10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions

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By Kate Reggev / Published by Dwell
A sloped ceiling, low-head height, and limited access to sunlight might spell out some design restrictions, but that doesn’t mean that the area under a staircase is doomed to be a completely unusable space in your home.

In most multi-level residences, the space under stairs can create some unusual, awkwardly shaped spaces that can be difficult to program. Between its low-head height, sloped ceiling, and small square footage, it can be difficult to make this space useful (it’s no wonder this is where Harry Potter was relegated to in the J. K. Rowling novels). Fortunately, several designers have come up with creative solutions to render this difficult spot under staircases as viable square footage in even the smallest of homes, where every inch counts. Take a look at some of the ways homeowners, architects, and interior designers have approached this challenging area of the home and turned it into a place of beauty and even respite.

1) A Child's Bright Workspace

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 1 of 10 - In this home by O’Neill Rose Architects in Queens, New York, three generations of a family were living in a single house, including a young girl. To provide a space for her to complete her schoolwork, the architects designed this bright, energetic desk area under the stairs, but managed to make the space feel like anything but an afterthought.

In this home by O’Neill Rose Architects in Queens, New York, three generations of a family were living in a single house, including a young girl. To provide a space for her to complete her schoolwork, the architects designed this bright, energetic desk area under the stairs, but managed to make the space feel like anything but an afterthought.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 2 of 10 - A mobile bar cart with room for kitchen storage is not the most traditional under-stair solution, but it's proven to be critical in the design of this kitchen and living space in Seattle by designer David Sarti. Its plywood construction, black knobs, and bright red casters mean that this design is meant to be noticed rather than be ignored.

A mobile bar cart with room for kitchen storage is not the most traditional under-stair solution, but it's proven to be critical in the design of this kitchen and living space in Seattle by designer David Sarti. Its plywood construction, black knobs, and bright red casters mean that this design is meant to be noticed rather than be ignored.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 3 of 10 - In this home in Austin, Texas, architect Kevin Alter of Alterstudio renovated a 1920s bungalow to include a rustic but modern office nook under the new stairs leading to a second floor. By outfitting the walls of the office in knotty pine, the space contrasts with the surrounding white walls and becomes a design feature rather than a forgotten space. 

In this home in Austin, Texas, architect Kevin Alter of Alterstudio renovated a 1920s bungalow to include a rustic but modern office nook under the new stairs leading to a second floor. By outfitting the walls of the office in knotty pine, the space contrasts with the surrounding white walls and becomes a design feature rather than a forgotten space. 

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 4 of 10 - In a Brooklyn home renovated by Office of Architecture, subtle details on bright white cabinets keep this space under the stairs from feeling anything but dark and dreary, despite the dark wood treads and risers and black iron handrail. Thoughtful details, like simple, geometric hardware and hidden hinges, keep this often-awkward space useful and appealing.

In a Brooklyn home renovated by Office of Architecture, subtle details on bright white cabinets keep this space under the stairs from feeling anything but dark and dreary, despite the dark wood treads and risers and black iron handrail. Thoughtful details, like simple, geometric hardware and hidden hinges, keep this often-awkward space useful and appealing.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 5 of 10 - In this home by architect Charlie Lazor in Minneapolis, the space under this open-riser metal stair has been allocated as overflow storage and seating for the living room. Although it may initially seem like an unusable area, the height of the stair means that the space is in fact usable by someone seated or reaching for items in the storage cabinet along the back wall. By carefully placing the chairs, the space appears useful but not cluttered.

In this home by architect Charlie Lazor in Minneapolis, the space under this open-riser metal stair has been allocated as overflow storage and seating for the living room. Although it may initially seem like an unusable area, the height of the stair means that the space is in fact usable by someone seated or reaching for items in the storage cabinet along the back wall. By carefully placing the chairs, the space appears useful but not cluttered.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 6 of 10 - In this 240-square-foot apartment in New York City with a sleeping loft over the kitchen, architect Tim Seggerman didn't waste a single inch by locating kitchen cabinets and open shelving on the underside of the staircase that leads up to the lofted bed. The angle of the steps was incorporated into the shelves, which accommodates items like a single paper towel roll or small mugs under the lower steps, then graduating to larger sliding cabinets under the higher steps. 

In this 240-square-foot apartment in New York City with a sleeping loft over the kitchen, architect Tim Seggerman didn't waste a single inch by locating kitchen cabinets and open shelving on the underside of the staircase that leads up to the lofted bed. The angle of the steps was incorporated into the shelves, which accommodates items like a single paper towel roll or small mugs under the lower steps, then graduating to larger sliding cabinets under the higher steps. 

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 7 of 10 - In the family room of this former industrial loft in Brooklyn that was renovated by SABO project, a new staircase leads to a mezzanine level. The alternating tread steps double as cabinets that are free of knobs and visible hardware, creating a graphic statement piece in the room. The cabinets give way to a workspace that's complete with open and closed shelving so that the space can remain uncluttered.

In the family room of this former industrial loft in Brooklyn that was renovated by SABO project, a new staircase leads to a mezzanine level. The alternating tread steps double as cabinets that are free of knobs and visible hardware, creating a graphic statement piece in the room. The cabinets give way to a workspace that's complete with open and closed shelving so that the space can remain uncluttered.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 8 of 10 - In homes that aren't short on square footage, the space under a staircase can be the perfect spot to create a beautiful ensemble of items like a grouping of your favorite vases or a special piece of furniture. In this home near Bristol, England, that was designed by Paul Archer, the space under a stairway was made visually, if not programmatically, useful by locating a glass table and vase with simple lines to create a subtle, minimalist vignette.

In homes that aren't short on square footage, the space under a staircase can be the perfect spot to create a beautiful ensemble of items like a grouping of your favorite vases or a special piece of furniture. In this home near Bristol, England, that was designed by Paul Archer, the space under a stairway was made visually, if not programmatically, useful by locating a glass table and vase with simple lines to create a subtle, minimalist vignette.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 9 of 10 - In the renovation of this former industrial loft for an artist into a studio and living space, built-in drawers under a plywood staircase create visual drama as well as practical storage. By using drawers instead of cabinets, the lower portion of the custom solution is easier to access than if it were cabinets on hinges, and the geometry of the drawers mimics the stair tread.

In the renovation of this former industrial loft for an artist into a studio and living space, built-in drawers under a plywood staircase create visual drama as well as practical storage. By using drawers instead of cabinets, the lower portion of the custom solution is easier to access than if it were cabinets on hinges, and the geometry of the drawers mimics the stair tread.

10 Smart and Surprising Under-Stair Design Solutions - Photo 10 of 10 - In a family home in Mill Valley, California, Lauren Goldman of l’oro designs kept her clients’ goals of "modern yet accessible" in mind while also looking for opportunities to add functionality. This proved successful when she discovered that the empty space under the steel-and-glass stair landing was the perfect scale for children to sit and read under. The team was inspired to create a kid-sized library, turning a useless space into a perfectly cozy reading nook. 

In a family home in Mill Valley, California, Lauren Goldman of l’oro designs kept her clients’ goals of "modern yet accessible" in mind while also looking for opportunities to add functionality. This proved successful when she discovered that the empty space under the steel-and-glass stair landing was the perfect scale for children to sit and read under. The team was inspired to create a kid-sized library, turning a useless space into a perfectly cozy reading nook. 

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