Creating a new workshop (and beer cellar!) in the unlikeliest place (pt. 1)

Because of the floorplan design for the basement, all the space under the stairs down to the basement would be inaccessible and wasted — until I had a brainstorm to keep it usable. I had no idea how to make it happen, but I knew that if I could pull it off, it would be a important addition to the small part of the basement that’s ours.

As we always say, in a house with space at a premium, any added storage is a must. We added shelves at the top of the basement stairslots of new shelves in the closet in our bedroom, new shelves in the pantry, and attic access with new storage space up there, just to name a few. Since we were losing the basement space but keeping some at the bottom of the stairs for us in a laundry room (that we’ll share), it was critical to have as much storage as possible in every nook and cranny.

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you might remember that I turned the old garage into a workshop for me with an old countertop I found in the alley.

Cleaned up garage

Losing my workshop space was one of the biggest bummers of turning the basement into an apartment. On one hand, I’ve already completed a lot of the big projects in the house that require having the separate workshop that I can seal off from the house and make a big dusty mess. But I still have tons of paint and tools and supplies that I need to store somewhere, and soon someone will be paying us to sit on a couch in my old workshop reading or watching TV right about where that toolbox sits in the photo.

On top of the need for tool storage, I had this dream to have a place out of the way where I could cellar lots of beer for prolonged periods of time. I’m a bit of a beer junkie and I love to take good Belgian (or plenty of other styles!) beer and hang onto it for a year or more to let it age and change and grow.

First up was dealing with the old stairs. The old basement stairs were awful, and uh, maybe a little dangerous.

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Those stringers weren’t well connected to the floor joists by the door to the kitchen, and there was just one additional support running down from the top to the floor to hold ’em up. So step one when construction began? Tear’ em down. Here’s the view down the stairway after they tore ’em down and started tearing up the concrete floor back in the summertime.

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Once we started the framing, you can see how the stairway is boxed in on all sides. One side is up against the brick wall, one side is against the kitchen wall with the fridge and range with no way to access it, and the other side backs up to the bathroom.

Bedroom framing

Let’s take a quick look back at the final plans…

Basement Plans Final

The only possible way to access the space under the stairs was going to be through the stairs themselves somehow. Looking back through my emails to our architect, I had the idea, but no plan to make it happen.

…I’ve been having this crazy idea of some cleverly designed stair treads that could lift up in a section from the first or second tread up to the fourth or fifth and reveal storage space for us under the stairs. Consider that a design challenge!

Since I was on the hook to do the last 10 percent of the basement job — all the painting, finishes, baseboards, doors, etc. — I knew it would likely fall to me at the end of the major work, so I started investigating the options.

I found just a few under-stair storage ideas on Pinterest or Houzz, but most of them involved drawers that would slide out under each stair or space that was accessed from the side (not an option). Drawers would mean very limited space in each drawer and still tons of wasted space behind the drawers. I was thinking of something much bigger. As you can see in my note above, I had this idea in my head of a way to lift up three of the stairs and be able to get underneath.

It turned out to be even simpler than I thought.

Once the stairs and the back of the kitchen wall were finished, I took one of the treads off and ripped it just four inches or so from the back of the tread. I screwed down that smaller rear third of that tread back down to the stringer, and screwed in two hinges to connect the pieces together.

I built a frame out of short 2×4 scraps that connect all the treads underneath and runs from the top half tread to the third tread down from the hinge.

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So you lift up on that third tread down, and voila, it raises right up!

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I added a little rope and a screw on the bottom of the frame so the steps can hang open to get in and out of the space.

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It turned out to be easier than I thought.

Because there are only treads with no risers on the steps, it’s relatively light. Rachel can lift up the stairs on her own and I’ve actually mulled adding a fourth tread to the rig so the opening is bigger and it’s easier to step down into the space. I’m not going to add risers so that there’s always light coming into the space. If I added risers, I’d have to wire in a light.

After figuring out the rig, I had a ton of space under the stairs to work with for storage, but that needed more work. And there was still space in the laundry room to work with for storage.

Read part two tomorrow.

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