Giving your closet a makeover can take a lot of time, effort, and—let’s be real—money. But, if you’re willing to get creative, you can tackle a closet upgrade on a budget, and you can still end up with something that looks totally custom. How? By making the most of IKEA’s closet systems and sprinkling in thoughtful finishing touches that’ll make your space look way more expensive than it is.
Of course, if you’ve ever shopped at IKEA before, you know the Swedish giant has a ton of closet systems on offer, so figuring out what to buy is its own challenge. Then, you have to install your closet system, polish it off, and bring your space together with décor.
In other words, building your own IKEA closet probably isn’t going to be easy, but it is going to be a budget-friendly way to score the custom closet of your dreams. To make your life a little easier, we talked to three lifestyle bloggers—all of whom have first-hand experience with IKEA closets—to get the lowdown on what you need to know before you build your own.
Meet the Expert
- Casey Finn is one of the lifestyle bloggers behind The DIY Playbook.
- Jackie Hempel is the lifestyle blogger behind Finding Lovely.
- Erin Kestenbaum is the lifestyle blogger behind Erin Kestenbaum Interiors & Photography.
Plan Out Your Space
Step one is simple: Figure out what you want your closet to look like. If you’re happy with the size and shape of your closet, you can leave it as is. But if you aren’t, you might want to consider a more structural renovation.
“When we purchased our home, we decided to immediately upgrade all of the doors and millwork to match our transitional style,” Casey Finn, the blogger behind the DIY Playbook, says. “Because we were already replacing the doors and framing, we thought it would make sense to also remove the wall between the two closets to gain a few extra feet of space.”
Finn says she talked to her contractor to make sure the wall wasn’t load-bearing and the renovation was doable. Then, when she got the go-ahead, she asked her contractor to tackle it.
The result? Two spacious closets that perfectly matched the rest of her home. “If you’re already making changes to a space, look at every possible option to gain more storage and have it work harder for you and your family,” she says.
Once your closet looks the way you want it to structurally, take a moment to measure it. You’ll need those precise measurements when you go to buy your IKEA closet system.
Commit to a Closet System
Once you’ve established your canvas—in this case, your closet’s silhouette—it’s time to fill it with stuff. Put simply, it’s time to go (online) shopping.
Now, when it comes to IKEA, shopping isn’t necessarily an easy task: There are tons of products on offer, and since IKEA sells products in collections, you may want to start by choosing a closet system before you drill down to the exact products you want. It may take some time to peruse all the options, but if you’re looking for somewhere to start, take a look at IKEA’s PAX system (a veritable lifestyle blogger favorite).
“Personally, we enjoy using the PAX collection the best because it has a high-end and built-in feel,” Finn says. “It’s also nice because once you have a PAX frame installed in a closet, you can easily adjust it with rods, shelves, drawers, etc. If you want to change up the room down the line (say, from an office to a bedroom), there is no need to rip everything out and start over.”
And remember, you can always customize your closet system by mixing and matching products from different lines. Jackie Hempel, the lifestyle blogger behind Finding Lovely, did exactly this. She used the PAX system as the base for her closet, then she threw in a couple of SONGESAND dressers to give herself more options.
“For us, this came down to cost,” she says. “When you use the PAX system, you definitely have more spacing options, but you don't have a finished product. You have to buy the drawer and cabinet fronts to get the built-in cabinetry feel.” After doing the math, Hempel realized those drawer and cabinet fronts would add up—and fast.
“We realized that we could line up two SONGESAND dressers, which already have a shaker-style drawer front, and fit some inexpensive trim pieces over the gaps,” Hempel says. “It looked like the finished, built-in product I was after for much less money.”
Take Advantage of IKEA's Online Planners
Once you’ve settled on a closet system, you can take advantage of IKEA’s planning tools. Planners aren’t available for every closet system, but they are available for some of the popular closet systems—like PAX.
Start by inputting your closet’s exact measurements. Then, drag and drop furniture until your closet looks just right. Though the planners only give you access to one closet system at a time, remember that you can mix and match different options—it just might take some extra work.
Finn says it took her a few hours to fully plan out her space, and she stopped by her local IKEA to get an in-person look at the products she was eyeing before buying them.
“This was our first time using the PAX collection, and we wanted to get an idea of how it felt and looked in person,” she says. “We also wanted to see all of the upgrades you could add to ensure that we saw all of our options before purchasing.”
Finn says this process was helpful, but don't worry if you don’t live near an IKEA. “It’s just as easy to get a good sense of the products online, too,” she says.
Assemble Your Closet
Once you have your IKEA products in hand, it’s time to build your closet. Remember, while your IKEA closet is somewhat customizable, it isn’t designed to precisely fit your space. You may have to do some extra work to make sure everything lines up just right.
For example, lifestyle blogger Erin Kestenbaum used wood shims to elevate some of the pieces in her closet system and to be sure everything was level. “Most homes are not constructed very square, regardless of their age,” she says. “So, being sure you're installing the units level will keep the drawers, doors, and more functioning as intended.”
This approach may leave you with extra space at the base of your units, but don’t worry about that right now. You can handle that when you put the finishing touches on your space.
Also, be sure to follow the directions. “If you’ve ever put anything together from IKEA, then you are familiar with their directions,” Finn writes in a blog post about assembling her IKEA closet. “They don’t have any words. Instead, it’s all illustrations that you need to follow very closely.”
