We recently downsized into a smaller home so we could move from a 2-story house to a 1-story. One of the unfortunate aspects of the move was the loss of closet and storage space. In addition, it’s an older home with very dated closet organization (a pole across the closet and maybe a shelf or two). Having two dwarf parents and a dwarf child in the house, this became a problem real fast! We are trying to teach our dwarf child to be independent, so we did an extensive search for custom closet systems.
Container Store / elfa
In the master bedroom at our old house, we replaced the standard builder-grade wire shelving with elfa from Container Store. Overall, we were happy with the product but we considered it expensive for what you get. The installation was relatively easy; you install a steel track at the top of your wall, hang “standards” across the wall and then the shelves snap into the standards. Besides the cost, there was a limited variety of products you can choose from. They only have pull-out drawers that are ventilated and sometimes you want some fully enclosed storage. The Big Box stores such as Lowes and Home Depot actually sell a product that is similar to the elfa material at a much cheaper price.
We originally planned to install elfa at our new house and even purchased the product and delivery during their bi-annual 30% off sale. We waited for their call to schedule delivery and instead they told us that they shouldn’t have sold us delivery as they only offer delivery when you pay for installation (which costs like 30% of the price of the product!!). Since we were installing multiple closets on a tight budget, we hadn’t planned to pay for their installation as it’s cost prohibitive. At the old house, we were able to borrow a van and bring all the materials home as it was only one closet. We weren’t about to make multiple trips to bring all this material home. Of course we tried to explain our situation (um, dwarfs with a small car) but they refused to honor the delivery they sold us. The manager of the store even said that he didn’t want to “impact the installation department” with the already paid-for delivery. So we told them to keep their stuff and they lost the sale. No more elfa for us!
We had California Closets come out and give us a quote. They are a large company that is very well known. Costco even has their products in-store and Costco members purchasing through their program receive a discount in the form of a gift card. They gave us a very nice design and we liked their products, but they were just too expensive. Very expensive.
Closets By Design
Closets By Design is another well-known company that usually adverties in local coupon mailers. We had them come out and give us a quote. One plus for this company is that they will do a design for you on-the-spot, so you have the ability to ask questions and make changes. They are also expensive but more affordable than California Closets. We liked their product a lot and considered purchasing from them.
However, the one thing that totally turned us off was their high-pressure sales process. After showing you the design and getting your approval, the “designer” (sales person) will start writing down a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. Good luck keeping track. One price is their regular price, another price is the normal sale price, and another price is the current super-duper special sale price. “Does that sound good” they will ask? But oh no, they will call their district manager and find out what kind of extra-special pricing they can offer to you, but of course you have to buy right then. And if you have the audacity to tell them you can’t decide on the spot, they will apply high pressure to get you to tell them your budget or whatever reason you’re not signing the contract. They’ll call the manager again and lower the price again.
This process might work well with some people, but not us. We don’t like it when buying a car, and we definitely don’t like it when purchasing custom closets. It’s a huge turn-off. A reputable company should have one set price (and optionally one sale price) and offer it to you without mind games. And nobody should be forced to make a decision on a multi-thousand dollar purchase on the spot. So Closets by Design lost the sale due to their sales practices.
Other Wire-Based Systems
If you are a fan of the wire-based systems such as elfa, there are other options you may wish to consider. We briefly looked at the Rubbermaid 3H89 because it’s very highly reviewed on Amazon. Another alternative is the ClosetMaid 160831. Both Home Depot and Lowes have similar products in-store as well. If you’re a Consumer Reports fan, they did a review of storage products a while ago but unfortunately it hasn’t been updated. They actually rated the Rubbermaid system higher than elfa due to the cost.
John Louis Home
We seriously considered using the John Louis Home JLH-529 product for our closets, mainly because it is real wood and looks nice. Costco was selling their closet organizers in the warehouse for a short period of time as well. We decided against the John Louis Home system mainly due to the lack of configuration options. They basically have the rods and long shelves and a “tower” with shelves but no drawer options. We also read some reviews online saying that even though it’s real wood, it’s soft wood and marred very easily. Of course we wanted a real wood product but if it will not last as long as melamine, what good is that?
The Winner – Easy Closets
We were pretty discouraged after our previous experiences with these companies. A couple years ago, Costco was affiliated with a company called Easy Closets and they offered some nice discounts for Costco members. Easy Closets has a very nice online system that allows you to design your own closet and view it in both 2D and 3D. Unfortunately, Costco is no longer affiliated with Easy Closets so they no longer have a special discount. But their prices are very affordable and they have many customization options, so we decided to give them a try.
We first purchased a small hallway closet from Easy Closets as a test run. We were happy with the results and then proceeded to purchase systems for both of our children’s bedrooms. The remaining closets are on the honey-do list to be completed. Overall, we are pleased with the EasyClosets system. It’s very easy to design your closet system on their website and a talented designer will help review your design and make necessary adjustments.
Once you are pleased with the design, ordering is simple and the product get shipped very fast. You might be worried about damage to the materials from shipment, but this was not an issue. They package the materials very well (you will have a lot of cardboard to recycle). In fact, EasyClosets used the the best packaging materials we have ever seen from any online order.
The material is melamine, so it’s not super durable and will get damaged if you are not careful. But at least for us, it would not be affordable to get a local cabinet designer to build and install a custom solid-wood system. And the ability to customize and move around shelves, drawers, etc., at any time was very important to us.
Some Tips & Tricks
We did make some mistakes during installation, so here are some helpful tips to help you out:
Cam Screw Installation: When installing the cam screws in the vertical panels, go SLOW! It’s best to not use a power screwdriver but if you must, put it on the slow speed and low torque setting.
Hack Your Way Correctly: At first, I used a mini hack-saw and it was very time consuming to cut the top track. You need to use the right tool! Invest in a good-quality hacksaw and some 32 TPI hacksaw blades. Other online reviewers have complained about how difficult it was to cut the track with a hacksaw, but they probably used the wrong blade. You want lots of teeth working for you every time you push back and forth!
Pick Your Screwdriver: If you do install the cam screws with a manual screwdriver, a Pozidriv bit will make your life a lot easier. The cam screws have a pozidriv slot (IKEA also uses this) and having the correct bit will help the screw stay in place. You can buy a nice 4-piece Pozidriv set that will be handy for this and future projects.
Protect Your Eyes: When sawing the track, be sure to wear protection! The Dewalt DPG54-1C series is affordable and will protect your eyes.
Keep It Level: It may seem simple, but you need a good quality level to ensure that the track is installed straight! A good quality magnetic torpedo level will ensure correct installation and is a great tool to have in your garage.
Don’t Drop The Screws: Balancing yourself on top of a ladder, holding a 72″ track, a level, and a screwdriver — somewhat difficult. Add the task of holding onto a bunch of screws and it’s really hard! The MagnoGrip Magnetic Wristband is like an extra pair of hands! Just put on the wristband and it will hold all your screws securely in place, ready for when you need them.
Start from the Top: We originally installed the cam shelves at the bottom and worked our way up, but we talked to their helpful support and they suggested installing the top cam shelf first. When we installed the top shelf first, followed by the bottom shelf, and then the other shelves, everything fit perfectly.
Don’t Forget The Double-Cam Screws: Please learn from our mistake. If you have a cam shelf at the same height on both sides of a vertical hanging panel, you need to use the double cam screws! I missed this part of the instructions and tried using the single cam screw on both sides of the vertical panel hole, causing the finish to chip off and damaging the panel. Don’t forget this tip.