. These are really useful for keeping things in neat groups and/or displaying items. They can hold:

  • Scarves
  • Purses
  • Backpacks
  • Tall Boots (no more slumping over)
  • Jeans (hang by the beltloop)

28. | Stock Up on Drawer Dividers

Drawer dividers (and file folding) are the secret sauce to drawers that stay organized.

Divide drawers with 2-3 adjustable organizers and tuck your clothing neatly between them, standing upright. You can easily see and select which item you want and remove it without disturbing the other clothes.

For upper drawers (lingerie and accessories) compartmentalized drawer inserts work well too (similar to what you would use in a kitchen drawer).

29. | Buy MATCHING storage Cubes or Bins

I usually like to say “use what you have.” I feel like that’s the right advice?

But when you’ve gone to all this trouble planning a walk in closet… you want it to look really, really good.

And that means you don’t want a hodgepodge of random old baskets and mismatched bins lining your pristine new shelves.

If you’re using bins and baskets (and you should be)… pick a style you love and buy it in multiples.

Repetition is key in interior design, and the repetition that the color/texture of your chosen container will make a dramatic difference in the look of the finished space.

Don’t skimp.

Tip: Choose SOLID baskets for most collections to hide the mess.

30. | Label your bins and baskets

Nothing is more annoying than pulling down a basket from a high shelf only to realize that you grabbed the wrong one. Use bin clip labels to easily identify the contents of the aforementioned opaque baskets and bins. I linked my favorite ones in the organization shop at the beginning of this section.

Organized Closet Display with Baskets

31. | Utilize stacking solutions to fill vertical height of shelves

If you end up with a few taller shelves but need to store shorter things on them, utilize stacking products to help you maximize every inch of space. I love:

  • Clear stacking acrylic drawers
  • Drop Front Shoe Boxes
  • Shelf Risers

Planning A Walk In Closet : Phase 4


You’re done planning a walk in closet and you’ve made it to the home stretch. Now for the icing on the cake!

32. | Add a Lamp

A cute little lamp in an unexpected place just adds personality. And makes a space feel cozy.

Tip: Outfit your “closet lamp” with a programmable smart bulb and schedule it to come on at night to serve as a nightlight.

33. | Display Jewelry

If you have the space on a shelf or the top of your dresser, why not let your jewelry shine? Place it on busts, in stacking trays, or on a hanging organizer. Check out this blog post for more jewelry storage ideas!

33. | Hang Peel + Stick Wallpaper

Another fun way to add a pop of personality and design oomph when you’re planning a walk in closet is to add a little dose of peel and stick wallpaper. You could do this:

  • Above the tallest shelves
  • Above a dresser
  • On the walls behind shelves
  • On the ceiling!

Peel + stick wallpaper is easy to work with… and easy to remove. It’s a fun weekend project anyone can handle!

34. | Bring In Wall Art

Again, I love to put things in unexpected places. And closets are a pretty unexpected place to hang art.

If you have a sentimental painting or photograph that doesn’t quite “fit” with the rest of your decor, the closet is a great place to display it. That way you can see it and enjoy it every day!

You can:

  • Lean art on top of a dresser.
  • Hang it on a blank wall
  • Tuck it away at the back of a shelf with some smaller items displayed in front.

35. | Add Personality With Luxe Lighting

Another easy upgrade is replacing a basic light fixture with a chandelier or pendant light. Instant gratification (and instant personality).

36. | Add A Rug

Whether you have carpet, wood, or vinyl flooring in your closet, adding a rug softens the space, adds color, and makes it feel more like a special little room. A runner works well in longer, narrower spaces but even a simple, inexpensive 3 x 5 rug near the entrance is a nice touch.

37. | Paint the Ceiling

Why not?

38. | Boutique Style Collection Display

Display your more aesthetic possessions boutique-style on high shelves.

  • Display beautiful bags on stands.
  • Place fancy shoes on risers.
  • Neatly line up hats.

39. | Upgrade your hangers

Nothing gives a boutique feel quite like matching hangers (all facing the same direction, of course). Over the years I have tried the trendy velvet hangers that many pro organizers swear by, but they always snap for me and I am not a fan.

Even simple white plastic hangers, when repeated, can look nice. I’m also a lover of thin metal hangers and wood hangers (although the wood ones tend to take up more space on the rod).

40. | Install a valet rod

Are you the type of person who likes to pull out the next day’s outfit ahead of time? A valet rod allows you to display special items facing out so you can see it. This works great for putting together outfits but with an especially beautiful garment hanging from it, a valet rod can also function like a display.

Well, there’s pretty much everything I know about planning a walk in closet (and styling it too).

I hope somewhere in this list you found some inspiration or information you can use as you embark on designing a space that will work for you! If you’re interested in more building and renovating ideas, click here for my “Building A Home” series.

Happy planning!


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