DIY Custom Closet Built-Ins | Turning A Thrifted Dresser Into A Closet System

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In this post I’ll show you exactly how I took a thrifted dresser and turned it into a beautiful custom closet built-ins for my daughters room. I’ll go over each step in as much detail as possible!

Let me start by saying that this was a first for me! I’ve never built a cabinet or drawer of any kind so it was definitely a learning experience.

This project began because my daughters dresser (which was only a year old) was completely falling apart and in need of an update.

This was a dresser that was made cheaply out of particle board (although, the price I paid for the dresser was not cheap) and the drawers were completely falling apart.

The drawer bottoms were so flimsy, toddler clothes would cause them to collapse. I had attempted to fix it in the past but I was done. It was time to find a better solution because this set up was not working for us anymore.

I did a complete walkthrough of this situation (and the entire closet build) on my instagram account and saved everything to the highlights “closet {kids} ” and “closet 2”

Here’s what this situation looked like to begin with:

The first step was to come up with a plan. Almost immediately, I had a vision for this space.

My daughter (4yo) nicknamed it a princess closet so that’s what we’re going with!

The closet plans for DIY custom closet built-ins

After stopping by my local Habitat ReStore and picking out the CUTEST dresser, I came up with some rough plans.

At the time of this build we’re dealing with some pretty significant lumber cost issues. I figured if I could get a thrifted dresser, that would save on a lot of the cost and I would have some drawers already done for me.

I considered doing a dresser + IKEA pax system and “hacking” it to make it look built-in. Unfortunately, the cost to ship the IKEA pax was more than the IKEA pax system itself (hah!!) so that was out.

I landed on the idea to do the dresser + built-from-scratch cabinets created from MDF boards.

I do really like MDF and it’s commonly used for cabinets. It’s much stronger than particle board but cheaper than lumber.

Here are the plans that I drew up:

I also created a mood board for the finishes:

My daughter chose the color and I chose the wallpaper from Interior Blossoms. I was really excited to work with them as an affiliate because they were so awesome to offer my audience a special coupon code for 25% off! You can use code: DIYOURHOME to save on your order!

I went with an antique brass for the sconce and hardware knobs. I will link all of the sources to everything I used at the end of this post!

Starting the build

I started with the dresser. I was not in love with the top drawer, it had different detailing than the rest of the drawer so I decided to remove it altogether.

Next, I took apart the drawers. These drawers were on wooden under-mounted sliders and in addition to not being very easy to open, the drawers also came completely out and I decided that this was not going to be the most functional set-up for a four year old.

I decided to put the drawers on sliders but to do that, I needed to re-build the drawer to allow for space on the sides for the sliders.

I took the drawers apart, saving the front and the bottoms of them. I used three pieces of MDF boards and connected them together with pocket holes using the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig and attached them to the drawer front.

This photo shows the drawer front and the drawer bottom. You can see that by saving these, I saved myself a lot of time and effort! The drawer front already had a groove in it that the bottom could slide right into.

The bottom was already cut to the curve of the drawer front. However, I did have to trim the sides a bit to fit the new, slightly smaller size drawer. I cut them down with my table saw.

Here’s a look at how the pocket holes connected the drawers. I also added wood glue to every joint and secured the back with screws for extra strength.

I did NOT want this drawers to fall apart a year later and you don’t see the screws at all once the drawer is in the dresser.

Important: always remember to pre-drill holes for these screws (these are called “pilot holes”) to prevent the wood or MDF material from splitting.

The most important lesson I learned about building drawers is to make sure they are perfectly squared off! Meaning, the measurement from bottom left corner to top right corner and bottom right corner to top left corner match up perfectly or you will have a LOT of trouble when it’s time to put them on sliders in your cabinet or dresser.

After the drawer was built, I installed the slides on the drawer and in the dresser.

Another issue I ran into with this particular dresser is that the top two drawers were actually one very deep drawer. I hate deep drawers! They are a nightmare. Things get buried and they are always messy because of trying to find things.

After researching some solutions, I decided I was going to build a two-tier drawer system by essentially creating a drawer within a drawer. Essentially, I was creating my own version of this Rev-A-Shelf (insanely expensive) system:

When I re-built the very deep drawer, I built the back approximately half the height of the sides to allow space for the second drawer to slide backwards.

