★★★★☆

Allen + Roth Closet Kit

During recent remodeling I came upon the idea of having the contractor fit a relatively small walk-in closet into an existing space. With most of the construction finished, I painted the walls and went out to find a closet system to install. I expected to end up with one of the utilitarian wire assemblies offered by Rubbermaid, Closetmaid, and others. I was pleasantly surprised instead to find the new Allen + Roth offering at Lowes, which offers good-looking hardwood closet systems for the do-it-yourselfer at reasonable prices.

There are two options, a “solid” kit package that offers a center unit, drawers, hanging rods, and shelves, or a “ventilated” (i.e. slatted) center unit without all the accessories. From there, various additional items — principally drawers and shelves — can be added to complete the project. Liking the ventilated look, and not wanting a few of the items included in the kit, I assembled my own collection of items and ended up saving slightly in price.

Unfortunately one item — the 36″ shelves — are available only in the kit, the stand-alone options are 21″, 48″, or 72″, and can be cut to length. Suggesting that the installer (i.e. you) do the cutting is the first indication that this kit is a bit more complicated than your standard wire closet, which normally only involves hanging one rail into studs and then dropping in drywalls screws everywhere else. Indeed, the Allen + Roth closet system requires a bit more time and expertise. Nothing beyond the level of the DIYer, but not necessarily for the faint of heart.

Unpacking
This flat-pack kit has all the latest advances. Parts are separated into individual plastic bag compartments and clearly labeled, wood items are shrink-wrapped and tightly packed without too much extraneous styrofoam. Instructions are relatively clear, but not very detailed — rather than explain every step, they usually show a complete diagram of, say, an assembled drawer, with lots of arrows. Not a problem if you have assembled much flat-pack furniture or Ikea products before, as all the normal components — dowels, cam bolts, etc. — are there in abundance. But if this is your first such assembly, you may find yourself scratching your head a fair amount.

One odd and frustrating aspect was the stickers attached to every piece. They are made of very cheap paper with very strong adhesive, and removing them is an exercise in frustration. It took copious amounts of mineral spirits and in some cases soap and water to remove all the stickers and residue. This is a problem that could be solved by using sticker paper that costs a few tenths of a cent more, and it is surprising that the creators of the product never actually tried removing the stickers they so helpfully slap on every part.

Assembly
The first diagram on the first page of the assembly guide was flipped. Other than that, things went relatively well until it came time to hang the main unit on the wall. A helpful template is included that can be stuck to a wall to line up all of the drill holes. I used the template, a tape measure, and a level to find the optimal positioning, then removed the adhesive strips and temporarily attached the template to the wall. I drilled the necessary holes then removed the template, which, took a fair amount of paint with it. There’s that terrible adhesive at work again!

Despite leaving ample clearance as shown by the measurements on the template, I ended up with too little headroom and was unable to mount the unit. Frustratingly I was forced to remove the wall hardware, patch the holes, and reinstall it a few inches lower. The template was no help at this point, as it had stuck to itself and was impossible to unstick without ripping to shreds. Yep, the sticker adhesive continues to cause problems!

I measured and mounted by hand, and all was well. I may go back and put a couple screws through the unit directly into the wall to add a bit of additional stability, since in its default configuration it just hangs free on the two wood brackets.

As you can see in the image at the top of this post, I ended up mounting the two wall brackets to either side rather than centering them, to attempt to improve stability. It didn’t make much difference, but the loaded unit is relatively solid.

Build quality
The unit looks nice. The wood is decent quality, and there are no finger-joints on the front, although there are a few in the less-visible sides. A few large bolts are clearly visible from the sides, it would have been nice to have some matching wood plugs to hide them.

One area of concern is the hanging rods. They can be easily cut to length with a hacksaw or pipe cutter, and they come with nice self-tapping screws to ensure stability. But the attachment to the ventilated center unit feels inadequate, and was obviously not well tested. The instructions say to screw the small included wood pieces into two slats from the inside, resulting in additional stability. Unfortunately doing so results in cracking both the wood piece (using the pre-drilled hole) and the slats (because the pre-drilled holes are not centered on the slats). Then, mounting the hanging bracket with three additional screws results in more cracking! The mounting piece should be larger and more solid, and should attach in a better way. Now I have cracked slats, a cracked mounting block (which I ended up attaching to the outside instead, hoping that would work better), and closet rods that I don’t trust to stay standing.

I ran into one additional slight annoyance, owing to part of one wall of my closet not being finished yet. Brackets are available to mount the hanging rods to shelves rather than to the main unit and a wall. I am using these temporarily until the wall is done, but I did not expect them to put the hanging rod so much higher and farther forward than where the instructions suggest hanging the rods on the main unit. There is no good way to tie a hanging rod into the main unit, and have it be supported by the shelf brackets.

Final Thoughts
The Allen + Roth closet system offers good looks and good value, but is clearly a 1.0 product. Had I taken things slower and been less trusting of the instructions things would have gone more smoothly. I think a few tweaks to the product line, principally increasing the quality of the sticker adhesive and providing a better rod mounting option for the ventilated main unit, would make assembly easier. The drawers are nice, the laundry hamper is clever, the shelves are solid. Everything was a bit more difficult to assemble than I expected, and I certainly learned a few things along the way. I would not recommend this product line to someone who has never undertaken a similar project, but anyone who is reasonably handy should not have much trouble.

All told I am happy with my closet and think it looks very sharp while being highly functional.