How to Design a Wardrobe

When considering adding a wardrobe to your home, there are typically two choices you can make. You could either buy a ready-made one from any of the big well-known furniture retailers, or choose the more adventurous approach and design one for yourself. And since designing things yourself is always the better option, that’s what we’ll focus on in this tutorial. From building the frame to adding all the bells & whistles, we’ll walk through the key points of the process to understand how to design a wardrobe.

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FIGURE 1Finished Wardrobe

DIGITAL FILES DOWNLOAD

The digital files used in this tutorial are available for purchase in two options;

3D MODEL PACKAGE 

  • 3D models for AutoCad, SolidWorks, SketchUp & Rhino (3D DWG, STEP, SKP, 3dm, SAT)

ASSEMBLY PACKAGE 

  • Individual timber profile drawings for CNC cutting (DWG & DXF)
  • 27-page technical drawing package with full dimensions
  • All 3D models as above

Download will start automatically after payment.


DESIGN INTENT

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FIGURE 2 – General Assembly

The aim is to design a sleek looking wardrobe with plenty of storage space. The GA drawing above shows the wardrobe we will be designing. The intent is to create a contemporary wardrobe, so to achieve this effect, we’ll be using flush sliding doors, LED downlights and push-to-open hinges on the drawers.

DESIGN PRINCIPLES

The main principle here is to build the frame as one fixed unit, and then add shelves and drawers to it. We’ll start off by looking at how to build the carcass, what materials to use and how panels are fixed together. Then we’ll move onto drawers, shelving units and take a look at the lighting detail. Finally, we’ll learn about the flush sliding doors and what we need to consider when installing the runner assemblies. Below we can see an exploded view of the wardrobe highlighting some of the main areas we’re going to cover in this tutorial.

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FIGURE 3Exploded Assembly

CARCASS DESIGN

1) OVERALL DIMENSIONS

Let’s first focus on how to draw up the main frame of the wardrobe – often referred to as the carcass. As with most design projects, the first step is to measure up the space we want to install the wardrobe into. In this example, the wardrobe fits into an alcove in the wall. Once the survey is done, we’ll offset the dimensions to allow clearance for any tolerances in the existing walls. This is especially important when working on old properties where the walls never tend not to be quite level or square. It’s always necessary to leave some tolerance to work with to avoid building something that doesn’t fit. If you’re not placing your wardrobe into an alcove, then the dimensions will be decided by whatever other constraints there may be – ceiling height, corners etc.

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FIGURE 4Surveying the Space

Taking the survey dimensions shown, and allowing for a 10mm shadow gap on the sides, our carcass dimensions come out as  2330mm tall x 3015mm wide x 550mm deep. Because we are using sliding doors that require runners to be installed at the top and bottom, we need to offset these profiles by another 60mm – as we’ll discover later when looking at the door assemblies.

3) INTERNAL DIVIDING WALLS

This is the part where you can get creative. Once we know the outer dimensions, the next question is how to divide the space inside the wardrobe. And the answer is – pretty much any way we like. Well, almost. If using standard doors then hinges need to be installed at certain intervals – depending on door width. But as our sliding doors haven’t got hinges we’ve got more flexibility to play with. So we can divide the space equally, or have wider sections for hanging winter clothes, compartments for sports equipment, custom shoe racks, glass drawers for our watch collection, space for hanging tuxedos or bikinis or shelves to proudly display our turtleneck collection. Or all of the above.

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FIGURE 5Carcass Assembly

Here we’ve divided the wardrobe right down the middle – where the two sliding doors meet. The Left-hand side is then divided into two unequal spaces; a wider section for long hanging and a narrower section for short hanging – with shelving to be added on the bottom. The right-hand side will have space for more short hanging, eight drawer units and a column of shoe shelves. At the top we’ll also be adding more shelving running across the wardrobe – because is there even such thing as too much storage space?

