Conquered Closet: Old Town Home Hallway

Heys all around to Wendy of Old Town Home. As a old home devotee, her blog name certainly got my interest peaked but nothing could win my admiration more than the fact she painted her front doors aqua blue and black. Clearly we can be pals. Her struggles with storage space is something any old home owner can appreciate and I absolutely love how she transformed a messy hallway space into a beautifully organized, schoolhouse inspired feature. Read on.


Living in an 1880's row house can present some serious storage challenges, especially since we don't have a single closet on our first floor. In an effort to make the most of the space we have, our basement stairwell has to perform double duty as the sole access point to our basement wood shop/storage/laundry area, as well as serve as our coat closet.

It's a small space -- only 29 inches wide to be exact -- and it's an area of our home that goes largely unnoticed. (That is until one of us knocks a coat into the dusty mess on the stairs as we're trying to bring tools or other renovation items up from the basement.) The narrow stairwell is a veritable dumping ground for items that don't seem to have a home anywhere else, and it presents a serious safety hazard for anyone trying to navigate the staircase.

So, when Stefanie gave us the opportunity to participate in this "Conquer Closet Clutter" series, we jumped at the chance to once and for all get this high traffic and high mess area clean and organized. Besides, one of our New Year's resolutions is to declutter/make the most efficient use of the space we have in our 15 foot wide Victorian. Here's a look at the monstrosity we were starting with.

To accomplish our project we took a simple four step approach that should work for anyone trying to better organize a chaotic closet space.

  1. Assess

  2. Reduce

  3. Create

  4. Organize

1. Assess
Whenever you're organizing and tidying an area, the best way to start is to take an inventory of what is currently in the space. This can be a painful process because you have to admit to yourself just how much junk you've been hiding. We took everything out of the stairwell so that we could see exactly what we were dealing with. The results were shocking. In our narrow stairwell we'd been storing a staggering:

  • 16 coats

  • 12 hats

  • 8 pairs of gloves

  • 5 pairs of shoes

  • 5 scarves

  • 4 umbrellas

  • 1 backpack

  • 1 pair boxing gloves (yes, really)
In addition to that, there was a bunch of other junk like scrap wood, PVC pipes, plastic grocery bags full of rags and at least two dozen assorted lightbulbs, Swiffer parts, miscellaneous cleaning supplies, and a fish barbecue basket for the grill. (I don't know how that fish grilling basket got in there). The volume of items we had shoehorned into the space was unbelievable. In fact, these contents took up the entire kitchen floor when we laid it all out.

Honestly, I'm still shaking my head at this photo. Well, at the very least we had everything out of the stairwell and could see just how bad our "clean slate" actually looked. What started as a quick organization project was snowballing a bit. That seems to be a common theme here at Old Town Home.

2. Reduce
In order to make the space as functional as possible, we knew we needed to dramatically reduce the volume of items we store in the space. We came to a quick consensus that the only items needed and permitted to reside here are lightbulbs, a few pet supplies, one small basket designated for miscellaneous items, and weather-related paraphernalia like coats, umbrellas, hats, gloves, and scarves. The rest would either be donated, trashed, or relocated to a more appropriate spot in our home. (I'm looking at you, barbecue fish basket!)

3. Create
Once we completed the removal of our junk, we moved onto the layout of the closet to maximize the space available. After taking stock of what we wanted to put back into the stairwell, we knew we needed to dramatically expand the number of coat hooks, create shelving for container storage (those plastic grocery bags had seen their last days), implement a labeling system, and get the light working again. The light had only been burned out for eight years after all. Sheesh.

Given the "coziness" of the space (yes, that's my nicer way of saying cramped and narrow), I wanted to create a nostalgic feeling of a coat locker reminiscent of my elementary school days. And nothing says schoolhouse quite like chalk boards, wire locker baskets, and a long row of coat hooks.

In an effort to make this a low cost makeover, as well as declutter the basement by using up scrap wood and supplies, we scrounged around to see what we already had on hand. What we came up with was enough wood to use as a ten foot long backer board for our new coat rack, beadboard to use as shelving, and quarter round to use as the shelf supports. Add to the list a gallon of primer and two quarts of paint leftover from previous projects and we were well on our way to an organized space.

After a trip to our local Target to purchase new hooks, a quick stop at our local home improvement store for a gallon of crisp white paint, and a little internet shopping for vintage inspired locker baskets, we had what we needed to get started.

First Alex (my husband and partner in crime for those that don't know us) set up the ladder to finally replace the lightbulb in the small light. Next we removed the old nails and coat rack from the stairwell. This bit of renovation surgery left us with a few nasty holes and areas of missing drywall paper. Hmm. We hadn't planned on doing any patching, but it was clear that this step would be added to our list.

Alex is my plasterer/drywaller (general handy guy for that matter), so patching was up to him. As he was preparing to skim coat, my well intentioned husband decided the existing light was insufficient for the space, needed to be relocated a bit further down the stairs (so it wasn't in the way of the new shelves we were installing), needed to be a brighter light, and also a CFL or LED bulb so it wouldn't burn out and go un-replaced for another eight years. I disagreed with this need, but he was undeterred.

