The IKEA PAX is the stalwart of customizable built-in closets. Many a pragmatic DIYer has praised this versatile flat pack, which lets you decide the size and shape of your wardrobe so you can maximize every inch of your storage space. In period properties, however, where walls and flooring often become unsymmetrical over time, creating the perfect built-in takes a little extra work.
That was the case for home renovators Emily and Hugh (@ourlondonlistedhome (opens in new tab)). Determined to build two built-in closets that looked authentic within their Georgian property, they realized a bespoke IKEA hack with a sheet timber surround was the best way to go. With some DIY doors, trim molding, and a coat of calming paint, they now have a pair of custom closets that make use of their awkwardly shaped alcoves. Here's how they did it.
Their small closet idea was born when, like most IKEA hackers, Emily and Hugh realized they could create their built-in closet for a fraction of the cost they were quoted by a carpenter. 'The space we were working in was also uneven so we knew we had to tailor it to the specific dimensions,' says Emily. 'Using the PAX hack was the most efficient way.'
Using IKEA PAX frames (opens in new tab), they started by creating their own slab doors by cutting MDF board to size. They opted for DIY doors, rather than IKEA's own, as they were keen to have the exact same finish as the surround for a seamless, built-in appearance. It also allowed for easier customization with the uneven dimensions within the alcoves. 'We aren’t planners and we very much adapt as we go,' says Emily. 'We came across several hurdles and had to cut and change the size of the pieces regularly.'
Another challenge Emily and Hugh faced was getting the closet doors to look equal and symmetrical even though the surrounding sides were not. In one alcove, the measurements differed so much that they resorted to building fan shelves in the gap between the closets and the chimney breast, resulting in an open storage solution. 'With our house being old, it has wonky walls, ceilings, and floors so nothing ever fits,' Emily explains. 'We needed a lot of filler!'
Once the closets were built and timber board fixed around the edges to create the surround, it was time to dress the wardrobes up a bit. To give their flatpack closet a classic feel that looks more at home within their listed property, the couple decided to add a panelled effect to the doors using molding trim which the attached using adhesive. 'We did also dowel the wood but, in hindsight, this wasn’t needed and we could have just used adhesive alone,' notes Emily.
Once the molding was dry, it was time to for the real makeover. For color, Emily and Hugh chose Lick's Beige 03 (opens in new tab), a calming neutral perfect for the bedroom. They then opted for some sleek, matt black hardware for an elegant contemporary finish that contrasts beautifully with the more understated surrounding tones.
With the built-in look complete, Emily and her partner are both really satisfied with how the closets compliment the rest of their home. 'It ties in with the period features and makes great use of the space,' she explains. 'It also makes the room feel bigger as the wardrobes are set back into the alcoves.'
The best part? Despite being a seasoned DIYer, this challenging project has given Emily newfound confidence in her abilities. 'This was the first big project we did and we've since built several more built-in cupboards with half the stress,' she tells us. 'It's also built our confidence in using MDF - we've realized how efficient and cheap it is! I'd say we're now addicted to DIY.'
A post shared by Emily | Hugh & Udon (@ourlondonlistedhome) (opens in new tab)
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Lilith Hudson is the Junior Writer on Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news articles for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration that you need in your home. She discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. Lilith now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London (a degree where she could combine both) and has previously worked at the Saturday Times Magazine, ES Magazine, DJ Mag and The Simple Things Magazine.
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