Choosing the best closet system

Some systems are easier to assemble than others

Published: January 2014

When the goal is a noble one, such as organizing the mess in a closet, you should be rewarded for trying—but assembling some of the five systems we tested seemed more like punishment. Only the priciest could be put together without a hitch.

We timed how long it took two people to install each organizer and assessed how easy the job was. All of the systems are designed for a 6-foot-wide closet and offer a clothes rod, shelving, bins or drawers, and usually an extra component such as a belt hanger or shoe organizer.

Some of the organizers came with incorrect directions, others had confusing, missing, or poorly made pieces. Installation took up to 160 minutes—and our installers were familiar with this type of work. We started timing after we’d counted all of the pieces and read the instructions.

Systems are listed in order of installation time. Prices are for a base system without extras such as drawers.

Platinum Elfa Reach-In, $560

Online and video directions for the Platinum Elfa Reach-In (above) are clear. Installation requires minimal drilling. The top rail is one piece, making it easy to level.

Time: 35 minutes

ClosetMaid ShelfTrack, $100

It wasn’t clear from the directions that the drawer unit needed spacing different from that of the shelving. Miss that fact, and you may end up with extra work and holes in the wall. The top horizontal rail is split, which can make leveling hard. The vertical rails aren’t long enough to set the drawers at a convenient level. Our drawer brackets were mislabeled: “Left” was for the right side; “right” for the left. And you may have to cut a rail to make it fit in a small closet.

Time: 45 minutes

Rubbermaid HomeFree Series, $90

The rails telescope, useful for smaller closets. But unless you buy vertical rail extensions, you must position the drawer unit high. Illustrations of needed materials aren’t to scale, and some components aren’t shown accurately. Back edges of drawers aren’t finished, and there are gaps.

Time: 70 minutes

Martha Stewart Classic Deluxe, $160

The split rail can make leveling hard. One of the closet rods was bent. The center unit was very heavy. Once the unit is assembled, it’s hard to rearrange pieces, because they’re screwed into place. Some laminate was chipping. Instead of vertical rails, there are particle-board sides. This is the only unit that doesn’t have to be secured to the wall.

Time: 70 minutes

Ikea Algot, $170

The directions are wrong, and it’s hard to achieve the correct spacing. Screws aren’t included. Neither are wall anchors; we had to stop work and buy them. Drawers didn’t fit properly. A call to Ikea proved unhelpful. The upright width was listed wrong, and we had to re-drill. And the baskets didn’t roll back and forth smoothly.

Time: 160 minutes (not including trips to a hardware store)

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