Looking to spice up your home decor? Don't waste the space under the staircase

·4 min read

Finding clever ways to utilize previously unused space in your house is always a smart idea — and it’s never been more on trend than now, when so many of are spending more time than ever at home.

One of the areas homeowners and designers alike are finding creative uses for is the space beneath the staircase. Whether you opt to tackle this project yourself or enlist the help of a professional, “The space under the staircase is a hidden gem,” says Nicole White, president and principal designer for Nicole White Designs in Miami. From streamlined storage and workstations to mud nooks and powder rooms, this space has the potential to become a cozy and coveted corner of your home — especially if you keep the following in mind.

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Before You Begin

Don’t start swinging that sledgehammer just yet, cautions White, who says you should never assume the space exists. “There could be plumbing or electrical (systems beneath your stairs), so don’t just start knocking out walls.” In fact, if you have a bathroom at the top of your stairs, it’s very likely that you’ll have plumbing in that area — which can be a good thing if you’re interested in turning the space into a powder room. You may be able to tap into that existing plumbing, but you’ll need to embark on the demolition process with care.

If your home has a staircase below your main stairs, you may not be able to do much with that space, says Ben Herzog, principal at Ben Herzog Architect, PC, in Brooklyn, N.Y. At least, not without a little extra work. “If you can relocate that lower stair or eliminate it, there are loads of options,” he says, although he recommends thinking long and hard before removing a lower staircase entirely in case you (or a prospective buyer) need access to your basement in the future.

Your first instinct may be to place a coat closet in the space, but consider your family’s needs when deciding what will work best, says White, who is converting her under-stairs closet into a workspace/coffee and wine bar. “COVID has taught us all to purge, so think about it,” she says. “Do you really need a closet there, or would you rather have a workstation now that you work from home?”

You may end up with a little less height than you expect once you factor in the structure of the stairs above and the ceiling below that structure, says Herzog. But, at the same time, you might be surprised by how little space you need for something like a powder room. “One pro tip is that you can easily locate the toilet on the ‘low’ side underneath the stairs, as you only need about 5 feet of height for the wall behind the toilet,” he says.

White is also a big fan of adding a powder room, noting that it’s a solid investment if space and budget allow. “You will never lose value in adding a bathroom to the home,” she says.

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Making It Your Own

While hidden storage and powder rooms are popular picks — and are generally beneficial when it comes to resale — you need not limit yourself to what you’ve seen in magazines.

Reading nook underneath stairs with perfect ambience
Reading nook underneath stairs with perfect ambience

“It’s your house. Do what you want to do. I would love to walk in and be surprised — not just that you’re using the space, but with how you’re using it,” says White. “I love to be dramatic in a small space, so if you love leopard print, leopard print that wall. Put in wallpaper, tile, shelves. If a stripper pole under the stairs would be fun for you, do it!” By using the space to reflect your interests, you can let your personality shine. Bring in a turntable and LPs to create a little music spot, make a little library station and use materials and surfaces that speak to you.

USA TODAY's 2021 "Home" magazine
USA TODAY's 2021 "Home" magazine

With the right planning — and maybe a bit of professional help — this can be an interesting, intimate, one-person alcove, says Herzog. “It doesn’t have to be a Harry Potter-esque cell,” he adds. “A desk or customized daybed, a reading nook or a playroom can be a really neat use of that space.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Home decor pro-tip: Don't waste the space under your staircase.