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IKEA PAX hack: Hands down the most stunning walk-in closet

After getting stuck on an image of a blue, custom walk-in closet on Jenny’s Wolf‘s site, I decided I was going to figure out a way to get a similar look in my own house with a non-custom budget.

In my search, the IKEA PAX kept coming up as the most common, highest-rated, and budget-friendly closet system.

Lots of people have hacked the IKEA PAX to create a built-in look and we thought we’ll use the PAX core, with some critical upgrades for a full custom cabinetry look.

View slideshow of IKEA PAX walk-in closet
IKEA items used for our walk-in closet:
  • PAX Wardrobe Frames (29″ and 13″ deep)
  • KOMPLEMENT Shelves
  • KOMPLEMENT Drawers
  • VARIERA Cover Plates
Other materials and tools:
Instructions for our custom IKEA PAX walk-in closet
The Planning

1. First, we cataloged how much space we each needed for our clothes (High, Medium, Low) and storage type by clothing category in a spreadsheet.

2. For the next step, the PAX Planning tool on the IKEA website came in handy. Using our spreadsheet, we created each of our sides of the closet. We ensured we had enough space for our existing wardrobe items and our storage preferences. eg. folded or hung.

For reference, the room is 14.6′ long by 6.5′ wide. We opted for the deeper IKEA PAX units on one side (29″ deep) and shallower units on the other wall (13″ deep). This allowed for a wide walkway between the two units.

Assembling the PAX units + light installation

3. Then, we built the units and made certain they were level. We only have standard 8” ceilings, so we had to build the units in the room. Because of our ceiling height we also couldn’t build a platform for the wardrobe units to sit on.

We shimmed under the units to ensure they were completely level to one another, so when we ran the baseboards across the front of them, everything looked flush.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

4. Installed the puck lights ordered off Amazon and hardwired them into an electrical box.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

In order to make the lights look very custom, we recessed them into the front of the top shelf in every unit. To recess the lights, we used a router to trace a template we made in a scrap piece of wood.

Installation of Baseboards + PAX floor

5. Next up, we ran the baseboards all the way around the walk-in closet space for a fully-built in look. The top of the baseboard profile is flat horizontally. It allows the wood that we applied later on to the fronts of the cabinetry to flow seamlessly.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

We attached the baseboards to the front of the wardrobe units with construction adhesive. And added nails where the baseboards sat flush with the vertical sides of each individual wardrobe unit.

We set up our laser level to keep our baseboards level, which is critical for the creation of square openings for your drawer fronts later on.

6. The next step was to build up the bottom of the unit. Using some spare PAX/ KOMPLEMENT shelves, we installed them on top of the interior base of the units to bring it up to flush with the baseboards.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

Fixing the wood trim

7. Installed the wood trim. We used 1/2 inch thick Poplar boards that we cut down into strips. The strips were used to cover where the wardrobe units met and the filler boards on the sides. Also applied to the top where the wardrobe units didn’t quite reach the wall.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

We then added horizontal poplar strips that aligned with the bottom of the crown moulding. This is so the bottom edge of the crown would look properly built onto the units and not recessed into it. (In the above photo you can see that there’s some wood behind the crown moulding).

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

Finally, we added the smaller horizontal strips to the front of the PAX shelves. The shelves in the PAX units don’t sit flush with the sides of the PAX units, so the depth of wood needed here was thicker than the 1/2 inch Poplar we used everywhere else.

Turns out they don’t sell 5/8 inch Poplar, and we ended up finding stain grade flat pine board at Lowes that worked like a charm.

Once all the wood was installed, we used Bondo to fill all the holes and seams where the wood strips met. We also used glue to add shoe moulding to cap off the space between the baseboard and the floors.

Crown moulding goes up our walk-in closet

8. Installed the crown moulding along the top edge of all the wardrobe units. This really capped off the built-in look and totally hid the gap from the top of the wardrobes to the ceiling. We then caulked all the seams.

9. Next, we created drawer fronts, opting for a flat front, which is a nice streamlined look and also lower effort than a shaker style. We used the same 1/2 inch Poplar board and just cut it down to size. Then, we left an 1/8 inch gap around the drawers and sanded the drawer fronts down.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

After cutting the fronts, we tested them on to the drawers themselves to ensure the drawers lined up throughout the room horizontally in each unit.

Once we had test fit all the drawer fronts, we used tape to label the drawer and the drawer front, so we could match them up later once they were painted, and then separated the drawer fronts from the drawers.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

Wallpapered the backs of the built-in wardrobe units

10. One of the tell-tale signs of an IKEA PAX is the seam that runs down the back wall of the wardrobe unis. Because the MDF comes folded 1-2 times, there’s an unsightly seam that definitely screams low quality.

I didn’t want to put all this work into making the PAX look like a custom walk-in closet only to have a seam give it away that these are indeed IKEA!

So, I tracked down paintable faux grasscloth wallpaper and installed it on the back wall of the wardrobe units. I wanted a paintable wallpaper so it looked seamless with the units and I also love the hint of added texture.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

Plugged up the holes

11. We using the VARIERA plugs from IKEA and went through at least 12 packs of these plugs. You can see in the above shot that we had installed the plugs.

As a note, we didn’t add in the plugs on the side where we have only shelves, since we wanted them to be adjustable long-term.

Prime and paint the built-ins

12. Then, we primed everything with a shellac based primer (specifically this one) with a high-density foam roller. In spots that were most difficult to reach, we used a paint brush.

We actually did two coats because the primer dries really fast and we’re a little bit neurotic.

13. We painted the room using a spray gun, which allowed for a super professional look. For the paint, we used Farrow and Ball Inchyra Blue in the Modern Eggshell finish, and it’s one of my most favourite moody colours of all time.

Finishing touches to our walk-in closet

14. Allow the paint to cure for a day or two before installing the drawer fronts. Once the drawer fronts were ready to go, we installed each drawer front one at a time.

15. Almost there. We installed gorgeous, super heavy unlacquered brass cup pulls. They were attached through the drawer front and onto the drawer itself. We used our favourite laser level to ensure all the drawer pulls were aligned horizontally on both sides of the closet.

Jaw-dropping transformation of IKEA PAX into a walk-in closet

16. The last thing we did was to add the wood hanging rods. We painted the original IKEA hanging rod hardware to match the closet paint. Finally, cut down the basic wood hanging rods to fit each wardrobe.

And that’s it! Now the walk-in closet looks super custom. You can see how all components came together in a space that feels much more high-end than a basic IKEA hack!

And that’s it! Now the closet looks super custom and you can see how all components came together in a space that feels much more high-end than a basic IKEA hack!

This is an abridged version. See the full tutorial of our custom walk-in closet where we lay down more tips and details here.

~ by Erin