Best Seats in the House

Last year we moved from a big old Victorian house in Minnesota to a roughly-thousand-square-foot bungalow we rented in our new town of Loveland, Colorado. Downsizing our stuff for the move was an adventure and a delight. Living very comfortably in a smaller house for a year made it clear to us that we didn’t really want to own a large house again, and as we finished up our one-year rental lease and searched for a house to buy, we landed in another bungalow of a similar size.

Downsizing has continued as we’ve come to value space over stuff, and it’s been fun to think about our particular small-house “problems” and find creative solutions for them.

Here’s one that an Internet search didn’t really help me with, so I’m hoping my post – if I tag it right – can help someone else sometime.

Our house, like many of its kind, has a small addition out the back, and the basement stairs are in the middle of this addition. These stairs were originally outdoor cellar stairs, and they are accessed through a trap door. Here is what this looked like when we bought the house:


That gold trim piece outlines the trap door, which when opened makes a gaping hole in the floor of this room (the mud room, that opens into the kitchen through the doorway pictured here, and the back porch through a door opposite.)

The basement, a pleasant surprise in our search of local houses of this era in our town, is a quite useful space – dug deep enough to stand in, with lots of storage space and a spare bedroom. We installed our washing machine in the basement (side note – there is no need for a clothes dryer in this dry Colorado climate!), and our workbench and tools are located in the basement, as well as a bedroom and rec-room area. So we use these basement stairs every day, many times a day, and basically leave the trapdoor open most of the time.

My concern was that small children, or even inattentive adults, could conceivably fall right over this open edge, onto the concrete basement floor below. We enjoy having guests into our home, and I wanted to eliminate this obvious risk.

But in moving furniture to the basement bedroom, we discovered that not having a wall here is very convenient for heaving large or bulky objects down the stairs. So we didn’t want to build a wall, not even a half-wall. We wanted a sturdy barrier but something removable for occasional furniture-moving.

I turned this over and over in my head, perused the Internet, discussed with other people, and the best I could come up with was a pole that would screw into both the floor and the ceiling at the top end of the stairs, with a removable fence or wall of some sort that would connect to the pole on one end and the existing wall on the other.

But then one night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I saw this in my mind’s eye:


Theater seating! Something that could be secured into the floor and easily removable, provide a protective barrier, and not take up too much space. And a bonus – since this is a mud room, you can sit on this particular barrier and put on or take off your shoes as you prepare to leave the house or are returning to it!

We found these seats on Craigslist, hauled them home in the back of our little Saturn wagon (everything comes apart, so we stacked it all in the back of the car), and screwed them into the floor the same day. Astute observers will note that small children of the crawling variety could still fall over the edge under the chairs, but we plan to add some sort of rail along the base of the chairs so this can’t happen. And of course if babies do visit us, a gate across the front of the stairs would be a good plan as well.


About Julia Bloom

singer of songs, lover of words, asker of questions, runner of miles, mother of Lu&Si, darlin' of Nathan
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4 Responses to Best Seats in the House

  1. rdregge says:

    fan of upcycling + theatre lover = me loving this post!! did you remove the french door leading to the kitchen? I wonder if a pocket door would fit in that wall space?

    • Julia Bloom says:

      Yes we did remove the door. We weren’t using it anyway, and I was surprised how much more spacious the kitchen-into-mudroom area feels just by taking the (always-open) door out! But a pocket door would probably fit perfectly into that wall, and I like that idea! In a smaller house it’s nice to have the flexibility to close off a space if you want to, and a pocket door eliminates any of the space constraints that a hinged door poses. Actually, we could probably convert the existing door into a pocket door. We’ve looked at kits for doing that before when thinking about other projects. Thanks for reading and offering a great idea to boot!

  2. EcoCatLady says:

    Late to this party, I know, but I just found your blog from your link over on MMM. Anyhow, I used to run a music school, and we operated out of an old grocery store that had a basement trap door similar to what you describe. We needed the basement space for storage & lessons during the week, but on weekends we needed to be able to close the trap door and have a smooth floor to use the space for concerts. One of our volunteers came up with an ingenious solution. Wish I had a photo of it but I don’t.

    Anyhow, the door was replaced with a big piece of thick plywood, which we could pry up and remove completely when not in use. Then, he somehow created a series of holes about 6 inches deep around the edge of the door opening that were the size of 1×1’s and made removable railings (think railings on a deck) that could slide into these holes. To remove the railings you just lifted them up and out of the holes. One person could easily convert the room in a matter of minutes.

    Your solution looks fantastic, if a bit more permanent than ours was – thanks for the little trip down memory lane!

    • Julia Bloom says:

      Hi EcoCatLady! Thanks for reading and commenting here. I love MMM’s blog and have enjoyed reading so many of the great comments – yours included – on his posts. He’s built a fun and inspiring community over there!

      Fun to hear about your trapdoor conversion. I love seeing space utilized well! Also I play music so I’m intrigued to hear you ran a music school! I taught piano and guitar lessons for a while and while I’m glad I had the experience, I learned that teaching is not for me, and gained a new respect for teachers!

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