Salvaged closet doors: An easy win

Well, we finally did it. We actually put up closet doors.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

When we first moved in our closet had those mirror doors on it. We are just not fans of the mirror doors. I don’t mind mirrors and I don’t mind doors but mirror doors? What’s the deal with those? It’s just really too damn much mirror. I want to see how my pants look but not how my pants look in the context of the WHOLE room. You know what I mean?

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

A shot from our pre-buy inspection of the house, with the mirror doors in all their glory.

That’s the only picture we have of those doors because we took them down the day after we moved in.  The doors were completely non-functional with the closet system. The previous owners installed a shelving unit in the middle of the closet, which meant that with the mirror doors on, we couldn’t access more than half of the shelves at one time (because a door always covered at least half of the shelves).

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

This is what the closet looked like for more than two years. As you can see, Rita wouldn’t have been able to pull out the fabric drawers if the doors had remained on (because that’s all her stuff in them).

Anyway, we’ve had closet doors on the back burner for a while. Back in the middle of what would become The Chair Debacle, we were headed into town for some reason or other and decided we’d actually bring the dimensions of our closet opening with us (59″ x 80″) in case we went by The Rebuilding Center. They have quite a selection of bi-fold closet doors there. Our closet opening is 59 inches wide and 80 inches tall. (Why is it 59 and not 60 inches? I don’t know. Did they do it that way on purpose or did someone measure wrong? Not sure.)

We did manage to actually get to The Rebuilding Center AND we had our measurements with us so we did some browsing around in the closet door section–just to see if anything there might work.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

We were first looking at hollow core doors. We liked the look of the solid wood panels–nice and simple. As we were looking through the stacks we found that closets come in quite a variety of sizes. There were a lot of doors in the 29-30ish inch wide range but the heights were widely different.

The way the hollow core doors are made is by sandwiching 2 sheets of thin veneer plywood on 2 x 2 lumber. This gives you some ability to trim the doors on all 4 sides. You can’t usually cut more than an inch on any side though without compromising the integrity of the doors, so we  needed to find doors in the right size.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

As you can see on these stickers, doors come in lots of different sizes. If you’re going to use salvaged doors, you really need to make sure you measure your opening before you buy.

We found some that would work just fine for us, for around 20 bucks for the two doors we’d need. The only problem was that they were all painted. We knew we’d have to strip off all the paint and refinish, or re-paint them.

Even though we’d only intended to look, we decided to snag them. We were on our way to the cash register with a pair we thought we’d be able to repaint when we decided to stop and look at the louvered doors.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

These were a bit more expensive, but most weren’t painted. At that point we had our dressers and draperies, and we thought some dark wood louvered doors might work with that Italian restaurant vibe we’re going for. It was a different look than what we had originally thought we’d go with, but once we started thinking about it we decided we liked them. (Undesign in practice!)

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

We had a lot to choose from.

We found a pair that were the right size and in fairly good shape. A few scratches and some loss of finish in a few places but nothing we couldn’t easily fix. They cost about $20 for each door (for a total of $40), but for what we’d save in time and paint, we thought this was the right choice.

(And compare the price of these to new doors–which cost at least 3 times what these did if we bought them new. Of course, that’s only the monetary cost. There’s also the cost of all the resources that it takes to make new doors. Why spend that if we can find perfectly good doors that need only a little bit of work to look and work great again?)

This is Rita figuring out how to drive the car without getting hit in the head by the closet doors.

This is Rita figuring out how I’m going to drive the car without getting hit in the head by the closet doors. We hadn’t really planned on doing this that day, so we didn’t bring the right car. And you can see by the windows that it was raining, so strapping them to the roof wasn’t an option, either.

When I got them home I broke out my power washer to clean them up. Why my power washer? Because a man likes to power wash everything possible. Rugs, shoes, pillows, socks and more have been expertly cleaned using the magic power washer.


Men like to power-wash, and we like to mark our territory. It’s just what we do. (And, yeah:  Don’t have any photos of the power-washing itself.)

A couple of minutes on each side removed all the dirt and crud. I let them dry a few days and then did a light hand-sanding to get any noticeable scratches out.

I went with a polyurethane with stain built in. There was still quite a bit of the old finish left after sanding and I didn’t want to go through the effort of stripping it all off. The way to go was to get a darker stain than what was on the wood. Using a sponge brush and a piece of old t shirt I put a couple of coats on.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

We already had some of this in the garage, so this is what I went with.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

I found the hardware we needed to hang the doors at Home Depot. They didn’t have a 60-inch door track. Instead I bought two 30- inch kits. They came with everything I needed. The instructions that come with the track have guides for cutting down your doors to exactly the right size for your closet opening.

