For years stairs have just been there, doing nothing except getting us from one level to another. Like hallways, they are one of the forgotten areas in our homes. Occasionally someone will use the wall in a stairwell to hang a series of family photographs or other collections, and this is a fine use of the wall space.
There are other ways to use stairs. Most residential stairwells are divided into two sets of steps, either parallel or at right angles to one another, and the division is a landing. This landing is often large enough to use for many purposes. There is also space under and over the stair itself. True, there is often a coat closet tucked under a stair, and this is a very traditional use of the space. But few folks use the enormous space over the stair.
Tall, vertical, file-like rolling boxes, each one a bit larger than the one before, set on casters, can be nestled under adjoining stair-risers to store out-of-season clothing. The space under the stairs leading into a family room can be used for an extra bed for a sleep-over guest. With a bit of juggling, you can have a full-length twin bed built under a typical stairwell, with the higher space used at the head of the bed.
The space over stairs can be used for hanging just about anything. I’ve hung huge plant baskets, made of redwood frames to hold large plastic baskets planted with grape ivy, flowering geraniums and asparagus fern in a stairwell with a sky-light. These were hung on pulleys, so they could be lowered for watering.
In another home, I hung a cloud of tiny light bulbs in their own sockets, each wire attached to a ceiling fixture, to illuminate a large airspace above a stair and a lazily drifting mobile.
The landings are easier. They can accommodate anything from an upright piano to a large painting, depending on the dimensions available. On one large landing, for example, I placed a Victorian chaise lounge, two tall palm trees in big woven willow baskets, a small occasional table and a reading lamp. It’s a fabulous spot for a reader who wants to get away from it all. A beautiful booked rug becomes a tapestry on a landing, lighted from a wall-washer fixture overhead.
In one landing, I used the timbers that acted as chair-rails on either side of the stair as a rest for thick Lucite shelf that stretched across the landing. If there had been a window on this wall. I could have used a single light source. Instead, at the ceiling I install a lighting track, wall to wall (two 3-foot sections joined together worked perfectly) and from this hung four adjustable wall-washers fitted with grow-lights. These were focused on the wild jungle of plants beneath. Some on the floor and some on the shelf. The lights also accented a few small pieces of sculpture and a painting or two that combined with the plants to make this into a halfway garden that delighted the eye and used leftover space at the same time.
Try filling the landing with hanging and shelved plants accented with attractive lighting to make an indoor garden space.