Creating Space

Reimagining the cupboard under the stairs.

Wine cellar by Case Design.

Photo courtesy of Case Design

Whether or not you’re as organized as Marie Kondo or understand The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you probably want to maximize every inch of your living space. A prime spot to create a “magic closet” with hidden storage, open shelving, or a charming reading nook is that underutilized space underneath your staircase.

“Lots of people ask us to build something under their staircase, but it’s not always easy to make it look symmetrical,” says Jim Rill, owner of Rill Architects. “The first priority is to tie whatever you’re putting in the space to the surrounding architecture.”

You can add a cupboard under your stairs when you’re building a house or during a renovation, as long as there’s only one staircase in that space. “If you have stacked staircases, with one going up and one going down, it’s impossible to open up the space in between for storage,” Rill says.

The aesthetic depends on the style of your house, the location of your stairs, and, of course, the function of the space. “If your staircase is in your main foyer, you may not want open cubbies for books and photos because that can look haphazard,” says Rill. “A more sculptural display area with triangular openings might work, or you can do seamless hidden storage that ties everything together and looks elegant.” In one home, Rill built a cabinet under a main staircase that looks like raised-panel wainscoting but has hidden doors that can be pushed open.

In a more casual lower level, open shelving can be a good option, or you can install drawers, a window seat cushion, and some pillows for a reading nook, as in the example from Case Design/Remodeling. For another client, Case created a wine cellar under the stairs. A quick web search shows the space used as a dog kennel, playhouse, or home “command center” complete with desk and shelving. 

The amount of storage you can create depends on the height of your stairs and the placement of an access door. In some cases, a full-height door is possible, so you can add a coat closet or even a powder room. “Stairs are usually at least 36 inches wide, so an under-the-staircase closet can be deep,” says Rill. “You can add shelves that roll out like kitchen cabinet shelves, depending on what you want to keep in the closet.”  

This article originally appeared in our House + Garden 2019 issue.

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