Using the guide, I determined that our doors were slightly too big and that I needed to cut a quarter inch off each of my 4 panels. To make everything even, I had to separate the door panels (by unscrewing the hinges), then cut 1/8 inch off each side of all 4 doors. It only took a few minutes for Rita and I to run them through the table saw. This turned out to be just right.

After doing that, we had to sand and stain the (now-raw) sides of each panel. It wasn’t a big deal and didn’t take long at all.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

Since the doors we bought were used, there were already holes drilled in the top and bottom for the pins that attach to the rail. The holes were a bit big so I wrapped tape around them until they were a tight fit.

The track is pretty easy to install. You screw it into the top of the closet opening. There are two brackets that sit low on the side of the closet to receive the bottom pin on the door. This forms the bottom pivot point. About 20 minutes of measuring and drilling, I had the track and brackets installed. The doors just pop in at that point.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

Here you can see how the pin fits into the top track.

There is some adjustment available at the top and bottom. This was good because I discovered that my closet door opening was not square. My right closet door had a small gap at the edge on the top and a much larger one on the bottom.

In order to get it to look right I had to work with adjusting the top and bottom of both doors to split the difference a bit and minimize it as best I could.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

In this close-up you can see that the gap widens slightly as you go up the door.

You can still see that it’s not perfectly even if you look at it hard. I may end up doing something fancy with the trim to cover the gap later but for now it’s fine.

Also, the doors were just a bit short. To make up the difference I put a piece of trim stained to match the doors across the bottom threshold of the closet. This made a transition between the carpet and super-stylish white primered floors of the bedroom anyway.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom closet doors

Why didn’t we tear out the carpet in your closet, you ask? Well, because in order to tear the carpet out I’d have to remove the closet organizer. If I remove the closet organizer, then we’ll have to get a new one because the old one isn’t coming out in one piece. In order to get a new closet organizer, we’d have to design it. In order to design it, we’d have to look at a bunch of damn closet organizers and figure out which ones work best, and….


Now that we have new dressers, the closet organizer is working just fine for us and we hate to destroy something that’s perfectly functional. We’re OK with having different flooring in the closet which will rarely be seen because we now have awesome doors to hide it.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

We were able to ditch a bunch of the storage containers when we got the dressers, and now we can put shoes on the shelves. Works great.

The last thing we needed were knobs for opening the doors. As much as we can, we like to use pieces from the 70s (when our home was built) in our projects. We have some bi-fold closet doors on a closet in our garage that have groovy antique-brass knobs. We took those off the doors in the garage and put them on the doors in the bedroom. We put some other knobs we already had on the doors in the garage.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

That’s about all there is to say about closet doors. We like the way they turned out, and the room is one step closer to getting done.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

We don’t like the way the white track stands out, so we’re talking about painting that to match the trim. Otherwise, we’re really happy with how this project has turned out.

We’ll likely tackle the floor first thing this summer when school is out. I think we are set on glue down cork. It’s already in the master bathroom so we’ll just extend it out into the bedroom from there.

Other than the floors, the only big elements left to tackle are the nightstands and headboards. We still don’t know what we’re going to do with those, but we’re not worrying/thinking about it too much.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors

And we’d like to replace that mirror–one of the original closet doors that we’ve just kept propped against the wall since the day we removed it from the closet.

We’re just going to keep on trusting in our UnDesign process, which is working for us so far. We start with an idea about the kind of feel we want the room to have (Italian restaurant), then keep our eyes out for what will create it. Sometimes thing just fall into our lap (the drapes), but we also have to do some active looking (the dressers).

Sometimes we make mistakes (those nightstands up there are one of them in this room), but we try to make calculated mistakes. (We’ll be able to get rid of those nightstands for what we paid for them.) We’re realizing that discovering some great find and getting surprised as the room evolves is a big part of the fun for us.

This weekend we happened upon a parking lot flea market at Grand Marketplace here in Portland.

grand marketplace

The outside flea market was great–lots of funky,cool old stuff (and some junky old stuff) at good prices. Inside, though, it was what their website promises:  “a curated group of talented collectors that will take vintage shopping to the next level.” If you like vintage shopping (and have the money to pay someone else to do the discovering/curating for you), it’s a great place (truly–and lots of fun to walk around). But being in there we realized it’s not our kind of place.

We like vintage discovering, and we like letting the things we discover in thrift stores and estate sales and salvage shops shape the spaces of our home. Did we ever say, “What we really need in this room are some dark-stained louvered doors for the closet?”


But we’re glad that’s what we’ve got now. And we’re looking forward to discovering whatever it is we’re going to find for those nightstands and headboard. We’ll keep you posted.

This (sorta) Old Life:  master bedroom closet doors