Group 6 4 minutes Read

stair cabinet design – part one

Lauren Zerbey

I’m not really sure what the technical term is for a piece of built-in furniture that also doubles as a stair guard rail, but we’ve decided to call it a stair cabinet!

Anyhow, the stair cabinet is another one of our chezerbey small-space, double-duty solutions. Now that we’ve blown out most of the interior walls we have less wall space for storage, so it’s great to be able to gain some of that back. The design has evolved over the last several months and in the end we arrived at a semi-custom/semi-IKEA solution. (The great thing about SketchUp is that you can try a number of different ideas in a very short amount of time.) The four white cabinets are IKEA Akurum wall cabinets (probably with the high gloss Abstrakt doors). I really wanted open shelving above for books and some type of catch-all for keys/mail/phones on top. This is the custom part. Once we figured out the general form and design, we started wrestling with what material we would use. The shelving was too deep for solid wood 1x boards but we weren’t sure we wanted to go the veneered Europly route ($$).

And then Kyle said, “I have a genius idea”.

Design iteration #2 – we go ahead and use 1×12 boards (fir, of course) so they’re intentionally shallower than the base cabinets below. Add a counter surface to the top of the cabinets and you have a display and shelving area that can also be used as a buffet for parties or Thanksgiving. The back of the cabinet (which we’re thinking would be painted or covered with p-lam) would keep dishes and serving forks from accidentally getting knocked down and into the stairwell below. (No cranberry relish-splattered white walls to ruin the day!) This rendering still shows some type of catch-all object on top but we’re thinking it could be incorporated as part of the open shelving as well. The ends of the white cabinets would also be faced with a blank door face so you don’t see the boring melamine finish.  This design also seems less oppressive than the first one. It’s friendlier. And isn’t that a quality we all look for in a stair cabinet?

So I picked up the cabinet boxes a few weeks ago and we got to work building the basic frame. After assembling the boxes, Kyle installed plywood to the backs for extra rigidity. Notice the jorts? Oh yeah!

The cabinet boxes were fastened to each other and then to a plinth made of 2×4’s. Another layer of plywood was added to the back (to keep everything from racking and to provide a substrate for the sheetrock) and then we added a couple of metal framing anchors (between the plinth and floor) for good measure.

Since the drywall on the backside would be butted up against the fir wrap, we needed to get it built and in place. Much to Kyle’s happiness, this meant a new tool – a biscuit joiner. We didn’t want any visible fasteners, so we biscuited the top and side panels to each other and into the plywood substrate.

Such fun! Good thing too, we only have 7 other custom cabinet pieces to build.

FSC biscuits! Yum!

After the boards were in place, Kyle installed a coat of Benite, a penetrating wood conditioner. We’ve applied one coat of Satinthane, a polyurethane finish, and will apply one more after the drywallers are done.

This is what it looks like now. The fir wrap is actually really sturdy so we don’t necessarily need any intermediate supports.

I took these pictures right when I got home from work. Bailey had not been fed yet.

We’re thinking p-lam for the back face of the open shelving, for a little color(!). The counter material is TBD, we can’t justify using a spendy kitchen counter material, since this surface won’t get that much abuse and we can easily use a towel or trivet if it’s used for hot food. The dimensions work well for some type of shelving material but I really don’t want to do melamine. Fortunately, we have some time to think about it.

We chose to do the back side in drywall, so it would really read as a built-in part of the house. (The fir is proud of the drywall by about 1/4″. There’s tape on the edges right now to keep mud from getting on the wood.) The stair handrail will go on the opposite wall, so this could become some type of display wall in the future. It’s something to think about at least. (We also have an awesome idea for stair lighting…but we need to do some more investigation and designing first.)

This end is open because it’s where the loft ladder will go. The loft ladder still needs to be designed. I’ve been looking around for an inexpensive, industrial type ladder that could be used as a temporary fix…but no such luck. Any suggestions? It needs to be a true ladder that can be installed at an angle and at least 9′ tall.

Bailey, don’t do it. You remember what happened last time.

So what do you think? I was hesitant of the 1×12’s at first but the added versatility of food display eventually won me over. (Hmm…and maybe one of the cabinets could be used as a mini-bar.) Party at our house!