Sometimes helpful solutions are hiding in plain sight. It is common to become so familiar with our surroundings that we no longer see them clearly. When you pass by something dozens of times a day, it becomes invisible in a way, so we miss opportunities. What if you challenged yourself to find places with extra function?
One of my favorite spaces is the area under the stairs. If you live in an older home, you may already have a small hall closet. In more modern homes, a deep closet may have been provided by the builder, but rarely does the full potential get utilized. One option is to invest in sturdy pullout shelves or racks for sports equipment like skis, skateboards or a child’s bike. I once lived in a condo, and we had a jumbled mess in one deep closet under the stairs because we kept pushing boxes back into the void! It wasn’t easily accessible but could have been if I had spent time thinking about a better way to use that space.
Depending on your household makeup, there are ways to utilize what is essentially an awkward space. A young family could stow games, toys or books in a 3-foot-deep pullout drawer, as shown. This kind of low storage could also be useful for shoes, hats, gloves and scarves for little ones, as they are close to the ground. Healthy and able adults can get down on their knees or crouch down to access it, too. However, a senior couple might prefer to incorporate the storage at a more convenient height. For them, bookshelves, cupboards or drawers should be 36 to 42 inches off the ground. Your specific needs could range from display space to shallow book shelves. I once designed shallow drawers under the stairs for a space-starved household to hold vintage table linens. Wine storage and beverage chillers are often placed there, too.
If you have access to the services of a good handyman or carpenter, endless ideas are possible with a little investment and analysis of your floor plan. For example, an area beneath a staircase could be combined with what is on the other side of the wall, such as a closet. The combined depth would then be about 6 feet, and that area could become a walk-in closet, a tiny play area for kids, a mini-library or a butler’s pantry. Alternatively, think about carving out a workstation with lighting. Try to create a surface wide enough for a kneehole space and a file drawer. You would need at least a 48-inch width in order to accommodate a 15- to 18-inch-wide file drawer. A homework spot doesn’t require a file drawer, but in that case, be certain to support the surface properly.
Solutions for your budget are possible. You can eliminate expensive custom cabinetry and apply a different approach. Start with someone knowledgeable about construction so you don’t remove anything structural. Ask him or her whether it is possible to cut out and create a new alcove under the staircase with the right amount of height. Before you decide on the exact size of the opening, find a special furniture piece to slide into the area. This might be anything from an antique accent cabinet to a modern one to a tall water sculpture. The construction steps will include demolition, reframing, drywall, tape, finish and paint. Don’t forget to run your baseboard into the finished alcove so that it looks complete. Doing so allows you to create a focal point for the room.
Photo Credit: Feeney Inc.
Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of “Small Space Living.” Send questions and comments to her by email at [email protected]
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