Repurposing a Freestanding Mirrorred Wardrobe as a Built-In Closet

Updated on August 17, 2016
9 foot mirrored wardrobe downsized to fit 5.5 foot space.
9 foot mirrored wardrobe downsized to fit 5.5 foot space.

Original Built-in Wardrobe

Functional but not mirrored
Functional but not mirrored

A Desire for Mirrored Doors

When we bought the house, there were already fitted wardrobes in the main bedroom that spanned across the unused fireplace and alcove. The built-in wardrobes were a simple construction design of a solid timber frame with veneered chipboard for doors.

The cupboard in front of the fireplace jutted out just a foot so was too shallow for a wardrobe, and instead was used for general storage, including a place to keep the ironing board. The section of the fitted wardrobe in front of the alcove went back the full two foot depth, and therefore was utilised as the actual wardrobe itself.

Rather than rip it out and build my own built-in units, or replace it with freestanding furniture, we kept what was there because it was functional, especially with the built-in wall cupboards above.

Albeit, I’d always fancied mirrored doors, so at the back of my mind I had the desire to someday buy some made-to-measure mirrors to fit to the doors.

Mirrored Doors in the Offing

A close friend of mine recently moved into his new home to discover that the previous owner had left behind a freestanding wardrobe. It had four mirrored and two wooden doors.

Before taking it down the dump, he offered it to me, and on seeing the potential I snapped it up. It wasn’t solid wood, only chipboard, but it was veneered in walnut with a lacquer finish, so it was a quality piece of furniture with the mirrored doors elevating it to something special.

Mirror Mirror on the Door

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USA vs UK Bedrooms

My understanding is that in the USA for a room to qualify as a bedroom it must have a closet.

In the UK (under Building Regulations), that isn’t a requirement. For a room to quality as a bedroom in Britain it must be suitable to fit a bed, e.g. a double bedroom if you can fit a double bed in the room, or otherwise just a single bedroom if only a single bed will fit.

Most bedrooms in Britain don’t have fitted wardrobes (let alone closets); freestanding wardrobes are the norm. However I prefer fitted (built-in) because I think they can look neater, and certainly they take up less space and or utilise the available space more efficiently.

This article is about repurposing a freestanding wardrobe into a fitted wardrobe, but the principles used in this DIY project could easily be adapted to apply to a whole manner of furniture repurposing, e.g. converting an old, cheap freestanding sideboard into a fitted built-in piece of furniture.

Increased Storage

Shelving for additional storage fitted at the back of the large cupboard, which with the new design is now 3 feet deep.
Shelving for additional storage fitted at the back of the large cupboard, which with the new design is now 3 feet deep.

Remodelling Old Furniture to Increase Storage Space and Enhance the Décor

The unit was 9 feet long, 18 inches deep and two metres (6 feet, 6 inches) high; our old fitted wardrobe was 5 feet, 6 inches long, 1 foot deep and full height from floor to ceiling (8 feet). Each of the six doors on the freestanding wardrobe is about 18 inches wide, whereas each of the doors on our old built-in unit was only about 16 inches wide.

Therefore, I couldn’t just dismantle the old one and stick the new one in its place because the new unit was just too big for the space, and I couldn’t just replace the doors because they’re different sizes.

In order to achieve my goal for a built-in mirrored fronted wardrobe, I would need to completely dismantle both units and recycle the wood and doors from the new one to construct a fitted unit with mirrored doors. And in doing this I would have enough raw materials left over to make a matching bedside shelf to replace the old bedside shelving.

The choices facing me were to either replace like for like by cutting the new wardrobe into the redundant fireplace so that it came out the same distance as the old one, e.g. 1 foot in front of the fireplace and 2 feet in the alcove, or using the full depth of the unit so that it comes out 18 inches from the fireplace and 2 feet, 6 inches in the alcove.

I chose the latter option because although it would come out six inches further into the bedroom, it would allow the space in front of the old fireplace to become the wardrobe, with the space in front of the alcove becoming a large storage cupboard with shelving at the back. And of course, the lacquered walnut veneer finish with full mirrored doors is aesthetically pleasing, greatly enhancing the décor of the bedroom.

