Unlock the potential of the space under your stairs
Look below the treads to find versatile rooms you never knew you had, writes Robyn Willis
Harry Potter might have been the best known occupant of a space under the stairs but, as our homes start to shrink, this long-neglected area is fast becoming valuable real estate.
Long seen as a handy option for additional storage, under-stair space has now become home to everything from toilets, laundries and kitchens to study areas and play rooms.
Architect and builder Clinton Cole from C+C Architectural Workshop says stairs are becoming rooms in their own right. He recently designed a play space with drawers below under the stairs.
“The parents needed storage but I thought the kids needed a breakout space and all these things come together in this space,” he says. “It’s a space of complex uses.”
He says using the space under the stairs can provide amenity without sacrificing a whole room.
“You don’t need an entire room to have a breakout space,” he says. “Building costs are going up at an extraordinary rate so design/install spaces like this will be more and more common.” It can also make sound economic sense. “It can cost between $25,000 and $30,000 for a big architectural staircase but a stair with a closed in tread and riser for supply costs between $7000 and $8000,” Clinton says. “If you add joinery underneath, it’s about $15,000.”
Room within the room
Architect Sophie Solomon says the best way to approach using the space under the stairs effectively is to think about the whole room.
“The stairs can be the focal point of the space, the way it links the upstairs and downstairs is really important,” Sophie says.
“Designing a beautiful stair really adds to the living space and takes it beyond being just functional.”
Sophie recently designed joinery for the spaces beside and below a staircase with open shelving and drawers. The shelving provides the owners with an opportunity to display their favourite things while the choice of building materials gives it a strong architectural feel.
The stairs also function as a lightwell, throwing the whole space into the spotlight.
“When the stair becomes more than storage, and it becomes a feature, it allows you to use the stair as a display element and it creates something quite dynamic,” she says. “Using that space is never really an afterthought for us. We are really making the joinery work quite hard.”
Best of both worlds
Graduate architect at Simon Anderson Architecture, Alexandra Woods, says more people are seeing the benefits of using this spare room under the stairs.
With good planning, her firm has designed everything from laundries to pantries in that space.
“It’s now becoming somewhere that people want to showcase,” she says.
“It comes back to wanting to make the most of the space you have but also making it beautiful to look at and functional.”
This staircase by Simon Anderson Architecture conceals kitchen drawers and a walk-in pantry.
Open shelving and drawers have made this space designed by Sophie Solomon the focal point in this room.