BUILDING THE CARCASS

1) MATERIALS

Now that we have an idea what we want to build, let’s look at how we can build it. The profiles used for carcass frame are 25mm thick profiles. These can be from veneered MDF sheet or melamine board. There’s also veneered chipboard, but the MDF version is much nicer to work with. The back panels can be thinner – 12mm thick in this case. and the drawers are cut from 16mm sheet. Veneered panels come in a wide range of finishes and are usually available at your local timber merchant, so it should be relatively easy to source the finish you’re looking for.

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FIGURE 6Exploded Carcass Assembly

The panels can be purchased with finished edge banding which means no rough edges will be left visible. So it’s worth doing bit of research and finding a supplier that can provide both CNC cutting service and in-house edge banding. Or, if you’re feeling brave enough, the banding can be done by yourself. Watching this tutorial will point you towards the right direction on how to get started. The required panels to make up the carcass can be seen in the above exploded visual. Cutting the panels can be outsourced to be CNC cut for the most accurate finish, or they can be cut with a good old Mr. circular saw. Although this can be tricky if you haven’t cut veneered panels before, as the veneer tends to crack easily. We discussed CNC-cutting in our previous post, so make sure to check it out if you haven’t already.

2) WOODEN DOWELS

These profiles could be fixed together in number of few different ways – but we’re only going to focus on one method here. And that is using timber dowels. So how does it all work? First, we need to drill aligning holes on the inside faces two profiles we want to fix together, add a bit of wood glue, insert the dowels into the holes and then push the profiles together. Simple, yet effective. The tricky bit is to get the holes line up perfectly, so if drilling by hand then using a hole jig is the answer. Also making sure the holes are drilled square to the face – to avoid slanted dowels that only create more headaches later during assembly.

Size of the dowel depends on the thickness of the material, and a good rule of thumb is to always use dowels that have a diameter less than half of the profile thickness. Always remember to check the recommended hole size for the dowels you’ve chosen – as sizes do vary. You should be using the same size drill bit as the dowel diameter for a snug fit. The hole needs to be half the length of the dowel – plus a little extra for the glue. The dowels used here are ∅8mm x 30mm so the hole size comes out as ∅8mm by 16mm deep on both joining panels – as shown below.

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FIGURE 7Dowel Detail

DRAWER ASSEMBLY

These drawers are made from 16mm profiles and use push-to-open drawer runners. In other words, there is no need for handles. The drawer runners used in this example are called Quadro With P2O. There are plenty of drawer runner options on the market to choose from – and this decision will effect the configuration of the drawer assembly. Therefore, before working out the final dimensions, you should already have an idea on which runners to use.

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FIGURE 8Drawer Detail

If we look at the visual above and the manufacturers drawing below, we can see that these runners fix onto the bottom profile of the drawer – which is offset from the bottom face of the side profiles. So when you pull out the drawer, the runners remain hidden. It’s a clever way to give your wardrobe a nice contemporary feel. The fixing plate part of the of the runners screw onto the carcass profiles. These require some setting out, mainly drilling in pilot holes to mark the screw centres. As mentioned earlier, it’s usually best to use a hole jig for the locations. Measuring each hole by hand can be inaccurate and easily lead to misalignment of the drawers.

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FIGURE 9Drawer Runner Reference (SOURCE)

To figure out the dimensions for the drawer assembly, we first need to scratch our heads a bit and do some calculations. One thing to keep in mind is that a tolerance between each drawer is needed – this is usually around 2 to 4 mm. So when planning the drawer dimensions, these gaps need to be included when dividing the available space equally. The section detail shown below demonstrates how the dimensions were calculated in this example. A total clearance of 794mm minus five times 2mm gap means we have a height of 784mm to be divided equally into four drawers. This comes out as 196mm – which will be the drawer front panel height. Equally, we want to have the same 2mm gap on the sides of the drawer too.

