Build drawers into your staircase for surreptitious storage

The area under a staircase has long been bemoaned for wasting space in a home. Homeowners have increasingly been renovating this area to hold closets, shelving, and other features to make the space more functional.

One option is to have your staircase do double duty as a set of drawers. These drawers are easily hidden, since they'll look like an ordinary riser when they are shut. And you'll have more room to store shoes, clothing, tools, and other odds and ends.

Not all staircases are well-suited for this modification. Curving staircases are less likely to accommodate drawers. If the underside of the staircase is open, the protruding drawers and their supports can appear unsightly. Marcy Tate, writing for the home renovation site Home Construction & Improvement, says you'll also want to inspect your stairs if you suspect that they have any problems such as rot or termite damage.

People with advanced "do it yourself" skills may be able to add drawers to a staircase on their own. Otherwise it's better to leave the work to a professional.

If there are already risers installed, you'll need to remove them before installing the drawers. You may need to remove the treads as well if they were installed after the risers. Kennards Hire, an Australian construction equipment company, recommends leaving the riser on the bottom step. You should also take the time to make sure the treads are level and that nothing will obstruct the drawers.

Taking measurements will let you know how large a drawer the stairs can accommodate. Canadian Home Workshop, a woodworking resource, says you can get the horizontal figure by measuring the distance between the insides of the stringers – the sloping framework that holds the risers and treads. The vertical measurement is the distance from the top of one tread to the bottom of the next one.

The drawer sliders will have to be installed over the stringers. Plywood or fiberboard should be secured to the stringer so the drawer slider can extend beyond the end of the stringer.

You may be able to find an existing drawer that fits the space perfectly, but it's more likely that you'll have to build a custom drawer. The risers you have removed can be repurposed to create the front of the drawer. The front of the drawer should be flush with the edges of the stringers when it is closed.

Consider how you'll open the drawer. Lisa Kaplan Gordon, writing for the National Association of Realtors' home improvement site HouseLogic, says knobs can be a tripping hazard. A hole or angled edge will allow you to open the drawer.

If you are installing the drawers in a staircase to the basement or another potentially humid area, be sure to run a dehumidifier. Humidity will cause the drawers to swell and make it more likely that they will get stuck.

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