We Built a Dirt-Cheap Walk-In-Wardrobe

Room for shoes. Total cost $600 AUD approx.

We had just moved into the farmhouse and had to make it livable very quickly. Whole sections of the house were unusable, lacking floor coverings, broken external windows, sagging ceilings and apparently most importantly, no storage for clothes and shoes!

The farm house is over 100 years old and has been empty for a few years, however generations of previous occupants have renovated and extended in every direction so the house had grown from a two room cottage to a house that technically has four bedrooms.

Actually – I am probably being too generous using the description “bedroom” as these extensions are already most of the way fallen down, and you have to walk through each additional room to get to the next.

My plan is to lose one of these “bedrooms”, and end up with a walk-in-robe and… possibly a study space? I haven’t decided. I was also going to add a door from the walk-in-robe to the bathroom, and close the bathroom at the other end, making it into an en-suite.

“Bedroom 2” which will be converted. I’m not sure if that’s carpet or something that has just started growing while the house has been abandoned.
Mess means progress.

Build a wall.
My first step was to build a wall to split bedroom 2 into the new rooms. At this point this is the first wall I’ve built and I really don’t have the proper tools, no nail gun, no compressor and also, no real idea! Here I have used timber screws and little metal brackets to do the framing. It took much longer than it should have, but the end result was straight and strong. 
I had to use treated materials at all stages of construction as termites are such a problem in our part of the world. This increased the cost of the build, but it means everything will still be there in a few years, unlike some parts of the rest of the house.

Plan to win.
Originally, I had planned to use two sets of bookshelves that had been left in the house, but after a few hours of stuffing around, I decided that the shelves were not great quality and really limited what I was trying to do anyway. What I needed was a plan, and here it is:

The plan…

I’m going to build almost everything from scratch and can customise the depth and size to what I think are the best dimensions for the intended storage item.

Room with a view.

Let there be door.
This is the entry from the bedroom into what will be the walk in. In an effort to save space I went with an internal sliding door which I purchased from Bunnings for about $200.

This wall was the original external wall, so is load bearing and holding up the original roof. There was a small louvered window in the wall that looked into bedroom 2 and so in order to add the door, I first removed the glass and aluminum pane and then stripped the plaster from both sides of the wall so that I was just looking at the timber frame (sorry no photo of this).

I then moved the electrical wiring that was in the wall to one side (I’ll cover this in a future post), and then made some temporary struts out of timber which I used to take the load while I removed the original timber frame. Then I made up a new frame to support the structure out of two pieces of 90×45 mm timber stuck together. I originally bought a steel lintel I was going to use, but I decided I didn’t need it. The roof is corrugated iron and it doesn’t snow here so I figured I would get away just with doubled timber.

A small issue I did encounter however is that the original timber studs were 100mm wide as opposed to the 90mm studs that seems to be common now. This meant that I had a gap I needed to make up for later when adding the plaster sheeting.

If I could do it again… 
One thing I wish I did differently is fix the floor before I started construction. The floor in the future walk-in is cement slab and is about 3 inches lower that the timber floorboards of the bedroom. Pouring a new slab over the top of the old slab would not have been all that hard and would have saved me a lot of trouble in the future, but too late now I guess.

Sand and putty.
I had to fill in a window that looked into bedroom 3 in the next (and worst) addition. I just knocked out the glass, framed the window and added plaster sheeting

Applying putty to the plaster joins and sanding it back to smooth took me a little while to get right. I found I was applying too much putty initially and then would try sanding back using an electric orbital sander which inevitably would sand unevenly requiring me to add more putty. The best method I found in the end is to use a wider plaster joint knife\scraper and try and smooth the plaster flat during application, and then just use a large rectangle hand sander which gave a good, even finish.

I also have to give heaps of credit to my girlfriend who, perhaps impatient for shoe storage, jumped in and joined me in getting thoroughly coated in dust as she helped sand back the plasterboard and help prep the timber.

Dirty girl…

I ended up building the shelving out of 25mm plywood. I got really lucky when acquiring materials. A local second-hand dealer had for some reason acquired a bunch of 25mm thick 2.4m x 1.2m plywood sheets that they were selling really cheap at $15 per sheet. Here you can see I have built the floor to ceiling shoe rack (left) entirely from plywood, with a few bits of pine for structural support and finishing. The plywood being cheap needed to be sanded back a little bit, but at 25mm was really strong. I also added overhead shelving all the way around.

