close-up of coat hooks on entryway organizer

DIY Freestanding Entryway Organizer (great for when you can’t attach heavy stuff to the walls)

coat tree and bench in entryway

With the weather turning cooler I decided that this week it was finally time to turn my creative energy towards organizing the front entryway. It’s not a complete mess, but it’s not exactly attractive either, and more importantly, the coat tree is actually not very good at holding coats. It was all I could find at the time after we moved to an apartment without a coat closet, but  the pegs are level, not curved or slanted-up, so coats slip off with just the slightest nudge. Since the coat tree also happens to sit right behind the door in this apartment, this happens quite often, adding a level of frustration to everyone’s day that just doesn’t need to be there. Sounds like a different coat tree would solve the problem, right? Well, not exactly. In looking at other coat tree options it became apparent that the diameter of the base increases in direct proportion to the number of coats the tree can hold, which just won’t work in this narrow situation. Additionally, I feel like the empty space above the shoe bench could be better utilized since space is at a premium here. The obvious solution would be to install a coat rack with hooks on the wall above the bench, but, alas, the quality of construction of our rental housing is just not up to the task.  The walls have a habit of crumbling just from hanging picture frames so I can’t even imagine what would happen if I tried to hang something heavy and with dynamic forces (people adding and removing coats) working on it every day.

To get ideas for something freestanding with coat hooks above the bench I headed over to Pinterest to see how other people had solved this problem.  While I really liked some of the solutions using old doors or iron pipes (see the Creatorvox on Pinterest for examples), I already have a bench that functions well, and am trying to be more eco-friendly by reusing and re-purposing things where possible. After thinking about this for a while and doing some sketches it seemed like a minimalist approach would work well: two upright posts attached to the back of the solid wood bench to support the coat rack:design sketch of entryway organizer with bench, shoe storage, and coat hooks

A quick trip to the hardware store revealed a few options for uprights, some pricier than others. While I had originally envisioned metal pipes or metal angles (like for shelf uprights) both of those options were pretty pricey and the shelf uprights had holes all the way up, which is not the aesthetic I wanted. Actually, it turned out that the only thing I liked about these was the color. That got me thinking about materials that are easily painted, so I headed over to the lumber section. Lots of options there, but I still wanted something with a relatively thin profile, especially since I didn’t want the coat rack to stick out too far from the wall. A standard 2×4 seemed too thick, and the decorative lumber was all too wide. What did hold some promise where furring strips which are nice and thin, although full of knots and marks because they are not normally meant to be seen.

It took a bit of effort, but after sorting through the available selection of furring strips, I found two that were pretty clear (good) on three sides (the backs would be unseen against the wall) for the length I would need…and after a little paint they were even the metal color I was looking for!

milk paint, bowl, and brush

The next step was finding a board to hold the coat hooks. I had previously taken a trip to the local lumber yard to see what was available and been a little shocked by the cost per board foot of even the lowliest species of wood, to say nothing of the walnut I was secretly visualizing. I wanted something attractive, but it also had to match the bench and was going to be partly covered by coats most of the time, so did it make sense to spend a lot? Maybe, but I thought I’d see what I could find at the hardware store first.

coat rack board sanded with sander and three grits of paper

Good news! Red Cedar fencing, very popular in this area, would be perfect. Again, I spent quite a lot of time trying to find a board with the right amount of ‘interest’ (grain, pattern, color, etc.) and not too many defects, but at $5 for a six-foot long piece, the time was well spent. Since these boards are intended to be used as outdoor fencing they are not sanded completely smooth, but that is easily fixed. Even if you don’t have an electric sander it doesn’t take too long with sandpaper wrapped around a block (keeps the paper from bunching-up, keeps your fingers safe from friction burns and splinters, and increases the surface area being sanded).

For the rest of the project all I needed was a few simple tools and an electric drill, which is probably the best power-tool to have if you’re going to have only one. Pre-drilling holes is vital to avoid cracks and splits so if you don’t have an electric drill you can use one that operates with a hand crank or push-mechanism, but don’t leave this step out.

coat hooks and tools needed to attach them to a coat rack board

Next it was just a matter of measuring and attaching the really cool antique coat hooks I found:

guidelines used for installing hooks on coat rack
draw guidelines all the way up to ensure the hooks are straight

hook being attached to coat rack with screws

I used the slotted screws that came with the antique hooks and pre-drilled the holes to avoid splitting the wood.  The screws were a little longer than the board, but that’s ok because the furring strips on the back act as spacers to keep them from hitting the wall.

back of the coat rack with felt bumpers
coat hook screws poking out the back

I also put felt along the back of the furring strips to protect the wall since those screws were a little long as well.  Here I used the longer screws because I wanted to make sure that every bit of the thin furring strips was used to attach the heavy coat rack. Shorter screws would not have provided as much ‘grip’ because they would only have gone partway through the material. Bolts all the way through with nuts to keep them in place would be even stronger, but this seems to work just fine.

Tip: You can see here that I did not paint the back of the furring strips. That’s because I was so excited to see if they would hold the heavy coat rack that I attached them once the front and sides were dry, before flipping them over to paint the back.  I need to go back and paint them now, though, because wood breaths so it’s important to finish opposite sides equally to avoid curling/bending because the wood absorbs more water vapor on one side than the other.

Once attached to the coat rack, I measured, leveled, and pre-drilled to attach the furring strips to the bench (pre-drilling the holes, of course):

entryway organizer with furring strips attached to an Ikea bench using screws

And that’s it!  Time to spin this baby around and see how it works:

Entryway organizer with bench, shoe storage, and six coat and hat hooks

entryway organizer with coats, shoes, and hats

The furring strips are quite thin so there is a bit of bounce when coats are added or taken away, but it doesn’t seem in imminent danger of breaking and I like the way this looks a lot.

Tools you will need:

  • screwdriver
  • wood saw
  • sandpaper
  • drill
  • pencil and eraser
  • tape measure
  • straight edge or square
  • hardware (screws, bolts, etc.)
  • furring strips or other uprights
  • a board for the coat rack, at least 3/4″ thick
  • coat hooks (as many as you like)
  • a bench
  • safety goggles

A few tips and tricks: 

  • Don’t be afraid to design as you go. While I had a general idea of what I wanted in mind, I found the materials while wandering around the hardware store and did not plan the dimensions in advance.  I just held the cedar board and furring strips up to the wall and moved them around until I thought they were about the right height for my family.  Then I measured where that was and marked and cut the materials accordingly.
  • “Measure twice, cut once” (double check your measurements).
  • After you mark off your measurements, measure again to make sure they are in the right place, including on the right side of the material, before cutting or drilling. Then go back and measure the space (where your project will go) again and make sure everything will fit and will be where you want it.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy exercising your inner creative genius!

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