Hide the mess
Meet the pro
Spike Carlsen is a carpenter, author and former editor at The Family Handyman. You can find his books in stores and at online booksellers.
My daughter, Kellie, recently bought a nice little house with a nice big coat closet by the front door. The problem is, since the garage is in the back, everyone, including the dog, uses the back door.
I designed and built these hide-the-mess lockers with people like Kellie in mind. Each locker is big enough to stash a coat, backpack, boots, hats, and odds and ends that normally wind up on the floor. Since they’re modular and space efficient, you can build one for each member of the family—including the dog (leashes, toys, food, you name it). Now everyone has a personal place for stashing stuff—and the responsibility for keeping it organized.
The louvered door is made from one of a pair of closet bifold doors, which you can buy at almost any home center. Since the doors come in pairs and you can get two locker “boxes” from each sheet of plywood, you’ll make the best use of materials by building them in twos. Here’s how to do it.
Money, materials and tools
My total materials cost was just under $100 per locker. Since I was planning to paint the lockers, I used inexpensive “AC” plywood. If you plan to stain your lockers, and use hardwood plywood such as oak or birch and hardwood doors, you’ll spend about $150 per locker. On a row of the mudroom lockers, only the outer sides of the end lockers show, so you can use inexpensive plywood for the inner parts and more expensive material for the outer parts. Expect to spend at least a day buying materials, rounding up tools and building a pair of lockers. Set aside another day for finishing.
A table saw is handy for cutting up plywood, but a circular saw with a guide will provide the same results (see Two Essential Saw Cutting Guides). You’ll also need a miter saw to cut the screen molding. A finish nailer will help you work faster, but hand-nailing will work too as long as you drill holes to prevent splitting.
Buy the doors first
There are a variety of bifold doors available. If you need more ventilation, use full louvered doors; if ventilation isn’t an issue, use solid doors. The doors you buy may not be exactly the same size as mine, so you may have to alter the dimensions of the boxes you build. Here are two key points to keep in mind as you plan your project:
- You want a 1/8-in. gap surrounding the door. So to determine the size of the box opening, add 1/4 in. to the height and width of the door. Since my bifold doors measured 14-3/4 x 78-3/4 in., I made the opening 15 x 79 in.
- To determine the depth of the shelves, subtract the door thickness from the width of the sides (including the 1/4-in. screen molding). My doors were 1-1/8 in. thick, so I made the shelves 10-7/8 in. deep (12 minus 1-1/8 equals 10-7/8 in.). When the doors are closed, they’ll rest against the shelves inside and flush with the screen molding outside.
Photo 1: Build a simple box
Cut the plywood parts and assemble them with trim-head screws. Make sure the box opening is 1/4 in. taller and wider than the door itself.
Photo 2: Square it up
Take diagonal corner-to-corner measurements, then adjust the box until the measurements are equal and the box is square. Install the back, using one edge of the back to straighten the box side as you fasten it. Check once again for squareness, then secure the other edges of the back.
Photo 3: Cover the plywood edges
Install screen molding over the front edges of the box. Apply wood glue lightly and use just enough nails to “clamp” the molding in place while the glue dries.
Photo 4: Build slatted shelves
Plywood shelves would work fine, but slatted shelves allow better ventilation so wet clothes and shoes can dry. Space the slats with a pair of wood scraps.
Photo 5: Install the shelves
Stand your locker up and position the shelves to suit the stuff that will go in it. Mark the shelf locations, lay the locker on its back and screw the shelves into place. Make sure the shelves are inset far enough to allow for the door.
Use a table saw or straight-cutting guide to cut the plywood sides (A) and top and bottom (B). The Cutting List (see Additional Information, below) gives the parts dimensions for my lockers. If you plan to paint or stain the mudroom lockers, it’s a good idea to prefinish the insides of parts. Once the lockers are assembled, brushing a finish onto the insides is slow and difficult.
Assemble the boxes with 2-in. trim-head screws (Photo 1). Trim-head screws have smaller heads than standard screws and are easier to hide with filler. Cut the 1/4-in. plywood back (C) to size (see Figure A). Make certain the box is square by taking diagonal measurements (they should be equal; see Photo 2), and then secure the back using 1-in. nails. Use the edges of the back as a guide to straighten the edges of the box as you nail the back into place.
Cut 1/4 x 3/4-in. screen molding and use glue and 1-in. finish nails or brads to secure it to the exposed front edges of the plywood (Photo 3). Cut the shelf front and back (D), sides (E) and slats (F) to length, then assemble the three slatted shelf units (Photo 4). With the locker box standing upright, position the shelves and hold them temporarily in place with clamps or a couple of screws. Adjust the shelf spacing based on the height of the locker’s user and the stuff that will go inside. Once you have a suitable arrangement, lay the mudroom locker on its back and screw the shelves into place (Photo 5). The shelves are easy to reposition in the future as needs change.
Figure A: Locker Construction
16-1/2” wide x 81′ tall x 12-1/4” deep
See the Material List and Cutting List in Additional Information, below.
Figure B: Cutting Diagrams
To avoid wasting plywood, follow these cutting diagrams for the 3/4-in. and 1/4-in. plywood.
Add the hardware and finish, and then install
Photo 6: Mount the hinges
Remove the hinges from the doors (they’ll be pointed the wrong way) and reinstall them on the door based on the direction you want it to swing. Prop up the door alongside the box and align the door so there will be a 1/8-in. gap at the top and bottom of the box. Then screw the hinges to the box.
Remove the hinges that hold the bifold doors to each other. Determine which way you want the door to swing, then mount the hinges onto the door accordingly. (Note: You’ll need to buy another set of hinges if you’re building two lockers.) Remember, you want the louvers to point downward on the outside! With the locker on its back, position the door and secure the hinges to the plywood side (Photo 6). Install door handles and magnetic catches to hold them closed.
Remove the doors (but don’t finish them yet!) and install the locker boxes. Your lockers can stand against baseboard, leaving a small gap between the backs of the lockers and the wall. Or—if you remove the baseboard‐they can stand tight against the wall. Either way, installing them is a lot like installing cabinets: Fasten all the boxes together by driving 1-1/4-in. screws through the side of one locker into the next. Then screw the entire assembly to wall studs.
Install the unfinished doors to make sure they all fit properly, then remove them again. This may seem like a waste of time, but there’s a good reason for it: Your locker boxes may have shifted a little during installation, and the doors may not fit properly. If a door or two need some edge sanding, you want to do that before finishing.
When you’ve checked the fit of all the doors, remove them one last time for finishing. Whether you’re using paint or a natural finish, louvered doors are a real pain. If your plans include a clear coat, consider polyurethane or lacquer in spray cans: You’ll get better results in far less time, though you’ll spend an a little extra. After finishing, install the doors and load up those lockers!
- Figure A: Locker Construction
- Material List (for two lockers)
- Cutting List (for one locker)
- Figure B: Cutting Diagrams
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- 4-in-1 screwdriver
- Air compressor
- Air hose
- Brad nail gun
- Circular saw
- Cordless drill
- Drill bit set
- Framing square
- Hearing protection
- Miter saw
- Orbital sander
- Putty knife
- Safety glasses
- Self-centering drill bit
- Table saw
- Tape measure