A salesperson helped me design an Elfa system (on sale!) for my strangely-shaped, shallow closet. We spent roughly an hour planning, and the installation took me just about double that time. While my advice won't apply to something like Ikea's Stolmen or Pax (except for tip 5), here's what I learned when I turned a heap of boxes into an assembled closet system.
1. Lay out your components in the order the manufacturer's directions suggest you assemble them. Browsing the steps will make you more confident, but it also will work out fine just to group like pieces with like.
2. Grab a friend. Many closet systems rely on a main bar that runs parallel to the ceiling and that is screwed into wall studs or plastic anchors. When I installed my own system, it was pretty much a miracle that I managed to do this step by myself. Standing on a ladder and juggling your tools and a long piece of metal — and then attaching that metal bar levelly to your wall — is not easy and not advisable. If applicable, use a finder to locate your studs in the wall. Have one or two other people hold the metal bar in place while you mark your spots for drilling and then again when you are ready to screw the bar to the wall.
3. After that main horizontal piece, the next ones will be long vertical bars. The company's directions should tell you how far from the ends and one another these bars should be to accommodate shelves and drawers. With a system such as Closetmaid you'll need to screw these bars into the wall; with Elfa you won't.
4. At this point, the directions diverge for the type and design of the system you've chosen. Shelves and drawers will require brackets that click into vertical bars you just installed. Drawers in a system such as Elfa require extra pieces that can be a little difficult to get in place — you have hit them fairly hard, and you might want to wear gloves. Certain Elfa pieces also have directional arrows that you need to look for.
5. Take your time. All in all, I found installing my closet system to be about the same difficulty as assembling Ikea furniture — but the manufacturer's directions included words. I found myself frustrated at points where I really had to hit something to click it into place or when I hadn't really read the directions. Don't rush these steps, and don't forget to take breaks.
MORE CLOSET ORGANIZATION ON APARTMENT THERAPY
• Budget Basics: Cheap Closet Systems
• Best Closet Systems
• 20 Ways to Organize Your Bedroom Closet
• Fresh Start: Small Closet Updates that Make a Big Difference
• Simple Tips for an Ultra Organized Closet
Image: Kim Rinehimer