I measured the space from inside the left side to the inside of the right side and subtracted 1 inch (which was how much space would be taken up by the drawer slides).

Then, I constructed a second drawer at that width to be the top tray. I made sure it was shallow enough to only take up approximately half the space so that each tier was about the same amount of storage.

I added sliders that would allow the drawer to slide backwards. That way, when the main drawer was pulled out of the dresser, the top tier would slide back into the space of the dresser.

I was so happy that this actually worked out!

On a side note, there’s a video at the end of the post that has a “tour” of this space and you can see it in action there!

If you’d like to remember this post for later, please pin this to your favorite board!

WOW you need to check out this amazing DIY built-in closet system that was made from a thrifted dresser! If you're looking for custom, functional storage and organization for your closet you need to see this

Applying removable peel-and-stick wallpaper

As mentioned earlier, I opted to install some wallpaper from Interior Blossoms. When I saw this pattern, I knew my daughter would love it!

I cleaned the wall and applied each section of wallpaper using a level to make sure it was perfectly straight. With the second roll, I lined it up so that the pattern matched up perfectly and the seam is virtually invisible! I used the squeegie that came with the wallpaper to make sure that there were no air bubbles and that the wallpaper was perfectly smooth.

Please note that there will be built-in cabinets around the sides and a shelf on the top so I did not wallpaper the entire wall.

If I was going to wallpaper the whole wall, I would have started in the upper left corner and I would have over-lapped where the ceiling meets the wall just a bit to make sure that everything was super straight and lined up. At the end, just use a straight edge and box cutter to trim the excess.

I think it’s safe to say that my daughter loved it!

Building the lower section sides

In my plans, the section on the left was going to be a pull-down, concealed hamper. The left side would feature 3-4 smaller drawers (for things that don’t need a full drawer like bathing suits, dance class outfits, etc) and shoe cubbies.

Side note: I made sure to ensure that full-size adult shoes would fit the shoe cubbies as well for when she gets older!

I constructed the “kick plate” out of scrap stud wood and covered the front with scrap plywood.

I made the actual cabinet out of 1/2 inch MDF board and used scrap flexboard for the backing. I wasn’t super concerned with the backing since it was all going to be painted out and you wouldn’t see it, especially where the hamper and drawers would be.

Again, I used pocket holes to essentially build a box and I secured the backing with wood glue and nails. This is the nail gun that I use and LOVE!

I constructed the shoe cubbies out of 1/4 inch MDF boards. I first cut the middle dividing piece. Then, I measured the height of the space and subtracted 3/4 inch (to account for the MDF boards) and divided by 4 spaces which gave me the height of each section.

I measured and made a mark where each horizontal piece would go and used my table saw to make a slit about halfway through the piece.

I cut each horizontal piece and again, used my table saw to make a slit that went about half way through each piece. I slid them all together to create the shoe cubbie grid.

Here’s what it looked like:

Then, I added small pieces of wood to the inside of the cabinets on each side to essentially work as “brackets” to support the cubbies.

Once everything was in place, I secured the cubbie grid to the brackets using wood glue and nails.

At this point, I’ve installed both of the bottom sections of cabinets but I chose to NOT create the face frames until after the cabinets were built. Again, I’ve never built anything like this so I was literally building “as I go” for each step of the way.

As a reminder, this is all visually stepped out in the closet highlights on my instagram account.

Building the top section cabinets

The top section cabinets are where I will hang my daughters dresses. When she gets older and requires bigger hangers, we will switch to a pull-out slider with hooks and hang items forward-facing but for now, the kid-size hangers fit perfectly!

I opted to use beadboard as the backing on these cabinets which I installed on the wall first so that I could use pocket holes to attach the cabinets to the wall (that way, there would be no visible screws in the backing of the cabinet). It was secured to the wall using construction adhesive and nails.

Important: Always attach cabinets to the wall by locating your studs and drilling directly into them. This is my absolute FAVORITE stud finder — it’s NEVER WRONG! Don’t worry, the top cabinets hit the studs in the corners of the closet space.