One day while I was out, he snuck back to the home improvement store, purchased an inexpensive new recessed fixture, ran wires, installed the light for the stairs, and surprised me when I got home. He's determined, that's for sure. Besides, what's a little more patching after all?

Next up came the priming stage. It was amazing how the new coat of primer highlighted the dingy and discolored wall paint. A quick coat of primer was also applied to the new shelves, coat rack, and basket "labels." But more about the labels in a minute.

To capture the schoolhouse concept, I felt like the coat rack had to really pop with a classic color on the stark white walls, so I opted for a nice glossy coat of bright red paint. (Benjamin Moore Classic Burgundy to be exact.) We had some of this paint left over from a trash to treasure project I completed last year, so using it meant yet another item we didn't have to buy.

The walls, ceiling, and shelves received a nice coat of white paint. I can't explain just how great it was to see white walls rather than the scuffed yellowish walls.

As for the "labels" I mentioned earlier, I had an idea for a unique labeling system for the baskets. To really bring home the schoolhouse feel I was going for, I opted to use some chalkboard paint that I had purchased for another project. Alex cut a few pieces of scrap oak strips, I painted them in the chalkboard paint, and tested out my handiwork.

A little dab of hot glue to the back of the wood allowed me to secure them to the metal baskets and quickly transformed our simple wood scraps into flexible and fun labels for our coat closet odds and ends.

Once the paint and glue dried, we screwed the coat rack to the wall, placed our shelves on the support pieces, and began loading in all items that would stay in the closet.

4. Organize
The final step in our decluttering mission was to place all of the various items in their new home.

I organized the smaller items in the new wire baskets and hung a couple of coats on the hooks. I was finally able to take a step back and look at the results of our effort.

To say I'm pleased is an understatement. What was once a space that I tried to ignore -- and one that I never even entertained the thought of "renovating" -- had turned into a bright and happy schoolhouse-inspired coat closet for our home.

Okay, okay. We all know we didn't just magically go from 16 coats down to two. This was more for the drama of the photograph. Here's what it looks like after we put the whole shebang in place.

Through the use of crisp paint, transparent storage, and a pop of color, we now have a closet that complements the adjacent dining room.

And as for Alex's insistance on taking it a step further than we intended and installing a new lighting fixture? Let's just say I love our new stairwell/closet and keep opening the door to turn on the lights and look at it. That's all I'm sayin'.

Not only did we add a coat closet, but we also added a bit of useful storage to our home. I can't overstate what a major win extra storage is for us. We feel like we've been able to turn a space I would have rather forgotten about into a functional storage area that our first floor so desperately lacked. Thanks so much to Brooklyn Limestone for giving us the nudge we needed to get started!


  1. Ah I love it!! I never would have thought of those shelves. SUCH a great idea!

  2. Cindy@Design Love9:51 AM

    Wow! You have my exact problem! After reading this I walked over to my under staircase closet to check! Ours doesn't go to the basement, but hubs would like to open it up. Great ideas!!! Looks clean and functional. My home is a victorian also, and I get what you mean by lack of storage. Great job!!!

  3. Thanks, Cindy! A few of our neighbors have a similar setup to yours, and they've put in trap doors to keep the under stair area a closet/pantry, but it still allows access to the basement when necessary.

  4. Wow. Such an improvement! Now I want some wired baskets:)

  5. It looks GREAT.  Love the color (and the fact that you put the red gloves and hat to the front to coordinate LOL).   Yeah, old house=no storage.  I actually put a free standing wardrobe next to the front door of the bungalow since I also have no coat closet.

  6. I absolutely so smart with those staggered shelves and the angled coat rack

  7. Fantastic solution. I especially liked the wire baskets. My wheels are turning ...

  8. newlywoodwards2:29 PM

    I'm super impressed with the high shelves. I'm trying to figure out if we have enough head room to do this in our basement stairwell. With no downstairs closet, I need all the help I can get. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. Emily R.3:20 PM

    This is such a great idea for storage and the finished product looks amazing.  I have a one story house but it definitely inspired me to think of spaces in new ways.

  10. What a transformation! We have a similar closet/entryway that desperately needs such a pretty makeover...

  11. We're lucky with the headroom. The ceilings on the first floor are 10', so that means the stairs above this stairwell have to rise a lot higher. This higher rise translates to a lot of headroom above the stairs. We could probably have put one more shelf lower, but it would have been awkward to get to without walking down the stairs a bit.

  12. Wow, that is quite narrow.  It's amazing how it almost looks larger with the white on the walls.  I love the pop of burgundy and the baskets.  Old houses are charming, but they can be a pain sometimes (my house was built in 1893 so I totally get it).

  13. Bwilliams2:44 PM

    A prime example of how a little thing turns out to be a HUGE FANTASTIC OFF-THE-CHARTS KICK-BUTT thing!  10 thumbs up!

  14. JC Pitre10:54 PM

    Great job, guys!

  15. Those shelves are genius, and I love the way it looks!

  16. Presents home improvement task news look for really wonderful. I known many task information look for really wonderful.

  17. Woah! I see stairways like this all the time and they are always a mess, but yours is just to.die.for! I LOVE this use of space- how awesome!!

  18. Well written post.I appreciate your writing skills.Its great.You have made really a great job by sharing this post with us.I like this & would like to read your more updates.Keep in  touch with us in future too.


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