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How Deep Should Your Closet Shelves Be?

Close-up of closet shelves with shoes and boxes

Whether you are designing your dream closet from scratch or reconfiguring an existing closet space, you have the perfect opportunity to get organized. Aside from the shelving layout possibilities, additional design options to consider include the amount of space you need, lighting opportunities and whether to include built-in conveniences, such as an ironing board and hamper.

Closet Dimensions

How big should your closet be? How deep is closet shelving? Your dream closet doesn’t need to be gigantic. On the contrary, a well-designed closet with shelving, drawers, cubbies, and a shoe tree can fit your space limitations and still include places to tuck handbags, lingerie, and jewelry neatly. Use these storage space dimensions as guidelines:

  • 14", 16" and 20" deep: Standard closet drawer depths
  • Ideally, a minimum walk-in closet starts at 4' deep x 72" wide
  • 24" deep x any width: Standard reach-in closet

How Deep Are Closet Shelves?

When redesigning your closet, first, measure your existing space to determine the depth of the current shelves. Then ask yourself if the current shelving depth is helping or hindering your organization. For instance, if your shelves are too deep, hats and accessories can get pushed out of view, to become lost and forgotten. On the other hand, shelves that are not deep enough can limit the type of items that can be stored on them.

The items intended to be stored on the shelves will determine necessary shelf sizes. When in doubt, always measure. Keep in mind that bulky oversize items are often best stored on the top shelf of a closet where there is extra space. The rest of the closet shelves are usually used for shoes and folded clothing. Closet shelves come in standard depths of 12", 14", or 16". You can go deeper with a custom depth shelf for linen or storage closets not intended for clothing depending on what you plan to put on them and whether you want to include closet accessories. If you have a lot of tiny items to store on a closet shelf, you're usually better off going with pull-out shelves in a standard depth so that you can easily access items stored in the back rather than installing a non-standard shallow depth shelf.

The most desirable depth for any wood or laminate closet shelving is 14-inches. The reason for this centers around closet accessories. Tie racks, scarf organizers, built-in hampers, slide-out wire baskets, and various closet organizers of all sorts are all available to fit inside a standard 14-inch-deep closet section. Closet drawers also come standard in this 14-inch-deep depth. A limited number of accessories will fit a 12-inch-deep closet section, but not many. And let's face it, it's these little bells and whistles that can make all the difference between a Plain Jane versus a luxury closet system. The 14-inch accessories can be installed in a 16-inch-deep closet shelving section, but you'll have about 2-inches of wasted empty space behind the accessory. Some items, such as drawers, can be made to custom depths and sizes but this customization drives up the cost of the closet very quickly. Plus there are no drawer organizers for jewelry or anything else made to fit the custom drawer sizes. For maximum storage options and best value all around, choose 14-inch-deep shelves and panels for your closet system.

Door vs. No Door

Sometimes, the only thing standing in the way of an organized reach-in closet is the closet door. Adding shelving and drawers to an existing closet space might remove the need for a closet door.

Built-in closet dresser inside reach-in closet with doors removed.
This closet is part of a child's very small bedroom. The clients wanted both more closet storage and a larger bedroom for their daughter. We decided to remove the closet doors and place a built-in dresser with a mirror and overhead cabinets in the center of the closet opening. Hanging space was moved into the deep returns on either side of the closet. Double and triple hang rods ensure there is enough room for all the clothes. This change visually opened the room and immediately made it seem larger.


Tired of relying on one overhead closet light that only casts shadows and doesn’t help you locate your items? A custom closet could include LED display lighting to help you quickly spot your favorite accessories.

Galley closet with LED closet lighting.
The lighting in this closet is both dramatic and practical. The targeted illumination helps the owners to find what they're looking for in a hurry. It also adds a touch of glamour and highlights some of the more attractive features of this galley style walk-in closet design.


Some people prefer to see all their wardrobe components at one glance. It helps them decide what to wear, what needs to be laundered, which seasonal items can be packed away, etc. Other individuals prefer to keep clothing and accessories neatly tucked away and out of view. A Closet Works designer can work with you to determine the perfect storage options for your preferences.

Your clothes aren’t one-size-fits-all, and your closet space shouldn’t be, either. Closet Works can design an organized closet space especially for you. Our designers ask all the right questions, such as:

  • Do you need a new walk-in closet, or can a redesign of an existing reach-in closet provide the ideal storage space?
  • How deep should your closet shelves be?
  • Would your new closet benefit from the addition of LED display lighting?
  • What about including built-in accessories, such as jewelry organizers, clothing hampers or a fold-out ironing board?

Schedule your free Closet Works design consultation today.