She adds that while she’s often tempted to get right to work, it’s worth it to pause for a moment and read the directions carefully. “If you put the screw in the wrong hole, then your entire piece is off,” she writes.
One easy way to save time and effort? Have your IKEA finds shipped to your home. Finn shared that it is much easier to pay a bit extra and have all your supplies shipped directly to your house.
Lighting is a must in any closet, and when you’re DIYing a closet makeover, you’ll actually have the option to build lighting directly into your closet system.
Kestenbaum took this approach, adding recessed lighting throughout her closet. “It's common in custom closets to have added lighting within the units so that you can really see all your items,” she says. “Recessing lights helped turn things up a notch aesthetically and also provided some much-needed function—especially in this long, dark space.”
To pull off the look, Kestenbaum drilled a hole into the top shelf of each unit. Then, she filled those holes with puck lights. To make things even more convenient, Kestenbaum hardwired the lights into the same electric box so that she could easily access them every time she walked into the closet.
“As an alternative, IKEA does sell lighting specifically for the PAX system that provides the function,” Kestenbaum says. “It just isn't as seamless as flipping on a switch.”
Customize Your Closet With Luxe Touches
Your closet is built and recessed lighting is installed—surely it’s time to put your clothes in your closet, right? Not quite. Now is the perfect moment to add luxurious structural touches like baseboards, crown molding, custom drawer fronts, and more.
Once your IKEA closet system is built, you may notice some extra space at the base of your units, and depending on how high your ceilings are, you might end up with extra space above them, too. Since your closet system wasn’t custom-built for your space, this is to be expected. Kestenbaum has a clever way to handle this all-too-common problem: Install baseboards and crown molding.
“We went all out on personalizing the PAX units, with the goal of our closet looking much more elevated (and expensive) than IKEA,” she says. Kestenbaum’s goal was to make her IKEA closet look as custom as possible, and baseboards and crown molding went a long way in making that happen.
Not only did they cover up the extra space above and below her IKEA units, but they also made her space feel a lot more luxurious. “Adding crown molding and baseboards made the units appear built-in and not temporary—the way IKEA pieces can often feel,” she says.
Of course, Kestenbaum didn’t stop there. She also swapped out her IKEA drawer fronts with custom options (that she made) and she added custom hardware to each drawer.
Cover Up Imperfections
At this point, you’re probably ready to fill your closet with clothes and call it a day. But resist the temptation a little longer and take a few final moments to cover up any imperfections you see.
One popular place to start? Plug any unused holes you find in your closet. Since IKEA’s closet systems are designed to be flexible, they’re lined with holes you can use to insert drawers, shelves, rods, and more. These holes are helpful, but you can’t possibly use them all. Thankfully, IKEA sells plugs you can use to fill in any of the holes that ended up unused.
“Once your closet is fully installed, you want to be done and breathe a sigh of relief,” Finn says. “However, we felt it was important to take the time to add the ‘extras’ to really bring the project to the finish line.” Finn used IKEA’s cover plates to plug in every unused hole, and she also used screw caps to cover up any visible screws.
If you want to take things to the next level, you can also cover up the seam that runs down the middle of many IKEA closet products.
“We wanted to hide the seam in the back of the PAX that gives away that it's a piece of flatpack furniture,” Kestenbaum says. “Adding the textured wallpaper was a quick and easy way to hide that seam and provide some extra interest.” She notes that if you’re not into wallpaper, you can use a piece of plywood instead.
Another step you can take to finish off your closet? Add a coat of paint. Kestenbaum painted her closet system a sleek, dark blue that made a statement and looked great next to her hand-picked brass hardware.
“I knew I wanted the room to feel like its own defined space, and paint is the easiest and most dramatic way to change the complete feel of a room,” Kestenbaum says. “Choosing a dark, bold paint color in a small room can create that drama without the same degree of commitment as a space you spend a lot of time in.”
Finish Things Off With Décor
At long last, your closet is finished. Now, all that’s left to do is fill it with stuff. Loading your closet with clothes, shoes, and accessories is an obvious first step, and snagging a few organization essentials can help you keep your space in tip-top shape.
Finn filled her drawers with liners and pull-out trays—a step that left her closet feeling luxurious and organized, and she added a couple of baskets to hold things like bags and scarves.
“We like to figure out the best function for a drawer or shelf, and then shop around for the best items,” she says. “For example, I have a jewelry insert from The Container Store in a drawer in our main bedroom closet, and it works perfectly to hold all of my goodies.”
If you have a walk-in closet, you can bring your space together with decorative essentials like a rug, some art, and a little statement lighting.
“I created a design board for the closet, and searched high and low for the decorative features so the space would have a cohesive yet unique feel,” Hempel says. She finished off her closet with woven baskets, sleek hardware, a printed rug, and a beaded chandelier.
“Matching the finishes on the lighting to the hardware brought more cohesion and a custom, high-end feel,” she says. “Adding higher-end lighting was also a way to make the room feel luxurious.”
Hempel knew she wanted these items from the beginning, so she factored them into her closet makeover budget from the start. Since she knew how time-consuming DIY projects can be, she gave herself plenty of time to buy these items and kept an eye out for anything that went on sale.
“Give yourself time,” she says. “Any DIY takes lots of it, but especially when you are jigsawing IKEA bookcases and dressers, you just need to give yourself lots of adjusting time.”
“Putting together IKEA furniture and closets is definitely tedious, but it’s totally doable,” Finn says. “You don’t have to be an experienced DIY-er to tackle a project like this. If we can do it, you can too!”