Stair alcove can double as cozy getaway

Moving to a larger house doesn’t necessarily solve all storage problems. It seems, in fact, that additional space generates additional stuff that overwhelms the capacity of closets and various nooks.

Rather than trying to carve out still more storage space, some homeowners come to the realization that much of what they’re stowing away never actually gets used. And after making a few trips to the recycling center and to local charities, they find better uses for parts of the home formerly given over to toys no one plays with and clothes no one wears.

Those newly emptied areas can be put to lots of creative and practical uses. In some houses, the space with perhaps the greatest potential is the one found beneath a stairway.

Q: We enclosed the triangular alcove under a rear staircase in our home because it seemed a clever place for storing items from our children’s adjoining play room. The contents became so chaotic, however, that it proved difficult to find a particular toy or game — and only occasionally did we even bother to look in that space.

Now we’ve decided there must be a better use for a nook that’s 3 feet deep and 6 feet long, with a height ranging from 4 to 8 feet. Any suggestions on what we can do with this space?

A: I’m not suggesting it should revert to a storage function, but you should know that an enclosed area beneath a stairway can serve that purpose well if equipped with narrow shelving as well as with folding doors that offer easy access to the entire space.

The dimensions of your own alcove suggest it might make a cozy getaway for one or more of your kids or even for an adult.

This photo, included in Peter Jeswald’s “Basement Ideas That Work,” published by the Taunton Press, shows one especially colorful treatment of this sort. Here an upholstered platform is strewn with large, squishy cushions. A wall-hung reading light is the only other element needed to transform an architecturally awkward configuration into a wonderfully snug retreat.

Alternately, the proportions of your space could probably accommodate a desk or work table. It may not make the ideal home office, but a student could benefit from the lack of distractions in such a space.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at

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