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.
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)
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.
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!)
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.
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!