View from the door to the bedroom looking towards the new and external walls.
Shelf Design

I went 600mm deep for the shoe shelving which allows for two sets of shoes deep, and 600mm also let me get two shelves from each sheet of plywood. I made up a straight edge using a length of steel that I would clamp to the board and just cut along. I used cheap, foldable aluminum saw horses that I had purchased previously and they sucked. They were unstable and made everything harder than it needed to be and spending money on a decent set would have saved me a lot of time. I also had cheap clamps which could move and ruin my cut (and my day) and so to compensate I made sure to mark the line I wanted to cut along and kept an eye on the cut as I went.I also made sure the machined edge would face out each shelf, with the cut end at the back where I could hide any wonky bits.

For drawers I used our original bedroom set and built them in. They were originally an op-shop buy that I had previously stripped and stained. They are solid pine and easier to use than trying to build something from scratch.

Above the main drawers I added more open shelves for clothes and towels etc.
To the right is another single drawer and above that more open shelves that end at the door. The single drawer and shelves above are mine, everything else? that is for my girlfriend’s clothes!

Shelves are in. Laptop for audiobooks while I work

One more shot showing the layout of the room. You can see the overhead shelving that goes all around the room including above the entry to the bedroom and en-suite. You can also see all the mess.


Getting everything level was very important as nothing that was previously there was even kind of level. This includes the floor, ceiling and walls. Remember when I said I wish I had put in a new floor? yeah this is why.
The white stuff on the wood is actually plaster putty. The wood was cheap with plenty of surface imperfections and a few knot holes, and also was effective at hiding some shoddy workmanship on my part. It probably should have used actual wood filler, but the result is good and I am happy with it anyway.

I had a lot of trouble with the ceiling which just wasn’t level at all, and knew that when I added a whole bunch of level shelves to the room it will really stand out. To combat this, I used timber cornice (rather than plaster) and cut the top flat section on an angle so that decorative bottom edge was level with the shelving. I had to add a bit of gap filler to get it all right, but it actually worked really well and looked great once the paint was applied.

Paint it white.
Finally, time to paint. I started by giving everything just a solid white undercoat. I had undercoat left over from a previous job so I was pretty level with the covering.

I wish I took more photos in this part. After the structure was built and the timber sanded it was time to paint. I used a semi-gloss enamel for the shelving which finished it off nicely. The walls then got painted a light gray for contrast which works really well.

Painting complete. Handles, hangers and carpet to go.

For hangers I just used steel pipe that I affixed to the timber with larger metal flanges screwed directly into the plywood. The left-hand side had double hangers for shorter items, and the right-hand side has a single, full length hanger. At this point my girlfriend could no longer wait and started putting in her shoes. Colour coded!

Carpet and keep it.
For a floor covering I used carpet which was second hand and… free. It was from quite a large house and while some bits were worn there was enough that was in pretty good shape that I was able to use.

First I had to put down smooth edge, which are strips of timber with little upwards facing nails that is installed along the walls in a room, and the carpet is then stretched and held in place. The smooth edge was actually the biggest unexpected cost, but it was worth it as the carpet turned out pretty good as shown below.  

The carpet also came with the underlay which went in first. The underlay is just cut to size so that it doesn’t cover the smooth edge, and is taped in place.

View from bedroom into walk in with underlay down. Bedroom wall has been painted, but trim along floor and around door is yet to be added which is a future project. Hole above power point is for the light switch for the walk-in-robe.

I added carpet in the bedroom the previous day, which meant this was only my second time laying carpet and while it was tricky to get it to fit around all the shelving, in the end it actually looked pretty good.

I cut the carpet with a Stanley knife, just smaller than the size of the room. I then used a carpet kicker tool which grabs the carpet and allows you to kick it with your knee to stretch it into place. Once the carpet is all stretched out and even, you use a wedge tool to push the carpet behind the smooth edge which gives you a… smooth edge.

Having the room carpeted gives the room a really cozy feel, which is great if you are so inclined to want to spend a length of time in a closet!

The finish

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