So you think you want to install Elfa closet systems?

Recently a friend planning an Elfa closet system asked if I had any tips, since he knew I’d built three Elfa closets after our big hardware flooring project this summer. Do I ever! The Elfa system has worked out really well for us, but I do have a few tips about designing, purchasing, and building an Elfa system.

First, it’s largely a waste of time to go through their online design process, as the guy on the other end will invariably make a dozen stupid mistakes (switching around numbers, misunderstanding your requests, etc.) that will take you a while to discover and correct. However, it’s worthwhile to fill out the form a few times, just to make sure you have all the necessary measurements and are clear on which measurement is which, and also to make sure you have measured out how much hanging space of each length (shirt, pants, dress) that you need. You might even measure your longest shirts, pants, and dresses just to be sure that their norms make sense for you. V and I are both tall, so we disagreed with some of the defaults.

So, go to the store (we went to Container Store) and do the design in person–that’s how they fill out your order, anyway, and you can lean over their shoulder and make tweaks. While they’re doing it, keep an eye out for wasted space–we were able to add four inches here and there, squeeze in way more shelves closer together for shoes, and so on. For example, our master bedroom closet goes up a ridiculous 8′, and we’re both tall, so we had them move the double closet rods about a foot higher than they thought was reasonable, and then we put TWO rows of 12″ shelves all the way across the bottom for three rows (one on the floor, two on the shelves) of shoes. Above the closet rods we have two and three rows of shelves for wicked-hard-to-reach storage of out of season clothes, fat pants and skinny pants, etc. They weren’t willing to think of these things because they’re inconvenient, but for us it was important to cram every list smidgin of storage into all three of our closets. We even have one hanging rod that is intentionally too long–it sticks out the side and runs to the wall, because the closest-fit Elfa framing was that many inches narrower than the space. It bought us hanging space for 15 more of Victoria’s dresses. It might look weird to the Container Store people, but in our closet it makes perfect sense.

Second, choose between chrome or white. Ignore all the other choices (wood types, etc.) because they’re just extra pieces that they charge you extra for that you slap on as the very last step, and it’s a pretty bogus way to run up costs for no extra value whatsoever. Choose a basic color, build your whole system, and if you still care, go back and get the decorative bits.

Third, they’ll sell you a whole bunch of little bits that you don’t need, like closet-rod ends, shelf bracket covers, and so forth. Again, skip them and go back later if it turns out you care. Also note that for drawer stacks, they have lots of options, and they’ll start by trying to sell you the most expensive kind, which you don’t need. You also might not want top-covers

Fourth, before you leave the store, count every last doodad. We had to make three trips back to the store during our installation to get the pieces they’d forgotten to pack. They were nice about taking us at our word, but it was a royal pain that we did NOT need while building.

Fifth, if you have any trouble at all sinking the screws/bolts into your wall, run (don’t walk) to your nearest Home Depot and buy (a) a screw gun (the best $80 I’ve ever spent) and (b) some boxes of drywall screws at 1/4″ lengths from 1-1/4″ to 2″. Get the HD guys to show you how to use the depth-adjusting choke collar thingy–it’s a little weird but very handy. Our contractor friend George assured me that the drywall screws are plenty strong for the situation, and believe me, they were way easier to get into the wall. I started with the default hardware where I could, then used 2″ screws where I couldn’t, and if those didn’t work, I used progressively shorter screws until I could get one all the way in. Depending on what’s going on behind your drywall, these are likely to work a lot better than the default hardware, and I ended up using a big old mix of fasteners in different places.

Sixth, make sure you have a long level–say 30″ minimum. Mark where you think the hanging brackets should be, then use that long level to make sure that height is going to work all the way across the closet. Closets tend to be way crookeder than you expect. Don’t get hung up on the height that the Elfa design recommends–it might make sense to hang your system as high as possible, as it did for us. Now, attach the first bracket by sinking the first screw through it, and use the level to hold the bracket in place and sink the next screw. This step requires a helper for the longer brackets, which are heavy. Now you’re done with the level until you sink the rest of the screws and are ready for the next bracket. This way is much easier than trying to make and understand pencil marks with any precision.

The rest is pretty straightforward–as long as you’re not missing any pieces!

Oh! And while you’re at Home Depot, get a small tub of joint compound and an assortment of putty knives from 1-1/2″ wide to about 6″ or more inches wide (in the drywall department). When you demolish your old closet fittings and when you make mistakes on the Elfa installation, you’ll get holes in the drywall. You’ll quickly swipe a generous lump of joint compound with the smallest logical putty knife into the gouge, then use the largest putty knife to smooth it out. If you end up with any massive holes (like I did a few times because I was using the pry bar wrong), then crumple newspaper into the hole first, and then use the joint compound. Don’t worry about bits of newspaper sticking out of the compound–they’ll sand off easily when dry. If your closet walls are white, you might not even care about painting over the joint compound zones. –Erin