Published on January 26, 2021

plywood entry Pin It
Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson

Harry Potter taught us more than just spells. You know that awkward bit of room underneath the stairs? That’s actually usable space. Okay, so we wouldn’t recommend turning the crevice into a teenage boy’s bedroom, but it can be a lot of other things: a kitchen pantry, a powder room, an office—the sky’s the limit. 

Because its shape is so odd (this isn’t a spot that should be designed for people to stand up in), seating and storage work best. Designer Markham Roberts opted for a series of closets in his New York home, but you might not notice them at first, given the doors are lined in the same rough-sawn knotty pine that covers the walls—a clever optical illusion. Overlook this nook to more: Ahead, we rounded up six more ideas for cracking this space’s hidden potential. 

The Family Room

built in couch and shelves under stairs Pin It
Photography by Julien Fernandez; Styling by Amandine Berthon

Anne-Sophie Bost’s living area’s staircase has become a favorite hangout spot, thanks to her clever use of the space beneath it. The designer and photographer created a cozy built-in sofa to fit perfectly in the corner, as well as a custom bookcase stocked with her favorite architecture and art titles. The extra-long pendant light makes the unexpected couch placement look all the more thoughtful. 

The Pantry

sleek white ktichen stairs Pin It
Photography by Katherine Lu

One way to optimize a teeny footprint: Position high-traffic spots along the periphery of the room. By integrating the pantry into the staircase, Liz and Tim Elton’s architects were able to maintain a flow and save more essential upper and island cabinets for cookware. A skylight floods the passageway with a ton of light, and the white steel rails make it look like the structure is floating.  

The Laundry Nook

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Photography by Mariko Reed; Styling by Rosy Fridman

You don’t need a whole room just for your washer and dryer. Joanne and Luke Bartels squeezed their machines, along with storage for detergent and laundry baskets, in their under-the-stairs closet. The key is taking advantage of the tallest part of the incline. Bring in an electrician while you’re at it: Overhead lighting will make a world of difference. 

The Reading Corner

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Photography by Kasey Hickey

Rather than splurge on a sectional sofa for her basement, Kasey Hickey and her designer, Heidi Callier, ripped out the closet underneath her basement stairs and built a 38-inch-deep couch into the opening, keeping the spacious cabinet next to it. Despite having to keep a structural beam right above the nook, they added shelves and a wall sconce from Schoolhouse to make the alcove feel extra-cozy for Hickey’s kiddos. 

The Bunk

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Photography by Laure Joliet; Design by Reath Design

You can apply this thinking to just about any sloped nook, including a ladder. Designer Frances Merrill added three shelves right below the structure, so whomever is sleeping up top can grab a few toys or a book as they are ascending.

The Game Zone

pegboard area nook Pin It
Courtesy of House of Esperanza

For less than $500, design-loving mom Monica Chavez transformed this previously unused nook into a kaleidoscopic play space for her 2-year-old son. The interactive pegboard installations are just sheets of plywood from the hardware store with lots of holes drilled into them (the pegs themselves are dowels cut to 3-inch pieces). It’s the perfect fit. 

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