Losing the images of the first year in my first home due to a corrupt/glitchy external hard drives has spurred me to upload as much as possible to my blog during Lockdown, so I have a safety net and at least some images saved on the net should the same happen again…which if my luck with tech continues in usual vain, it will! Luckily I found some ‘home’ images in the camera roll of an old phone, which has enabled me to write today’s post on our built-in wardrobes.
As this frugalist keeps reminding you here – we made a decision not to do any real renovation on this flat. We knew it wasn’t a flat we could add much value to, and we also knew it was a short term prospect, so forking out on expensive, stylish and permanent newness wasn’t going to be sensible, or viable for us. We don’t come by money easy, so many decisions are either/or scenarios. If we got a new kitchen here for instance, that would potentially mean no dream kitchen in the eventual forever home. It just didn’t make sense… for us.
However, we did want to be sensible and ensure the flat did create a good quality of life for us while we are here, so there was one thing I was willing to spend a bit on, knowing that we are people with a lot of clothes and not a lot of space. We did manage to save a bit of money though so I thought it might be useful to share how.
Below are the estate agent pictures of bedroom. As soon as we saw the room in person it appeared obvious to us that we would switch the room around so that the bed was facing the door. I don’t know about you, I just prefer to be able to see out of the door from bed. I don’t think it’s a safety thing…more of just being a nosey bugger. I like to be able to see when Si is passing so I can wave from my linen palace (and demand he grab me snacks from the kitchen). Now we have Bluebell the cat it’s even better because I can watch her doing her record breaking zoomies and rolling around on/ruining her favourite rug in the hallway.
Aside from me wanting to up my abilities to eat snacks in bed (delivery service) it also made sense to use to use that alcove for storage to minimise wasted/awkward space.
After painting the room in the calming Gregory’s Den by Earthborn (gifted) and putting up the insta famous IKEA lampshade (which was an utter nightmare btw) sorting out our storage was the next job on the bedroom to-do list. To tie us over we bought a rail from a lady on Facebook Marketplace for £10 – it’s a pretty heavy duty one and coped with the weight of our hefty wardrobes ( even though we had only transported about 5% of it from my parents house at that point) . The remaining tons worth are still clogging up the family house…..but at least we have an excuse right now. We lived with this very un-photogenic jumble sale set up for a number of weeks. I saved all my Instagram AD money to put towards it and limited my take-aways to try and speed up the process of getting the job done.
Whenever you are looking to hire a tradesmen it’s obviously a good idea to do your research and get numerous quotes. When I asked in an interior Facebook group what people paid for their built in wardrobes (of my desired spec) the inconsistency was frighting. I’m not talking a few quid…I mean people paying thousands more than the figure I had in my head. So I urge you to get various quotes, but also speak to people who have had the work done.
I was very lucky in that I have a friend from school (who I’ve known since we were 8 years old -ish) who is a very good local carpenter. He works for a company during the week but is available for freelance projects on weekend and evenings. While it was by no means cheap, I knew now that it was a very fair price, and because we knew each-other I felt free to be neurotic and ask those questions you fear are silly as a first time home-owner. It would also help to make the process feel more relaxed and flexible. It can be risky to mix business/money with friendship, so I’d always recommend you consider this – is there much room for possible conflict? What will happen if you aren’t happy with the finished product?
The first few weeks of establishing the collaboration between me and Luke there was a visit to the flat, to take measurements and to see how it might work in relation to the position of the bed. Obviously you want to check that when the doors are open it’s not going to hit the end of the bed or create a very tight and impractical space. Then followed Luke having to put up with various screen grabs I’d taken from Instagram (examples of wardrobes styles I liked) and abysmal sketches of my design. (see below)
The idea for the pull-out drawers at the bottom got scrapped. As I sent over new ideas and additions Luke would tell me how they would impact the cost ( extra materials/time) and if the benefit didn’t outweigh the extra cost I went back to the simpler design.
In the end I decided that I wanted a central part with roomy drawers, but a platform on top to hold the TV. I have an aversion to TV on walls (everyone’s different on this, it’s just personal preference) so I wanted a space that it could rest on. Si and I decided it would be useful to have one wardrobe area for full length items (coats/long dresses) and then on the other side double hanging (for jumpers, tops etc).
