Business Review: California Closets

Ross and I have a bedroom closet typical of closets in a 1912 house. Entertainingly, the closet in Kale’s room and my office are enormous by comparison and are to a modern standard. But our bedroom closet, shared by two adults with a healthy appetite for a varied and complete wardrobe, is about 2.5 feet wide and about 24 inches deep. It sucks.

We have some ideas about expanding our single bathroom – right now it’s a relatively small space with Kale’s room on one side. The other side is, well, okay, here is a little schematic as that is way easier than trying to explain the space between our bedroom and the bathroom( not to scale):

So, we think it would be a great idea to expand the bathroom and take over the space currently acting as the linen closet and the closet in the bedroom, and retaining the door of the closet as a second entrance to our bathroom. Essentially, a cheater ensuite. These are pie-in-the-sky plans, and we have no intention of acting on these plans just yet. But, they’re there and we both like the idea.

When we moved into the house, we brought along our cobbled together “bedroom suite” – me a high boy pine-look and white flat front Ikea dresser, and Ross a hand me down teak veneer long and low dresser. We had no bed frame and so our mattress and boxspring were just placed on the floor. It was our plans to actually get some “adult” furniture once we were moved so we knew what would fit into the challenging space and what wouldn’t.


We started looking at options for a wardrobe that would replace the miniature closet, and the two dressers. We budgeted about $3500 – $4000 for a built in wardrobe that met our needs. First we asked a friend for a quote on a custom built all-wood wardrobe. The price came back at a budget breaking $9,000 to $14,000 (depending upon quality of materials used). We were stunned. We had no true idea of what to expect but there was no way we could afford that, despite knowing how well built it would have been. So, I went to Ikea and used their online planning tools and developed a wardrobe system that I felt would fit in the space, and offer all of the bits and pieces we wanted. It came in at $2200 – but remember Ikea means you have to pluck it from the warehouse shelves, you have to get it home, you have to assemble it yourself, and even then it is generally made using a low quality MDF and cheap plastic. It’s designed to be inexpensive and as a result, you sacrifice the quality of the materials. Plus, none of the design elements truly represented the look we were trying to put together in the master bedroom of a 1912 house.

Finally, for comparison’s sake, I called a cabinet maker a friend recommended – they’d had him do some built ins in the their office and had been very pleased with the results. His quote was getting there – $8200 – but still a budget breaker.

After that, I called the place all of my Googling had kept returning – California Closets. This is a franchise operation that started in (shocking) California about 30 years ago. There’s a local office near me in Burnaby so I filled out the online form for a free design consultation. I was contacted quickly by their appointment setter in the office, Tami, and I arranged for Danielle to come by a few days later.


After some general conversation about what we wanted to do, the budget we were working with, and a quick look at the space we intended to use, Danielle and I sat down and for about 90 minutes (it was naptime) we worked out the design. We started with a general sketch and Danielle spent another 20 minutes or so measuring our room accurately. She then moved quickly onto her laptop. California Closets uses a very well developed custom module in Autocad so that the design was literally happening right there, including pricing, as she plugged in dimensions, options and what not. I was impressed.

She was great about finding ways to reduce our cost to be more budget friendly. For example, those pieces of backing material on a cabinet have a cost but they aren’t required for anything other than the look of a wall mounted cabinet, so we took them off. The units are made of commercial grade MDF and the laminated drawer and door fronts (we choose a maple to match our kitchen) are guaranteed for life. They use varying kinds of hardware, but all of them are high quality and guaranteed. When we were ordering, their promo was to get the wood look for the price of the white, about a 20% discount.

After settling on a preliminary design, she emailed me the quote (drawings, dimensions, visual look, and pricing) so that I could share it with Ross. We talked it over and decided to make some more tweaks. We realized our initial budget of $3500-$4000 was low, and agreed that we didn’t want to spend $4000 on a wardrobe that was “not bad”, when we could spend $5000 on a cabinet we “loved”.  So I asked Danielle to make some changes. I was really pleased with the way she understood that keeping the original 10″ base trim was important, and she made arrangements to have the unit notched to fit around it, rather than ripping off or cutting the trim.

After a bit of back and forth,  we finally agreed on a design and signed off on the contract in the later part of November and set the install date for the next available, January 11th. The units are made to order and are custom fabricated locally. I put a 60% deposit down on my credit card to get the process going. The contract was very clear as to what was our job (removing the dressers and preparing and tidying the site) and what was their job.


I heard from the person in charge of coordinating the install next, Don. I had asked for the communications to come via email as it’s easier and better for me to deal with. Don was fast to let me know that an install date for the 5th had come up and I was pleased to accept it. I was starting to get excited about the whole thing. I got a quick reminder email a few days before.

The installers were prompt and met my eye and shook my hand. They were courteous and polite, and after showing them the waiting space, they set quickly to work.


Built In Wardrobe - Before
Built-In Wardrobe - Before

They started by hanging a rail across the top and middle sections, and then by attaching the long partitions.

Built-In Wardrobe - During

Each drawer front was attached on site, and perfectly levelled. They use hardware that allows you to open your drawers all the way to the back.

Drawer Hardware installation (sorry about crappy photo - I was sneaking it while they were out getting the drawers from the truck)

The installers were professional, courteous, and efficient. (Fun fact! One of them is a professional arm wrestler! No kidding!) It took about 6 hours start to finish to install the entire wardrobe and clean up. I was really pleased that the two installers (one was training and one was the experienced installer) were very respectful of the fact that I asked them to never leave the front door open so docile-looking Mooki wouldn’t escape. They also cleaned up very well at the end – vacuumed out the drawers, swept up my floors, and even wiped fingerprints off the drawer fronts.

Little do they know that I have a fingerprint master named Kale.

They gave me a tour of the unit, made sure I was totally happy with it, and provided me with a nice package that included my credit card receipt from the deposit, information about the warranty, and other info. I spent about an hour or so putting all our clothes into the unit and have to say I am in LOVE with the deep and HUGE drawers.

Here’s the finished product:

From the hall - we're going to add a full length mirror here.
It's not actually this yellow. This is what happens when you have butter coloured walls and a yellowish bulb, and take a picture at night.

We are super thrilled with the finished product and the service we received. California Closets office staff even followed up with us the next morning to make sure everything was fine, and when I mentioned we were thinking of putting a mirror on the end, our designer called us within a few minutes to get details. Danielle never once pressured us to buy – in fact at one point she said “I’ll call you regularly until you tell me to stop, so just let me know”. The design consultation could have happened at any time in the day, and was simple and actually sort of fun. Everything was clearly explained to us, there were no hidden surprises, and every single employee from the design to the install was professional and courteous. if you are in the market for a closet, wardrobe, or even a office space I highly recommend California Closets and suggest you check out their brochures.


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