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Finding Functional Storage Space In an Awkward Linen Closet

After our bathroom renovation, we were left with a freshly drywalled closet that looked much better, but it now featured lots of awkward nooks and angles. We’re walking through the process of how we created functional storage space where you’d least expect it!

A finished linen closet contains a hot water heater and loads of built in storage // via Yellow Brick Home
wood boxes | beige towels | tile

Starting With a Blank Slate

So many of you wondered where we keep all our ‘stuff’ since we upgraded our vanity to a large basin sink during our bathroom renovation. Your answer’s below! Most of the pipes and valves that had formerly surrounded our tankless water heater were now neatly boxed in with drywall by our contractor. To provide future access to valves and plumbing, two small access panels were installed beneath the water heater:

A finished linen closet contains a hot water heater empty spaces // via Yellow Brick Home

The penny tile from the main space continues into the closet, and the same baseboards we’ve used throughout the house were installed as a finishing touch. While we were at it, we swapped out the old louvered bi-fold doors for a 24″ solid core door that comes pretty close to matching the rest of the vintage doors throughout Tree House!

A finished linen closet contains a hot water heater empty spaces // via Yellow Brick Home

It was a huge improvement over how things looked previously, which was so bad that, until writing this post, we realized that we never took a photo to document the madness! So, um, just imagine a mess of pipes running underneath the water heater and up the back left corner of the space. Bright orange fireproof foam insulation also closed gaps at the floor and ceiling. It was truly a sight to behold, I tell you.

In order to maximize the usable space (and rather than box out the tankless water heater completely), our contractor came up with ways to allow for nooks that could stash our ‘stuff.’ We told him we’d deal with the awkward angles later, but we knew we’d need to get creative if we wanted this closet to be as useful as possible!

Measuring + Fabrication

The first step of the project was to draw a rough diagram of the space and take detailed measurements. We also needed to determine the quantity of shelves in each area and plan for the spaces between them. To do this, we brought in the items we knew we’d be storing and put them in place; this is key. Something as simple as ensuring that a triple stack of toilet paper would fit under the bottom shelf couldn’t have been more important in this tiny space!

Once measurements were complete, we used scrap 1″ x 2″ oak strips that were leftover from our DIY dining banquette and cut them down to the appropriate lengths on the miter saw – no fancy cuts or mitered corners. To fasten the supports to the walls, I simply leveled them and nailed them into the studs, which I marked with green tape, seen here:

Shelf supports are nailed into the wall of a small linen closet // via Yellow Brick Home
nailer | level (similar)

Once the shelf supports were in place, it was time to put my new favorite tool to work! This Dewalt 4 1/2″ circular saw was the only thing I asked Santa to bring me for Christmas this year. It turned out to be the perfect tool for the job of cutting down the shelves we made from 3/4″ MDF! Pro tip: the dust bag is sold seperately, but definitely worth the $10 add-on! I couldn’t believe how full it was after just a few cuts.

A large sheet of MDF panel is cut with a small circular saw // via Yellow Brick Home
circular aw

Installation + Prep

We cut the lowest shelf into an ‘L’ shape to ensure there was enough floor space to step partially into the closet and use up every inch possible. The remaining shelves were simple rectangles that dropped right into place.

The exposed internals of a tankless water heater are surrounded by built-in shelving // via Yellow Brick Home

Once the MDF shelves were all cut to size, we popped a few finish nails from the top and into the supports to ensure they were sturdy. For a final finishing touch, we caulked all of the seams for a clean, uniform look. We were ready for paint!

A compact built-in shelf in a small linen closet // via Yellow Brick Home

Painting + Stocking the Shelves

Kim used her favorite brush and a 4″ foam roller for smooth and even coverage on the shelves and supports. Like all of the white trim in the house, we used Sherwin Williams Ultra White paint in a satin finish.

A compact linen closet is stocked with towels and bathroom supplies // via Yellow Brick Home
wood boxes | towels

We (not so patiently) waited for the paint to cure overnight before loading up the shelves. These wood nesting boxes came in extraordinarily handy since our search for maximum storage space yielded shelves that were varying depths and sizes! The middle shelves store our bulk bath + body supplies with room to spare. Refills for liquid hand soap, body wash and shampoo will hang out here until they’re ready to be poured into our amber plastic bottles.

