A DIY Linen Closet For the Non-DIY Person

In many ways, the house my boyfriend Nate and I bought in May is perfect. When Nate’s grandma gifted us $10,000 to help with the down payment, she made sure we knew she’d rather her money be put towards funding our wedding. But my feeling is the house is a way bigger deal than tying the knot. We haven’t contractually promised ourselves to each other in sickness and in health, sure, but we have financially committed to spend every weekend together working on home improvement projects until our backs give out.

First on our DIY agenda: A linen closet.

Nate captained this linen closet building adventure, as I imagine he’ll captain the bulk of our DIY projects. He is one of those people who just intrinsically knows how to build and fix stuff without reading directions or anyone showing him how. It’s annoying, or it would be if I didn’t directly benefit from it. But I was a dutiful assistant and a careful observer and recorded what went down.

Here’s what you need:

– wood boards of various sizes (Home Depot; let’s say $70 altogether)

– paint primer (Home Depot; $7/64/quart)

– paint (the previous owners left buckets in the basement so $0!)

– spackling (Home Depot; $3.98/8oz. bottle)

– nails, assorted (Nate just had these for some reason? $0 )

– tools, various (borrow from your dad or a friend; $0 upfront but you’ll probably have to take them out for at least beers)

– Trader Joe’s gorgonzola crackers (Trader Joe’s; $2.29/box)

– a house with an empty closet space (Redfin; prices vary depending on market)

– a life partner who knows how to build a linen closet

Step 1: First, we decided on how many shelves we wanted. I picked four shelves, each 11 inches deep and 14 inches apart. (The one thing I can do is dictate how I want everything to look.) I also wanted extra room between the bottom shelf and the floor for piling luggage. Prior to measuring with a tape measurer, I stood in front of the shelf-less closet and talked about all the things I could put in it for about 20 minutes.

Step 2: Nate put his iPod headphones in.

Step 3: The third step is to stop babbling and cut up all the boards to your desired measured sizes. Nate found a used work bench from a place called Urban Ore in Berkeley ($50) and did this part at home. If you don’t have a found work bench from Urban Ore, maybe ask someone at Home Depot to do it for you.

Step 4: We decided we wanted our boards to match the door frame, so the fourth step was to prime the measured boards and then paint them. This was my job. Nate helped.

Step 5: The fifth step is to put in all the pieces of wood that will hold the shelves up in the closet. This requires a hammer, nails, a spirit level, and your tape measurer from Step 1. My guess is this may also require a stud finder. You put all the pieces together in a specific order.

Bonus Step: Before starting Step 5, we realized the lone shelf already in the closet was hugely crooked. Nate decided to remove it and then reinstall it so any visitors poking around wouldn’t think he didn’t know how to level a board.

When pulling out said crooked shelf, the walls also came with it. We were left with two huge, unexpected holes. At this point in the project, I stopped pretending like I was helping and officially bowed out. This was too much.

Nate was unfazed. He filled the holes with spackle and then sanded and then painted over them. Now you can’t tell there were ever any holes at all. It’s like magic!

We then realized that while the original shelf was indeed crooked, it only looked super bad because the closet’s door frame is crooked, too. We remembered that our house is 120 years old and has survived two major California earthquakes. There’s nothing we can do to change time and space and history, so problem ignored!

Step 6: The final step is to set your shelves on top of their little placeholder things and nail them in place. I watched Nate do this while I ate Trader Joe’s gorgonzola crackers straight from the box. I shared.

Next time: We learn to replace our rotting floorboards by watching Youtube videos! 


Rebecca Pederson is a writer living in Oakland.



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