At this point, once all of the main cabinet bodies were built, I added the face frames using 1/2 inch MDF boards. I cut the tops and bottoms 2.5 inches wide and the sides 2 inches wide. I secured with wood glue and nails.

Building out the mini drawers

I shifted my focus on building out the mini drawers. Drawers can be a little intimidating but they are essentially just building a box. Remember, we want the measurements from corner to corner to be exactly equal!

To make it easy on myself, I built all the sides and the bottom of the drawer using 1/2 inch MDF board. I decided to add shelves to the cabinet space and do an under-mounted slide system.

To be honest, I was a little sick of drawer slides by this point and wanted an easy way to make sure all the drawers were even. It’s not the best solution and probably wouldn’t recommend it because the drawers were a little wobbly. I added pieces of wood on each side of the slides to support the drawer and it’s less wobbly but at the end of the day, I probably didn’t save any effort by doing this.

I constructed the face of the drawer by using 1/2 inch MDF and 1/4 inch MDF bordering the main piece. This created a shaker-style for my drawer face.

By the way, I want to mention that every step of the way I’ve been wood-filling holes and seams and applying caulk to corners. This makes paint-prep SO much easier. Not only does it save time at the end, but you don’t have to worry about fitting your caulk gun into tight spaces!

To attach the drawer face to the drawer body, I drilled two small holes in the front of the drawer body. I installed the drawer slide on the bottom of the drawer and slid it into the space it was going on the dresser.

I held up the drawer face and marked where it needed to go. I placed the drawer face facedown on the floor and took the drawer body out of the cabinet and lined it up with the markings I made on the face.

I used two screws to drill from the inside of the drawer into the drawer face, making sure they weren’t long enough to go through the front of the drawer face.

Here’s what they looked like once they were done:

Constructing the pull-down, concealed hamper

I had to get a bit creative with this step!

First, I constructed the main “cabinet door” by using 1/2 inch MDF and 1/4 inch MDF for the shaker style border.

I set it aside and decided to build out the part that the hamper would sit on. I used ALL scraps from my garage so it’s not the prettiest situation but I wanted it to hold the hamper in place but still be able to remove the hamper if needed.

I made the mistake of securing it to the cabinet door first as shown in the image above. When I went to install it in the closet, I knew it wasn’t going to fit because of the bump out of the closet. The space was way too tight.

I moved my attention to the hinge that I ordered. I was able to get the rev-a-shelf tilt out tray hinge from amazon and installed it into the cabinet. I needed to then install another board to the hinge. This board would secure the hamper shelf behind it and the cabinet door in front of it.

Trust me, this was the ONLY way to get it in my specific space. If I was dealing with an open space instead of a closet corner, it would look very different!

Priming and Painting

I started by priming everything using Kilz All Purpose Primer.

Once everything was primed, I painted using Valspar Signature paint in the color White Truffle (Sherwin Williams) which I purchased from Lowes.

Finishing Touches

The sconce I ordered from Amazon was a little orangey for the look I was going for, which was more of an aged antique brass look.

To solve this, and to get the sconce to match the knobs a little better, I used Rustoleum Satin Bronze spray paint (after Rub and Buff failed adhere to the surface of the sconce smoothly).

These are the knobs I found on Amazon, and I absolutely loved them!! I purchased these cut-to-size screws since I needed every size except what came with the knobs.

I used thread lock as well to prevent the knobs from loosening over time! Just a drop of thread lock in the knob hole (not the drawer) before you screw them in and you’re all set!

I used rope lights to line the inside of the closet around the trim to give a glowing affect. Personally, I didn’t feel it showed up well in pictures because of the warmth of the light, but it does look pretty cool in person!

The sconce was not hard-wired. I attached it to the wall and used the “magic light” trick (not invented by me) which involves attaching a remote controlled puck light like this into the sconce. I used super glue to do this because it holds well and I can still change the batteries when needed.

I also purchased a sheet of wood from Home Depot to add to the top of the dresser (to give a “countertop” look to it). I cut it to size and then ripped down pieces to add to the front and sides. I stained it the color Mission Oak.

Before I give you a complete materials list, here’s a reminder of what closet looked like “before”

Check out the “After”

Tools + Materials used to build this:

Finishing Items

Check out the tour in this video!

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