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FIGURE 10Drawer Assembly Section Detail

SHELVING & LIGHTING

All shelving used in this wardrobe are from the same 25mm sheet as the carcass. The profiles are cut to give a snug fit (0.5 mm tolerance on either side), and held in place with hidden plug in shelf supports. This also means that the shelves will be removable. These pins are inserted into holes in the carcass profile leaving part of the pin sticking out. This ‘sticking out bit’ then goes into a rebate in the shelving profile, leaving the pin largely hidden. Again, these holes can either be drilled with a jig, or if you’re having everything CNC cut then these can be routed in by the machine.

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FIGURE 11Shelf Support Detail

In order to add some LED lighting, we need to modify the shelf profile a little bit. First, the LED strip housing needs to be rebated into the profile so that it sits nice and flush.  Therefore the size of the routed slot depends on the housing profile you’re going to use. The LED housing used in this example has the light angled at 45 degrees. We want to light the inside of the shelf compartment and not have glare coming outside of it. Having an angled light is a good way to direct the light where we want it. Another common solution is to cut the slot in the panel at an angle.

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FIGURE 12LED Recess Detail

Obviously, all lighting will need power. Meaning that the cable has to run from the LED into the driver which is then connects to a power source. One way to do this is to route a recess on the side of the shelf profile – as shown above. The cable will tuck in nicely and remain completely hidden. A small hole can be drilled to the back panel to feed the cable through. All the electrics should be neatly connected behind the wardrobe with no cables left visible – because there’s nothing more bodgy than messy cabling.

FLUSH SLIDING DOORS

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FIGURE 13Open Door Positions

Now, onto the best feature of this wardrobe – the flush sliding doors. The problem with regular sliding doors is that they run offset from each other, meaning there will always remain a gap between the front faces. Which, let’s be honest, just doesn’t look that great. Whereas when closing the flush sliding doors the doors remain flush. This gives the wardrobe a much more contemporary and smarter look. Obviously the trade-off is that they cost more money, but still worth the investment if that’s the look you’re trying to achieve.

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FIGURE 14Plan View of Top Runners

So how do these sliding doors actually work? If we look at the above visual, we can see that the runners allow the door to extend outwards and then to slide on top of the other door. To make this happen, runners need to be installed to both bottom and top of the carcass. Instead of me explaining how the assembly works, you can watch the tutorial from the manufacturer below. It all might seem a bit overly-complicated at first, but once you’ve wrapped your head around the manual, it starts to make a lot more sense. 

Another great tool to help us understand this assembly better, is to look at a section detail shown below. Now we can see why the top and bottom profiles of the carcass have to be offset – to allow a clearance for the runners. One thing to keep in mind though is that he top of the wardrobe not only requires a 60mm offset to fix the assembly, but also a minimum of 130mm clearance from the ceiling. So always check the required clearances for the type of runners you’re planning to use before drawing up the carcass.

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FIGURE 14Sliding Doors Section Detail (SOURCE)

CONCLUSION

When designing a wardrobe, just remember that there is really no right or wrong way to design it. You could put five carpenters (or designers) in a room and ask them for the best way to build it, and you would have at least seven different answers. As long as you’re happy with the end result – and it doesn’t all come crumbling down – then it’s all good. Here we’ve looked at one way to tackle this project, but there are plenty of other approaches to it.

The beauty of designing things yourself is that you can build it any size or shape you want, and to suit whatever your personal preferences are. There are of course some design decisions that depend on the type of fixings and fittings used – as we’ve learnt here today. So it can sometimes feel like a catch 22 trying to figure out which fittings to use while trying to confirm final dimensions. It’s always a good idea to create a checklist of items you want to consider (like this article from Houzz). Then once you know the outside dimensions and how you’re going to divide the space, you can start talking to suppliers about different types of fittings and go from there. If you’re modelling your wardrobe in 3D design software, then I would recommend checking out the free CAD databases from HÄFELE and HETTICH. Also don’t forget to check out our Pinterest page for more wardrobe inspiration!

FURTHER READING

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