A small wooden bin holds toiletries and bath products // via Yellow Brick Home
wood storage box

Our careful planning worked out perfectly and all of our paper products, cleaning sprays, and microfiber mops and towels were able to be stored on the floor below the first shelf. The varied sizes of the wood boxes make them easy to stack and layer where necessary.

A small wooden bin holds cleaning supplies // via Yellow Brick Home
The finished interior of a small linen closet // via Yellow brick Home
dust pan + brush

Access to Supply Lines

Oh, and you might be wondering why we didn’t just run shelving across the entire front of the space below the water heater? Those spring-fit access panels that we mentioned early on need to be left clear in case we’d ever need to access shut-off valves or water supply lines. They simply pop in and are held in place with spring tension!

An access panel allows access into a wall cavity // via Yellow Brick Home

Thinking Vertically with On-the-Wall Storage

With the shelves loaded up, we were ready to turn our focus towards on-the-wall storage solutions. We used a vintage hook (it once lived on the back of the bathroom door) to provide the perfect hanging location for this cute dust pan + brush.

A vintage hook holds a dustpan and broom // via Yellow brick Home

To save space with our telescoping duster and microfiber mop, we used a wall-mounted broom holder (this one is similar, and I like it better!) to keep things upright and off of the floor. This corner would have proven nearly useless otherwise, so it felt like a perfect way to take advantage of the space!

A mop and duster hang on wall-mounted storage hooks // via Yellow brick Home
broom holder (similar) | mop | telescoping handle | duster

On the back of the door, we add yet another vintage hook for this handy hair dryer bag. Again, keeping things up out of the way but within easy reach was the name of the game in this linen closet! If we find it necessary down the road, we’ve got room for additional compact shelving below the hair dryer, but we’ll live with it for now and see if our needs change. Our motto is to have only the things you need – and nothing you don’t.

A canvas bag labeled 'hair dryer' hangs on the back of a linen closet door // via Yellow brick Home
towel hook | door | hair dryer bag

We’re really happy with how much function we packed into the small space behind this humble 2-ft door! It’s incredibly satisfying to open a brand new door with a brand new(-to-us) knob and step into a space that feels bright and open (and, of course, brand new), while maximizing every inch of space!

The exterior of a small linen closet // via Yellow brick Home
curtain | wall tile | bath mat

Years of small space living in our former 675 sq. ft. condo have made us not only love a small space, but excited for the challenge! Between this closet and the massive medicine cabinet mounted above the sink on the opposite wall, we don’t miss having traditional below-sink vanity storage one bit. It just goes to show that with careful planning, any space can be made to fit your storage needs!

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  • Baylee1.22.20 - 9:16 AM

    Love that this closet isn’t ‘perfect’ but you guys shared it anyway! ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.22.20 - 10:07 AM

      This is a work-with-watcha-got space! We all have them!ReplyCancel

  • Jenn1.22.20 - 11:02 AM

    I’d put a tray under the toilet paper. Just in case a little water gets in there (from like an overflowing toilet or kids splashing too much in the bath) since you’re renting it out. Doesn’t take much moisture to ruin a roll. ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.22.20 - 11:34 AM

      Great tip, thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Emily1.24.20 - 11:04 PM

      Yes, my floor is always soaked after my kids’ bath!ReplyCancel

  • Candie1.22.20 - 11:41 AM

    I think most people have a space that’s a head scratcher.  Thanks for the ideas ReplyCancel

  • Betsy1.22.20 - 12:01 PM

    Great closet space.  I need you to help me with my closet organization.  I’m a hot mess, even though I have bought all sorts of different organizers!  But I digress.  Two questions. 1. How do you like having a tankless water heater?  Thinking about making the switch when my current one dies.  2. How you you like the L.L. Bean towels?  I’ve been eyeing them for a while now.  Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.22.20 - 1:05 PM

