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Custom Closets vs. DIY Organization: How Different Systems Stack Up

6 minute read, by Closet America, on Mar 21, 2018

It may be easy to purchase a DIY closet system at a major retailer (vs. installing a custom closet), but whether or not that system fits your space and lifestyle is a gamble.

“Do it yourself” or DIY custom closet systems are offered at nearly every home development chain on the planet. They thrive on the consumerism of “need it now,” which shuffles ready-made items off the shelves at surprising speed. If you decide you need a custom organization solution at midnight on a Saturday, where else would you go? This instant gratification often turns to buyer’s remorse and a replacement purchase later on, and nobody is really surprised.

Whether you’re picking up a DIY custom closet system from The Container Store, The Home Depot, or IKEA, you can just about guarantee you’ll come home with some kind of shelving unit in hand. But whether or not that unit fits your space, accentuates your style, functions with your wardrobe, and lasts through daily wear and tear is a gamble. Comparing closets from three retail giants, it’s easy to wish for a better solution: the truly custom closet.

walk in custom closet

DIY Closets From The Container Store

The Container Store Customer Experience: The Container Store stands out among the other off-the-shelf closet companies, especially in customer service. Employees design a system for your space, cut all materials to fit, and load everything for your transporting convenience. Compared with the standard warehouse experience, The Container Store offers customers a lot more help. However, some reviews complain of a decline in customer service if problems arise after the product is installed.

The Container Store Product: The elfa system comes with a wide variety of versatile components to choose from that are easily altered, should you want more hanging rod space in two years. You receive a curated set of items, including the exact number of brackets, screws, and supplies required to complete your closet—no more, and no less. Unfortunately, it’s not guaranteed your system will arrive in picture-perfect condition. Reviews often complain of products arriving with cracks and scratches, and customers are left wondering if sloppy construction or low-quality materials may be to blame. Elfa systems also sell at a high price point, which may be less than ideal.

The Container Store Installation Process: Building a closet from The Container Store is a fairly involved DIY. You understand when you’re standing in front of the mountainous pile of shelves and hardware. Unless you already paid for expert installation, the arduous task can take way more than an afternoon. One possible solution is to install basic shelves without any custom accessories. The process will probably take up less of your valuable weekend time—but where’s the fun in that?

The Bottom Line: While elfa systems from The Container Store can look impressive, the potential for damage and the effortful installation process make the high price tag less reasonable.

retailer shelving system

DIY Closets From The Home Depot

The Home Depot Customer Experience: Unfortunately, it’s common to see reviews for big chain retailers claiming sub-par customer service. Poor communication and lack of follow-up too often characterize these understaffed and overworked departments, which is why more elements are outsourced to contracting firms. Rather than receiving the runaround from your local warehouse, it may be easier to give up and assume your complaints may go unaddressed.

The Home Depot Product: Depending on your taste, many Home Depot off-the-shelf closet systems look more impressive than those seen elsewhere. However, most critical online reviews site fundamental product issues as their main complaint. Closet systems arrive missing parts, measured incorrectly by the designer, with unsightly gaps at joining points, and stopping awkwardly short of the ceiling height. Due to the perils of field cutting particle board with circular saws, clean edges are almost impossible. And, if something goes wrong, it can be hard for unhappy homeowners to get a refund or repairs in a timely manner.

The Home Depot Installation: Contractors fulfill installation for each custom closet The Home Depot sells. And while installers are often praised in reviews for being professional, quick, and courteous, projects often take twice as many weeks to complete or are left unfinished for months on end. Your shipment may even contain the wrong materials. Making each system level and sturdy requires time and expertise that homeowners may not have. DIY closets often sustain cosmetic damage during installation—leaving customers with a less-than-perfect closet and a long list of complaints.

The Bottom Line: With a long wait time and a high risk of mistakes, The Home Depot custom closet may not be the best investment. Save up a bit more for a more durable, high-quality product, like this custom walk-in closet we designed (pictured below).

walk in davidson

DIY Closets From IKEA

The IKEA Customer Experience: IKEA is the home furnishings mecca for college students, bachelors, minimalists, and globe-trotters, and you never know what inexpensive treasures you’ll find in the meandering salesfloor. Homeowners also love this Swedish retail chain because their PAX planner online tool makes it easy for you to customize your closet. Then you’re on your own, finding those items in the vast warehouse and loading heavy and unwieldy flat packs into the back end. Customers don’t always appreciate IKEA’s 2% upcharge for included delivery, so buyers often bring help or recruit an equally helpless customer to form a mutually-beneficial partnership.

The IKEA Product: Custom wardrobe units from IKEA come in three specific sizes, which you can attempt to put together in hopes of creating a wall-to-wall shelving unit. Finish choices are limited, add-ons are often flimsy and less than functional, and it’s usually always a good idea to pay the higher price to upgrade each element of these closet systems. Though IKEA maintains stringent quality control measures, sloppy construction and factory defects can be a common consumer complaint. Without precise setup and a healthy amount of luck, your new closet system could become wobbly or eventually collapse.

The IKEA Installation Process: Every newcomer to the world of IKEA faces the moment of truth, realizing the shining wardrobe they saw on the sales floor has become a major undertaking. The easy instructions require no special tools and tend to be helpful. But it still takes a ton of time and effort, and often more than one willing adult, to put together a custom closet system. Like the DIY kits explored above, IKEA’s laminate shelves are notorious for getting chipped, scratched, and dented during assembly. While finished pieces are usually sturdy, it’s all too easy to put together furniture pieces that completely lack rigidity, no matter how many screws you use. Not willing to put forth the effort? You can increase the closet price by getting an IKEA installer to do the job for you.

Bottom Line: You might save hundreds of dollars, but IKEA’s notoriously fragile product and terrible installation experience make this more of a “never again” scenario. These systems are cheap, but decidedly unreliable.

empty shopping cart

Custom Closets vs. DIY Organization

Off-the-shelf closet systems always leave something to be desired. Either the ill-fitting DIY custom closet design doesn’t work with your space, or the product is disappointingly flimsy, or customer service is lacking—and all of these situations inspire knowledgeable homeowners to make a true investment in something far superior. Try partnering with a custom closet company in your area instead. You’ll work personally with a design expert, receive a beautiful and functional finished product, and save yourself weekends of back-breaking work.

Schedule your free design consultation with Closet America to see the difference for yourself. We’ll take exacting measurements with you in your DC area home, craft a durable and beautiful product, and provide stellar installation—in short, we provide the experience these DIY organization companies lack. If you’re ready to make an investment in the future of your home, custom closets are your best bet for high-quality home organization.

Lead image source: Pexels user stevepb
Image 2 by Flickr user David
Image 4 via Flickr user XoMEoX

Closet America was able to work with my unique circumstances in order to give me the best use of my space.

Amy B.,
Fairfax Station, VA

Let’s Start Your Project

Whether you’re interested in a custom-designed closet, office, pantry, or garage, starting your project couldn’t be easier. Just fill out the attached form or give us a call to schedule your free in-home design consultation. You can download our brochure and you’re welcome to visit our Landover Maryland showroom, to see how beautiful our custom-designed organization systems look in person. We want you to experience the Closet America difference and see how we build organizing solutions for life.