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Closet Shelving Layout

Laying out and installing closet shelving used to be simple—you just installed a single shelf and pole in every closet, about 66 in. from the floor so a dress wouldn’t drag on the carpet. Maybe people didn’t have so many clothes then. Today closet design is an important part of construction, but designing closet shelving doesn’t have to be a brain twister. Though closets seem to come in many different sizes and shapes, they’re actually limited to only two basic types: walk-in closets and reach-in closets

Closet shapes and sizes

Walk-in closets: Walk-in closets come in several shapes. Large walk-in closets allow for three complete walls of shelving and are often referred to as U-shaped. But remember, the shelving can’t run continuously across all the walls. Shelving on adjoining walls must stop 24 in. short or it will interfere with the clothes on the side walls. Which means that in a 5-ft.-wide walk-in, a bank of shelves on the rear wall can only be about 12 in. long. And also remember, shelving spans shouldn’t exceed 36 in. or the shelves will sag (for mdf shelving, 32 in. max. is best).

Reach-in Closets: Reach-in closets, on the other hand, consist of only one wall of shelving, which is accessed while standing in the doorway of the closet. Reach-in closets are built in many sizes, but are usually only slightly wider than standard sliding door or bi-fold door openings--4 ft., 6 ft., and 8 ft. Designed correctly, a typical 8-ft. reach-in closet will hold a lot of shelving components.


Shelving shapes and sizes: For most jobs, closet shelving breaks down to only a few basic types: Single shelf-and-pole, double pole and sweater shelves/shoe shelves.

Closet Requirements

Single Shelf-and-Pole:
To accommodate long coats and dresses, a section of single shelf-and-pole should be installed in every closet (closets for children are often an exception). To keep dresses and coats from dragging on the floor, install single shelf-and-pole at least 66 in. from the floor—take the measurement from the bottom of the shelf (that puts the pole at about 64 in. from the floor). For exceptionally tall people, increase the height to keep long clothes off the floor.

Double Pole: If pants are folded over a hanger, they only need half the hanging height as a long dress—about 34 in. from the bottom of the shelf to the floor. Shirts are longer and require 40 in. from the bottom of the shelf. Because most of the clothes in our closets today are pants and shirts, double shelf-and-pole should predominate in every closet, which doubles the storage space. To make the job of installing shelves easier and to allow homeowners the choice of changing the arrangement of their clothes, I separate all double poles by 42 in., which makes the top shelf 84 in. from the floor.

The Top Shelf: The top shelf should run completely across the closet, and around all three walls in a u-shaped closet, so the same 84-in. height determines the second or top shelf over a single shelf-and-pole, too (see diagram). In most 8-ft. closets, 12 in. of space remains between the top shelf and the ceiling, which is enough room for shoeboxes, hatboxes and other storage.

Sweater Shelves: A typical bank of sweater shelves should begin 16 in. from the floor, which allows room for tall boots on the floor. Succeeding shelves should be spaced about 12 in. apart. If the top shelf is installed at 84 in. from the floor, this sweater shelf arrangement should result in a somewhat even spacing.
The only shelf in a closet that won’t align horizontally with other shelves is the single shelf-and-pole, because it’s set at 68 in. from the floor. The 16-in-space between the single shelf-and-pole and the top shelf can be divided again by an additional shelf, which creates a perfect location for a few pairs of shoes.

Shoe Shelves: Shoes only require about 7 in. of height (that includes high-tops and pumps). To get the most from your closet space, design shelving specifically for shoes and don’t rely on 12-in.-spaced shelves for shoe storage. An 84 in. tall bank of shelves, with the first shelf 16 in. from the floor, can include 4 shoe shelves and 3 sweater shelves (see diagram). Of, if there’s room and shoes enough, build an entire bank of shoe shelves.



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Copyright 2006 by Gary M. Katz

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