The one tricky issue with the design was the projection needed on the wardrobes wouldn’t be able to extend the whole length as it would mean it would meet the window glass. So we would have to stop the left hand wardrobe short of the end of the room. I didn’t want this space to be wasted and just exist as a pointless gap, so I asked Luke if he could create shelves. They are largely hidden by the curtains but they do provide useful storage space, and you just can’t get enough of that in a small flat. Bluebell sometimes like to have a little nap in one of them too which is achingly sweet.
One thing I should mention, not to put a dampener on your exciting plans, is that if you live in a compact space projects like this can be pretty debilitating in terms of your ability to live in your home. We had to tip our bed and move it to the side of the bedroom (and cover it with dust sheets) and everything else in the bedroom had to be moved to the lounge so Luke (and his Dad) had enough room to build. For the two days of the build we couldn’t use the bedroom and our living room made us feel like tiny ants within a huge rubbish tip.
Another important bit of advice I can offer is to keep an eye on the wardrobes (or any project) as it progresses. I had complete trust in Luke, but many of you may be working with someone you don’t know and you may wish to check that they have translated your design and ideas in the way you envisioned. Things can get lost in translation, but it’s much easier if you find out early on than when the project is, or nearly completed. It’s a lot harder to undo at that point and if they feel that you are at fault they might want to charge you for the extra hours of labour to fix it. As our wardrobes took place I realised we had missed a trick in terms of some storage above the TV, so I asked if it would be possible for Luke to add a shelf and luckily it wouldn’t cost any extra because an off-cut could be used.
Luke offered to buy the handles through his work but I decided to take that job off his hands as I knew I could source very affordable ones that also ticked the boxes in terms of the style. I bought mine from Amazon and they were ridiculously cheap. I know from friends who have had kitchens and such built by well known fitting brands that when they view the cost breakdown the charge for handles can often be extortionate. So I urge you to request to see the separate costs and explore other options before committing.
Luke did source the rails though and I requested that they be brass to match the handles I had ordered. I wasn’t fussed about the hinges though, some of you might be concerned about those finer details particularly if the design means they’re more exposed.
MDF (often used to create built it wardrobes) is an affordable material but requires painting/covering to look presentable. It’s not one of those intentionally honest and raw looking material finishes that look cool in it’s ‘low-fi’ aesthetic (like cork and cement), it just looks unfinished.
You can keep the surface as is, and if my flat was very sleek and modern in style I might have gone for this option. Some of my favourite kitchens on the gram are ones that are very smooth with hidden handles. It can create a clean and minimal look. But as my flat has nods to mid-century and victorian in the decor I thought it needed some details and texture.
You could opt for panelling and you can be as inventive as you like with this. You can go for the standard and classic square/rectangle designs or you could go more abstract.
You could create cut-out that you put material (cane or hessian for example) or you could use a more solid material like glass.
I decided for a very cost effective beading technique to make it look a bit more luxurious. Simply sticking on carved rods in rectangles on top of the MDF. Luke showed me various sizes of beading. It’s not something I have thought about before so I can’t say I was sure when I decided on the thickness, but luckily I think I made the right call.
The only glitch we had throughout the build was that one of the draw runners was faulty so Luke wasn’t able to complete it until he sourced another one. But it worked out great because when he returned to fix it we had also worked out where we wanted to put a hole for TV cables, so he was able to do that for us during that visit. This is my way of reminding you to make sure you consider sockets with your planning!!
Also talking of draw runners we went for those soft/quiet closing drawers. If you’re going to do something a bit spendy like this, these kind of details make it feel all the more worthwhile – like you’re getting something of bespoke quality.
It was finally time to embark on the daunting task of painting…or so I thought. I’d actually have to spend a good few hours prepping the wardrobes. I turned to my beloved ( GIFTED) Frenchic again – this time using a bright white from their Lazy Range called Whitey White. I decided white was safest choice this time round. It would go with the pale and calming decor in the room but would also be appealing/inoffensive to future buyers. In my forever home I might have chosen a more daring colour but I’m still keeping saleability in my head with this one.
When I use Frenchic I always sand and sugar soap to ensure the surface will be appealing for the paint to stick to and to ensure there’s no dirt/grease/dust on the surface that could impact the finish.
However, Luke informed me I’d have a few more jobs to add to the list and gave me a demo before he left. MDF can be a bit rough where it’s been cut/sawn so he suggested as well as sanding I apply filler to those areas. I used a bit of fairly rigid plastic (not dissimilar to a credit card) to stroke the filler along all the exposed edges (on top of drawers, edge of door etc). I actually weirdly enjoyed this job. It was fairly easy to get the hang of and satisfying when you saw how smooth a finish you’d created. The only tip I’d give is work fast – it gets a bit flakey when it dries which makes it harder – and try and do long fluid motions.