Because the new unit was much longer than the space available, and because the mirrored doors are of a fixed width, I had more doors than I needed for the conversion but had to work with the constraint of the fixed width of the mirrored doors. However, lining two mirrored doors up to the edge of the fireplace on one side conveniently left me with six inches of wall in front of the fireplace by the bed, which was just the ideal depth for the bedside shelving I wanted to build.

That then left me with a gap in front of the alcove on the other side of the fireplace big enough to fit one mirrored door with a foot to spare. As I can’t cut a mirrored door down to size, I cut six inches off the width of one of the wood doors make a smaller door at the end.

Alternately I could have fitted all four mirrored doors snugly in the available space, but I didn’t because that would have meant losing the shelf space next to the bed.

Newly Modified Bedside Shelving

Recycling wood leftover from downsizing the new wardrobe to fit the space.
Recycling wood leftover from downsizing the new wardrobe to fit the space.

The Original Bedside Shelving

Functional but not as spacious or as glamorous as the new.
Functional but not as spacious or as glamorous as the new.

Bed Tray Stored Below Shelves

When not used, the bed tray fits snugly below the bottom bedside shelving.
When not used, the bed tray fits snugly below the bottom bedside shelving.

Remodelling the Bedside Shelving

The bed fits into a large alcove to one side of the old bedroom fireplace. On one side of the bedroom is a conventional bedside table, with drawers; on the other side there’s not enough space for a bedside table so simple shelving was fixed to the side of the original wardrobe.

So in downsizing the new wardrobe to fit into the available space, I recycled the surplus wood to make a matching shelf unit to attach to the side and act as the new bedside shelving.

The minimum width of the shelving unit and height of its lowest shelf was determined by the bed tray we occasionally use; we needed to leave enough space to store the bed tray when not in use. The position of the top shelf was determined by the wall cupboard above the bed, so that the top shelf wasn’t too high to cause an obstruction to the cupboard door or for the above-the-bed wall cupboard door to knock into anything on the top shelf when the cupboard door is opened. I determining the minimum height of each shelf and designed the shelving unit to accommodate paperback books to make the potential uses of the shelving unit more versatile and not just restricted to the bedside clock, drink, and other bits and pieces. To meet all these requirements within the available space, the ideal number of shelves in the unit was five, which is more than sufficient for its purpose, so that’s the design I stuck to.

As the wood was a quality lacquered walnut finish, I didn’t want to detract from the aesthetics by screwing the shelves together or using visible shelving joints, so I used my dowel jointing jig to secure the shelves to the side panels with dowel and glue. Having clamped the shelving unit together and left it overnight for the glue to set, I then firmly anchored it to the side of the newly fitted wardrobe with a couple of aluminium angles, one under the bottom shelf and the other under the top shelf, which although visible, are discrete.

Once the shelving unit was anchored to the side, I ran a bead of brown silicon sealant down the corner where to give it a neat join. To give it a professional look, I then wetted my index finger with water and quickly ran it down the whole silicone bead in one steady firm movement.

Reclaiming Wasted Space

The original wardrobe with wooden shelving in the old fireplace for additional storage.
The original wardrobe with wooden shelving in the old fireplace for additional storage.

Repurposing the Old Fireplace for Additional Shelving

Standard with all British homes built before the 2nd World War was to have an open fireplace in every room, including the bedrooms. Then from the 70s onwards with the push for homes to be insulated and the advent of double glazing and central heating, people began to block-up their fireplaces, often by just plaster boarding over the opening. However, this cuts off ventilation and causes damp. Therefore if anyone blocks up an old fireplace, they should always put a vent in the wall to allow the space to breathe and prevent damp.

The old fireplace in our bedroom wasn’t blocked up; the previous owner just constructed a built-in wardrobe in front of it. So when we moved in, as I hate wasted space (and like to utilise any space available), I cleaned out the old fireplace and made a wooden pine box with shelving to snugly fit inside to provide additional storage at the back of wardrobe, leaving a gap at the top of the box for ventilation.

I incorporated this additional storage shelving into the new design simply by making a cut-out (trimmed with beading) in the hardboard backing I used.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        TimberMaster LTD 

        23 months ago

        Very nice wardrobe & Thanks for dropping nice info..

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        23 months ago from Oklahoma

        Very cool project!

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