Thursday, August 16, 2012

Designing Custom Closets using the IKEA Pax System

Let's face it, closets are a big deal.  While many people buy houses based on kitchens and bathrooms, a beautiful closet can really seal the deal for a buyer.     In today's market, most builders deal with closets by allocating a small room off the master bedroom and outfitting it with some wire shelving and carpet.  In older homes, spacious closets are simply non-existent.  The question then becomes how one can get more closet space without re-doing their entire floor plan.  One system that has yielded alot of success for us is the PAX system from IKEA.

Now for those of you who know my work, you have seen what is possible from IKEA in the kitchen (see  You may not be as familiar with IKEA in the bedroom.  I have always liked IKEA for their modern sensibilities and environmental consciousness.  I also like the idea that I am in control of the product from selection to assembly.  That being said, I have found ways to use simple PAX wardrobe units and make them look custom.  These solutions can be applied in both 'new build' applications as well as existing homes.  If executed properly, I think you will find that the PAX system can look every bit as custom as some of the pricier options.

1- The Product

The PAX closet is just a box with doors.  You choose the size of the box.  You choose the types of doors.  It's really that simple.  At the showroom, they have practically every configuration of sizes, colors, door styles, hardware, and interior fittings to show you the endless combinations possible.  The frames come in several colors including white, black-brown, and beech laminates.  The doors are available in either swinging or sliding configurations, depending on how much you want to spend.  The sliding doors are more expensive and have a sleeker look.  Once you have your configuration selected, it's time to customize it.

2- Customization

IKEA sells a range of accessories for the pax system including internal drawers  (I happen to love these) shoe organizers, shelves, trays, and garment hangers for practically every application.  You have to be careful about these additions because some of them look a little cheap.  The shoe organizer for example has plastic shoe trees that look very inexpensive.  Perhaps they will come out with some slide out wood shoe shelves in the future, but for now you have to really consider which accessories you need and which you can live without.   I tend to keep it simple using shelves and drawers as needed.  I try to maximize rod space by double stacking them where possible.  The bedroom below features a shelf, a rod, and two drawers on each side.

3- What the pros know

When people spend alot of money on custom closets, the closet planner usually takes the existing space and fills it with a variety of parts and pieces to make it all seem custom.  Since IKEA only offers a few different widths and heights, most people have to install the closets against a wall where the sides of the closets are exposed.  This makes the unit look like an afterthought.  In our work, we always try to build small nib walls that enclose the closet to create this 'built-in' look.  In some cases, we will even put headers over the nib walls to completely wrap the units.  This is the key to elevating the unit to something that looks custom. Below is an image of a project where we built the units into niches that were sized exactly on all sides:

4- Installing PAX in existing homes

If you want a custom look in an existing home, it's really not that difficult. The key is to pick a corner where there are no windows and then build one nib wall to match the width of the units you need.  If you want to put one into an existing closet, simply take the door and casing off and then either enlarge or reduce the rough opening of the door space to allow your new PAX to slide in. Most closets are 24" deep plus the depth of the wall (typically 5").  This will give you plenty of room to recess your PAX into the existing closet opening.

5- Negative Aspects

There are a couple of drawbacks to the PAX units.  The first is the sheer size of the cases.  Putting them together yourself can be a daunting task if you are  inexperienced with the units.  If you are not handy, you definitely need two people to turn the units upright without breaking it.  

The other negative is the changing door styles.  Similar to the kitchen cabinets, they often discontinue lines.  You used to be able to get full size glass sliders but they stopped selling them due to high breakage factors and increased packing and shipping costs.  Now they have lesser glass doors that you have to piece together.   Below is a door style that is no longer offered:

Summary - 

IKEA definitely has the tools to allow you to create something great.  Just remember to have help and buy all your parts at once.  With a little planning you can create a very high end installation at a do it yourself price.