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

a steplad­der.

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