      Hey, Betsy! The tankless was a wonderful option for us in this home. We only have one bathroom and less than 850 square feet, so it doesn’t take too long to heat up and get to the source quickly (under a minute, I’d say). Plus, we just DID NOT have space for a big tank! So this won out, and we’ve been thrilled with it. And the towels – YES! They are not super bulky and dry quickly, but they’re still soft. I read through the reviews for a couple weeks before deciding to just go for it! We love them.ReplyCancel

      • Betsy1.22.20 - 1:54 PM

        Thank you so much!  I have 848 square feet in my house,  and no basement.  My furnace and water heater are in a closet, off my kitchen.  Getting rid of the bulky water heater would give me some valuable added storage.  Or, cause me to keep more junk than I really need?   I’m going to try a few of the LL Bean towels and see what I think.  I’ve read the reviews.  But nice to know that someone I “know” likes them.ReplyCancel

    • Dawn1.24.20 - 2:20 PM

      Hi Betsy.  During our recent house renovation we replaced one 75-gallon tank with two tankless water heaters — best decision ever!  So much space savings as well as cost savings.  It’s expensive to keep that much water always warm!  Plus, I never run out of hot water during my showers – heaven on earth.  Our water does have a ways to travel so we installed a recirculating line on the one that had to travel the greatest distance.  After living with it for a while we wished we had installed on both.  So, we installed an aftermarket product, the TACO SmartPlus recirculator, and it works like a charm.  If we had known about it we would have skipped the costly recirculating line installation on the first heater.  Anyway, tankless is such a wonderful product.  I’ve encouraged anyone I know doing a remodel or having to replace a dead water tank to make the switch.  Cheers! ReplyCancel

  • Veronica1.22.20 - 2:56 PM

    This is one of my favourite posts ever! It’s so satisfying (and inspiring!) to see an awkward space become sooooo functional. ReplyCancel

  • Paige Cassandra Flamm1.22.20 - 5:27 PM

    Your closet looks amazing!


  • AmandaKB1.22.20 - 5:39 PM

    I love these posts where you use what you have yet still make it functional and easy on the eyes.  Also, thanks for linking to that access panel!  We still don’t have our bathroom closet finished because I never installed the drywall on the shower side… because I couldn’t decide on an access panel idea.  Somehow, I didn’t realize they made these panels.  Duh.  LOL :)ReplyCancel

  • Amanda1.23.20 - 5:45 AM

    My BFF and I will be tackling her teeny tiny closet (and an awkward nook that I’m making shelves for) in her soon-to-be baby’s nursery and I will be taking a similar approach! This post was very timely! Love how beautiful it looks and packs all of the function you need! ReplyCancel

  • Carrie1.23.20 - 8:50 AM

    I LOVE this post. I have an awkward utility closet with an air return and water heater that has needed this treatment for a loooooong time (7 years!). Thanks for the motivation.
    On a tangential topic, I’m gonna take a leap and assume you guys had the inline water heater installed after your purchase. Did you have to upgrade your electric panel? I’d love to make this change at our second home, but it seems daunting. I’d love to hear the story of how this came to be. If you don’t have photos, maybe just a narrative in a weekender post sometime? Thanks so much!ReplyCancel

    • Scott1.23.20 - 10:20 AM

      Hi Carrie! Luckily, our electrical panel was large enough that we had extra space to add the water heater. During the process, we also changed to location of the water heater, which was formerly in the mudroom closet. Tree House has a crawlspace underneath, so all of the piping was able to be completed under the house with minimal interior changes. Hope this helps!ReplyCancel

  • at home with Ashley1.23.20 - 8:54 AM

    Sometimes you have to work with what you have. I love the custom solutions! It’s so satisfying to make a corner like this really work for you.ReplyCancel

  • Tammara1.25.20 - 10:45 AM

    Beautiful job!ReplyCancel

  • Mary4.27.20 - 10:24 AM

    What size finishing nails did you use? Looking to complete a similar project for an awkward closet space! Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • Kim4.27.20 - 10:28 AM

      Hi Mary! Wall supports are 2″ and the shelves were about 1 1/4″.ReplyCancel

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