Lynda Hallinan: a step up for ladders
Where would we be without a leg-up from a ladder? Lynda Hallinan finds them rather decorative.
It was the year our parliamentarians agreed to convene for the first time in Wellington. Further south, prospectors struck gold near Cromwell and a brass band played on as the inaugural horsedrawn wagons rattled along New Zealand’s first railway from Wooded Peak to the Port of Nelson.
In 1862, on a rowboat to Oxford, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (you might know him as Lewis Carroll) entertained a young girl named Alice with fanciful tales of March hares and mad hatters while in France, Victor Hugo published the first cracking instalment of Les Misérables. Meanwhile in America, President Abraham Lincoln’s vow to abolish slavery saw tensions in the south escalate into a full-blown Civil War.
That same year in Dayton, Ohio, a canny carpenter by the name of
John H. Balsley applied for a patent. His clever-clogs invention? The freestanding stepladder.
Though Mr Balsley was by no means first to use a ladder for a leg-up, until 1862, no one else thought to swap the traditional lean-to ladder’s narrow rungs for flat steps, or to add hinges for safety, stability and storage.
Remember those interminable television infomercials for the Transforma ladder, a contortionist aluminium contraption that promised “35 ladders in one”? Last year, the company flogging them was hit with a hefty Commerce Commission fine for overstating their safety load rating, but that didn’t bother me as much as the Transforma’s advertising arrogance. It reckoned it was “the only ladder you’ll ever need”.
Says who? I think you can never have too many ladders; indeed,
I’ve started collecting rickety old specimens, their paint worn thin by multitudes of climbing clodhoppers. LADDERS ARE EMINENTLY useful implements – how else would we reach the books at the top of tall bookshelves, rescue cats stuck up trees, change lightbulbs or chase the cobwebs from the corners of highstud ceilings? – but they’re also rather decorative as shabby chic shelves.
From retro stepstools – the mainstay of every grandma’s kitchen – to rolling library ladders, they offer a huge range of storage solutions. Most interior designers stand them upright, but you can also mount a ladder horizontally on a wall with sturdy brackets then use the side stiles or stringers as bookshelves. Or, in a farmhouse or industrial apartment kitchen, suspend a straight-sided ladder over a kitchen island so you can hang pots and pans – or bunches of herbs, onion plaits and garlic garlands – from butcher’s hooks over the rungs.
In the bathroom, hang your towels to dry on a loft ladder leaning against the wall (also employed in cafés as chic magazine racks); in the bedroom, sling your stilettos over the back of the steps for a funky shoe rack.
For balanced bookshelves, turn a stepladder side-on and slide timber planks through the middle, so they’re supported by the opposing rungs, or use a matching pair of stepladders as trestle table legs. If you work from home, sort your correspondence into plastic in and out trays, or wooden dresser drawers, nailed onto the ladder’s treads.
At a wedding, 21st party or anniversary celebration, use a ladder to prop up all those embarrassing old photographs for easy viewing.
I also like using ladders as knickknack shelves but if your collectibles are fragile, it pays to attach hook and eyelet curtain wires or screw timber slats across the front and back of each step to stop your pieces falling off.
Strangely, despite their interior décor potential, old ladders are worth diddly-squat. Keep an eye out during council inorganic rubbish collections; two of my vintage stepladders were roadside rescues, turfed out by their previous owners for such minor misdemeanours as rusty hinges
(easily replaced) and a missing rung. Two others were secondhand store bargains, in need of little more than a light sand and a fresh coat of paint.
Though I’m not a fan of corporate or property ladders, even ladders in your stockings can be upcycled; just snip your old pantyhose into stretchy plant ties for staking your tomatoes next summer.
In the master bedroom of my tiny bach at Tairua, there isn’t enough space to squeeze even a compact dresser between the wall and the bed, so I’ve installed a narrow secondhand ladder instead.
A novel solution for storing books: if there’s no room on your bedside
table for any more paperbacks, stack them on