4 New Uses For the Tiny Clothing Closets in Your Old Home

By: Elaine Vitone , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

Hello, all. My name is Elaine Vitone, and I’m the winner of last month’s blogger contest. Very first, I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who voted for me. Thanks to you, I was offered a contributing-writer gig for OHW, which I was thrilled to accept. Really looking forward to getting to know my fellow old-home enthusiasts a little better here on the Old House Blog.

Better Half and I live in a 1921 Victorian fixer-upper we affectionately call The DIY Mess. Much as we love it here, we’ve been frustrated by our impossibly tiny clothing closets. Our biggest one measures a measly 14” deep. Each has two hanging rods that run front-to-back, with room to hold, say, a couple of housedresses and a couple of church dresses. Period. A single shelf near the top barely accommodates enough pairs of shoes to count on one hand (shudder).

No ma’am. Not gonna fly for this 21st century gal.

It’s a common problem in old homes. If you’re lucky, you can find a spot elsewhere in your house to carve out a new storage area, like the space Mark Clement uncovered during demo work last month (kudos, Mark!). Still, the question remains: What do you do with your original, old-school miniclosets? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Rip it out and start over.

Yes, it’s messy—a hole straight through the ceiling, a nasty shower of coal dust—but it frees you up to reshape the space for your needs. For example, in my office, we ripped out the old closet that was to the right of the fireplace, and installed custom bookshelves in its place. We then added a second set of shelves on the other side of the fireplace to balance it out.


2) Ditch the hanging rods and install more shelves.

These shallow little spaces make great linen closets. Here’s the before and after of our formerly useless guest room closet, which we updated last weekend. (No more big box of bedding cluttering up our floor! Hooray!)

3) Make a mini utility closet.

On the back wall, mount a mop/broom hanger, a fold-out ironing board, or a pegboard to hold up your recycling bins, like in this Martha Stewart article. (For more nifty ways to use pegboard, check out this Apartment Therapy post.)

And finally, my favorite comes from Heidi Kenney, a.k.a. My Paper Crane (via this Design Sponge post):

4) Turn it into a display case.

Heidi removed her closet’s door, wallpapered the back, installed shelves all the way up, and turned her tiny, oddly shaped old closet into something to be proud of. Props, Heidi!

And what, dear readers, would you add to this list?

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  1. 18 Responses  to “4 New Uses For the Tiny Clothing Closets in Your Old Home”

  2. Cindy
    Aug 29, 2011
    Thanks for your ideas. I am in the process of converting a storage closet in my dining room into a beautiful display case. The closet is 33 inches wide by 16 inches deep and 6 feet tall. What I want to do is install tempered glass shelves from top to bottom and replace the wooden door with a beautiful clear tempered glass door. I have already installed a down light. My quandry is what kind of shelf support system to use. Wooden side supports running the entire depth of the closet, or modern, high tech metal cantilevered ones. Anyone have a recomendation?
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    Elaine I live in an old house and believe it or not there are no closets at all in any of our bedrooms. So at this minute I would appreciate the small closets you had. I guess whoever built this house lived out of boxes on the floor. LOL
  4. Aug 29, 2011
    Chuck, the wine/spirits storage room is a brilliant idea!
  5. Aug 29, 2011
    Great adaptations of old closets! If they are truly not needed for clothes, closet pros can serve up ideas on how to store nearly anything. I changed a coat closet into a wine/spirits storage room and converted a reach-in closet to a craft center. Ask and you shall receive!Closet Tailors of SW Florida
  6. Mary Gayle
    Aug 29, 2011
    We've never had tiny closets, but have done wonderful things with closets in general. My sewing room is actually a closet (it's been moved twice from other rooms in the past 25 years. Double doors opening outward close off clutter nicely; right now this closet is in the grandbaby room. Doors require too much strength for a toddler to pull open. In the official guest room, we've hidden the treadmill (so well we've forgotten it's there); it folds, and double doors allow for mirrors to give side views (ugh). Small TV and components fit on shelves. Our house had 19 closets to begin with; so it's never been a sacrifice to repurpose one. I almost forgot to mention we've added built-ins in one of the MBR closets for the sitting area's TV watching.
  7. Aug 29, 2011
    DiggersList: Brilliant! And here's a photo of a closet-turned-desk area that's been prettied up with a little curtain. Love it, love it, love it. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/la/look/converting-a-closet-into-an-office-078942
  8. Aug 29, 2011
    Great ideas! I really like the display case idea a lot...cuz it adds a lot to the character of the room. My house had a useless closet in the hallway, and we actually turned it into a little half-desk - great for a house phone, a radio, family calendars, etc. What was once useless now has a lot of use!
  9. Elaine
    Aug 29, 2011
    Thanks, James! Yeah, lately I'm feeling the urge to hang pegboard just about everywhere. Darn useful, that stuff.
  10. James
    Aug 29, 2011
    Pegboards are handy, I have a few up but I never thought of putting some recycling bins up there, usually just keep them in the garage. Good idea for decoration, can make your room more retro looking.
  11. Elaine
    Aug 29, 2011
    Moss: Good point. Recycling can be kinda stinky, too. Not so conducive to shuteye. Katy: Totally agree with what you were saying yesterday: A hallway closet could be a good place for a mini office. Oh, I feel a sequel post coming on.... Carolyn: Clearly, you've never seen my foyer. It's a disaster! Jeff: MURPHY BED! I love it! These old closets might be too small for that, though. Wonder if they make mini murphy beds for pets. Hmm.... If I revisit this topic, I'll definitely investigate.