Moving Home N°3: A DIY “Walk-In” Wardrobe

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Being a renter has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you’re flexible and have minimal responsibility: when the roof leaks, you can get on the phone with the owner and it becomes his problem. On the downside though, is the fact that a rental apartment rarely covers ever single item on your list and therefore requires a fair degree of personalisation. As this can vary enormously depending on the condition of your apartment and your personal needs, it always comes to the fine balance between investment (how much you can and want to invest money and time wise) and returns (how much quality and peace of mind this will afford you). As a serial renter for the past 14 years, I’ve lived in all sorts of arrangements: from a single bedroom in a shared flat, to sleeping in someone’s living room, to my current home with my partner. And each has always called for some sort of customisation to make it feel and function as my space.

As we toured the flat that would (thank God!) become our current home, I was already making mental notes of things to change and adapt: so we were very lucky that our landlord chose us — I would've been quite sorry if we didn't get this apartment. It is a beautiful space: very open, bright and with a wonderful sense of serenity. The living spaces all flow into one another and the bedrooms and bathroom go off on either side. What our apartment doesn't have however, is very much built-in storage in the form of cupboards. Since we didn't want to have too many of these crowding our bedroom and the guestroom, I wanted to come up with something different, yet practical for to store our clothes. My cupboard is sort of discreetly tucked away in the guestroom but F didn't really have anything that worked well for his things.

We have a strange little in-between room that’s stuck in the middle of the guest room and our single bathroom. It’s quite small - barely 6 sq m ( 64.5 sq ft) but still has three doors on three sides. Since it has no windows, its’s darkish during the day — a funny in-between space with one more odd feature: the far wall has a little protrusion jutting in. Thus the challenge: what to do with this eccentric room? I say, we make into a sort of walk-in closet!

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My idea was fairly simple: use the niches on the far side of this space to create a closet for F . I wanted to use the deeper part for hanging and the shallower part for shelving and drawers. Instead of traditional doors, we'd use a curtain and install track lighting to minimise using floor space. Here's a sketch of the basic idea:

Since we were doing this ourselves and were looking for a cost-effective solution, we decided to try and find everything we needed through Ikea and, if need be, home stores. I had a fairly good idea of what I was looking for and spending some time on the Ikea website and walking around the store gave me a good idea of what we could use. We decided on the Elvarli system for the shelving part, which has two different types of components: either free-standing or supported on floor-to-ceiling supports, like in a clothing store.

We chose the latter and used the great online configurator that Ikea has to play around and decide what elements we needed in advance. We picked one column with 3 levels of shelves, 2 of drawers and 2 of shoes racks. Since the elements have a fixed width (but the vertical supporting columns can be adjusted to different ceiling heights), we did have a little wasted space left over. But since it wasn’t a significant amount (about 20 cm), the benefits of using this system out-weighed the minuses.

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Here’s a list of the shelving elements we used:

1. Mulig clothes bar x 2
2. Elvarli posts x 2
3. Elvarli shelves in bamboo x 3 (+ runners for each shelf)
4. Elvarli drawers x 2 (+ 2 runners and 1 separate inset for each drawer)
5. Elvarli shoe shelves x 2

For the track lighting, we picked the sleek 5 spot Bave LED ceiling track. This was the first time that I’d considered track lighting or even overhead light sources since I find them almost always too harsh — but in this case it works perfectly — we have lighting that’s indirect and, best of all, can be focused wherever we need it. The Bave is a slightly more expensive piece, but they have other options that are more reasonable and yet quite discreet.

Here's the space with the shelves, racks, curtain rail (and lighting that's hidden) built in:

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I spent some time trying to decide what sort of curtains would work best in this space: since one entire “wall” in this little room was going to be fabric, I wanted something both tactile and dramatic, that was a piece of art as well as a practical cover. Initially I thought thick velvet drapes in a rich colour would’ve been the thing, but as I explored more what seemed more interesting and fitting was a more lush print, something with the intimation of a jungle: rich, dense and multi-layered. Since the length we needed was non-standard, we were going to have to buy fabric and have the curtains tailored, and we needed quite a bit of fabric, so I wasn’t keen on anything that was too pricey per metre. I decided to stop by Marimekko and see what they had and there it was, the print (1) we’d been dreaming about: lush, fantastical and luminous. It made me think of some fabulous jungle (without insects and other creepy crawlies!) in a warm, humid climate where giant flowers bloom in fantastical colours and friendly animals chatter away in the trees. The fabric that we selected comes in two finishes (cotton and linen) and three colourways: we picked the darkest. At 43€ per metre it isn't cheap — but still affordable, especially considering the fabrics are printed at their factory in Helsinki. (You can peek into this space and see the curtain through the living spaces and this stunning print always intrigues guests!) Did I regret picking a dark colour for an already dark space? No — because I don't think any fabric or print could've made this space feel brighter (except maybe something reflective!) and I feel the dark colours with the pop of bright actually make the space feel more cosy. Marimekko in Frankfurt also offers a sewing service, which saved us a lot of trouble trying to arrange this ourselves and we had our curtains in a couple of days, thanks to lovely Ms. Phuong who finished them for us.

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We installed the curtains onto the ceiling rather than on a rod attached to either wall: another first for me. We used Ikea's Vidga curtain system which has different elements that you can put together to create a customised solution: we picked two single rails (2) (and hand-sawed one to the length we needed), two ceiling brackets (3) and one pair of curtain gliders with hooks (4). (You could also simply use a  regular curtain rod for this.)

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All in all, this project took the better part of a weekend with the shopping, building and installing. It’s not the perfect customised solution, but works well in this context since it covers all of F’s needs, looks lovely and cost a lot less than something customised would have.

Here are a few things I learnt from this process:

1. Make sure you know exactly what your needs are: how much do you want to store, how do you want to store it (shelves, boxes, hangers) and how regularly will you be using each piece.

2. Check whether your initial ideas are the best way to go or whether the nice folks at Ikea or the home improvement store have something better in mind.

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create something new — the results are always worth the work!

If you have any questions regarding this process, please get in touch via the comments. Happy DIY-ing!

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Images: Vatsala Murthy

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