Stairs are wonderful for some mild aerobic exercise and the treads will hold neat piles of books and other items waiting to go upstairs. The space under the stairs has even more possibilities. You can fit a whole room down there---and if the underside of your stairwell is Lilliputian, you still have space for bookshelves, closed storage, a meditation corner or a cord of firewood. Apply some imagination to that closet space under the stairs.
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If the space under your stairs isn't enclosed, call a carpenter. If it is, check out your second-hand shop and call a painter. Paint the walls, underside of steps and floor a high-gloss white or off-white. Place a reclaimed and painted-to-match chest of drawers in the closet---the white paint reflects more light. You do need a lamp under there so you can find things---a simple hanging pendant will shine in all the corners. Put shoe or hat boxes on top of the dresser, use the drawers to store bagged out-of-season sweaters and blankets. Install one or two hanging bars, depending on room, for dress bags with coats, formal wear or anything else you aren't presently wearing.
Put a long, skinny bathroom under the stairwell or a tall, skinny powder room. There usually is space for a small decorative sink, a "silent" toilet and a towel stand or cabinet. If the area is big enough, you could add a tub or shower. Very pale colours or white-on-white give the illusion of more space. You also will need a door that closes securely---with a latch---so that no party guest mistakes an occupied water closet for a coat closet.
Wine Cellar or Art Gallery
The space under the stairs is perfect for your own wine cave with cabinetry that will hold individual bottles, a cupboard for glassware, cork screws, napkins and a countertop for pouring and setting open bottles. Leave it open to act as a wall sculpture and show off your collection. Another use for the awkward square footage is an exhibition space for treasures gathered in your travels, an interesting collection or other art you want to display. A carpenter can make shelves to fit your things and showcase them to perfection. Built-in drawers or cupboards hold additional art in rotation. A wasted space becomes an art wall or a secret gallery, tucked out of the way but still visible.
Laundry Room or Office
Congratulations! You've got a laundry room or a home office, with storage. Appliances will fit nicely under stairwells and still leave room for shelves to hold detergent or laundry. Cover the utilitarian laundry closet with folding doors or hinged doors---or pull a medium weight canvas curtain across the whole thing. If you've coordinated appliance colours and storage, you may want to leave it open in a nod to industrial design. A home office slides into the understairs space with ease. Use a desk with room for a wheeled stool to roll in under it; built-ins or a wheeled cart to hold a computer, printer and scanner; matched canvas boxes on shelves to hold materials or office supplies; a notice board against the back wall; and a good task lamp to brighten things up.
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