The next first time job was far less successful, and that was filling holes (where hidden screws were) to then create a surface completely flat with the wood. I got the knack a bit too late on this one, and it’s still something I need to sort but have put off. I didn’t act fast enough so it dried very bumpy and without a proper sander I haven’t been able to rectify it yet. My manual sanding wasn’t hardy enough to smooth it out.
From coat one it was very clear this was going to be a big job. With the Alfresco range I have been spoiled – often completing projects in two coats. This time the MDF was very thirsty and just drank up the paint and it felt very unsatisfying (and very overwhelming). I have since learned that with MDF it would have been incredibly helpful to apply a finishing coat first which would have created a barrier/layer that paint would adhere much better to. Others also suggest applying a coat of grey paint or a primer first and then applying the first coat of white. I think next time I’ll go for the finishing coat option. It just didn’t cross my mind that MDF’s porous nature would act as a difficult terrain for the usually very easy paint.
I should also point out as something who has issues with their joints and muscles this was very taxing job, physically. The shelves and areas on the side of the wardrobes meant there were lots of awkward and unnatural painting positions that I had to contort my body into. It was excruciating at times, but I’m nothing if not dogged in my determination. I also didn’t have a choice, as I was desperate to get our flat back to normality and on the most part Si was unable to help as he was at work 12 hours a day – although I managed to get a couple hours out of him when I needed a bit of a break on the final day. The middle sections of the painting I could do when everything was moved back in so I prioritised the big sections.
As you can see the handles were in while I was painting. Luke had put them in to show me for the the big reveal when he’d finished all his work, and quite frankly I couldn’t be bothered to take them all out, so I just painted round them. Very lazy of me I know – naughty DIY-er. Of course you’ll get a better finish if you put them in last.
I think it ended up being 5 coats overall which with a flat surface would be a lot of work but still feel manageable. But with so many nooks and crannies, sides and surfaces, it was a mammoth task that I wouldn’t repeat in a hurry. I used a foam roller on any large surface and a brush on more fiddly bits. As always (GIFTED)Frenchic paint helped to deliver a smooth and even finish, and after all the effort we are very pleased with the completed project, and in doing the finishing myself I undoubtedly saved myself a lot of money which always makes me happy.
The final task some of you may feel is an extra or unnecessary, but if my very talented carpenter is recommending I do it I thought I should listen. Again…if you’ve spent a decent wallop of cash you might as well go the full hog and finish the job properly. The below product was used to seal round all the edges. You might be able to see in some of the above images that there are slight gaps where the MDF meets the walls. This is purely because my walls are wonky. This was used just to seal in that gap. It applies just like a sealant does round the bath.
This is another one of those jobs that requires a knack. Till you get it, you will create a right ol’ mess, but once you know the right pressure you need to apply to the pump it becomes a lot easier. I’d definitely recommend practising on some offcuts. A bit like practicing before applying intricate icing to a cake.
Ask yourself questions
Like with anything bespoke you have to shut out the noise and work out what will serve you and your needs. Of course take inspiration from blog posts, Instagram and Pinterest but really delve into your lifestyle – What clothes do you own? Which ones do you need to store and how? Can you have a capsule wardrobe and store the bulk elsewhere? Do you need space for accessories/shoes? What colour/finish is practical? If you’re on a budget, is this what you should be spending on right now or is there something else that’s driving you more mad? Could you work with an Ikea shell or do you really need completely custom?
Would we change anything about our design?
Perhaps we could have had another shelf above the TV, but actually on occasions we do have to root behind the TV and sort out cables when the TV is glitchy, which might be tricky to do if we had a lower shelf. Plus I quite enjoy the fans I’ve stuck in that space.
If we didn’t have the loft and garage we would have had to prioritised storage space so potentially would have had wardrobes extend the whole way across instead of the middle drawer unit. But as we only have a small percentage of our clothes down from the loft each season this is more than enough space for us.
Overall we are chuffed to bits with them and they really helped to make the room feel complete…and less like a car boot sale. We were so impressed with our carpenter and I think the key to jobs like this is tracking down those reliable and skilled tradesmen, so do your homework!
(yes I know that handle is wonky, I need to tighten that one…another job on the list!!)