We have very exciting news today -- we're guest blogging over at Brooklyn Limestone as part of Mrs. Limestone's "Conquered Clutter" series! We're excited for our very first guest post, so much so that we're going to be talking about the behind the scenes of our adventure over here.

ConqueredClutterClosetSeriesatBrooklynLimestone

In honor of our first ever guest post (that we hope looked effortless and wonderful), we want to fill you in on a little secret. We busted our butts to get the project done and had no idea that we were going to do this project when we agreed to do the post. Shhh, don't tell Mrs. Limestone.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when Wendy openly and unapologetically called me out in front of the whole Internet about my messy wood shop/basement. You remember the post, right? So unfair ;-).

Well, that same day Wendy saw a post on Brooklyn Limestone seeking a few guest bloggers that were interesting in tackling closet organization as part of a 2012 clutter reduction commitment. We had just made this same commitment to ourselves, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Wendy sent an email over letting Mrs. Limestone know we were interested in participating, and after a few emails back and forth, Mrs. Limestone accepted our offer to guest blog and asked us to have something back to her the following Saturday.

Now mind you, Saturday was only about five days away and we had no clue what we were going to write about for our post. We started wracking our brains for an idea we could make a little bit interesting and there was no time to lose to find it.

One idea we had was to talk about our linen closet organization. Wendy had just completely cleaned out and organized our main linen closet upstairs (the only original closet in the house). The closet was lean, clean, and mean, complete with labels on shelves to define the responsibility of each individual area, and small storage containers for the little stuff and craft supplies.

Sure the closet was ultra organized (I mean, Wendy did do it, so it had to be), but the problem was that we had no before photos, no creative solutions for organization, and let's face it, it was not an "inspiring" clean-up beyond the neat folding job. We scratched that idea and kept noodling through our other options.

If you're a regular reader in these parts, you know we have no shortage of very active and long running ongoing projects, so it would have been great to write about something we'd already completed, but apparently that's not how we roll. Rather than try to reuse or reinvigorate a past project we said, "You know, our basement stairwell is a disaster, we're going to have to clean it as part of the basement cleanup, why don't we just do a quick clean up, organize the area, call it a day, and guest post about that?"

Hah! "Quick clean up and call it a day?" Yeah, not here at Old Town Home. Besides, look at how bad it was! Due to our lack of a single closet on our first floor, our basement stairwell has to double as not only the sole access point to the basement, but also as our coat closet and storage area.

We launched into the project with two very divergent ideas. I wanted a couple of simple shelves, Wendy wanted hanging metal baskets going down the left hand wall. While we both had practical reasons for the different approaches, we both agreed that it needed coat hooks galore, and that we mutually hated the current state of the cluttered stairs.

Just look at how much crap we fit into that "closet space." It was ridiculous.

After we kicked around our various concepts, we decided on a good compromise for the project. Shelves above the stairs that could house metal baskets. It was functional in its simplicity and quick and easy to implement. Perfect!

With the plan in hand we headed out to pick up the various supplies we needed for the project, but that's where my mind started to wander. Wendy wanted a project we could knock out in a short amount of time that would show some nice storage options to Brooklyn Limestone readers. I wanted a project that would leave us with a very useful "coat closet" that could make the most of our first opportunity as guest bloggers. In other words, we both wanted a win win, but I didn't mind the idea of killing ourselves to get it done in time. I think Wendy would have preferred a "less stressful" approach. Sadly for her quick project concept, as I walked through the electrical aisle I started thinking about lighting.

The big problem was that the lighting we had in the stairwell wasn't just insufficient, it was downright nonexistent. We had a light in the middle of the ceiling above the stairs, but you could only replace the bulb by using a ladder. After that light burned out in 2003 we never actually replaced the bulb with a new one...oops. Besides difficulty in replacement, the location of the light among the shelves meant it would be completely blocked, so essentially no light would filter past the items we were storing. This wasn't a good idea for an already dark basement stairwell.

While at the store I tried to convince Wendy of our need for a new light, but to no avail. To appease me she said "I think we should pass for now, but if you find yourself out here for some other reason, maybe after the project, you can get it then." Ah-ha, my open! Sure she meant "No, don't buy it now or later, we don't need it," but that's not what she said. 

So that day, we left with the paint and supplies we "needed" for the project and headed home. They included:

  • White eggshell paint
  • 20 minute setting type joint compound
  • 12 single hook coat hooks
  • 2 double hook coat hooks
  • (No new lighting...booo)

Wendy's inspiration for this project was to embrace a classic school house/gym locker feeling. It didn't matter what we did to the space, it was going to be an entrance into an unfinished basement, so utilizing practical and utilitarian storage solutions with a simple and classic style was the way to go. 

When Wendy thinks of school house storage, metal wire baskets tend to come to mind. To follow through on her ultimate inspiration, we ordered six vintage inspired metal baskets from Amazon. It's tight deadlines like these where being an amazon prime member really pays off. We had the metal baskets in hand just two days later and still didn't pay for shipping.

While waiting for the baskets to arrive, we were working on getting the basement into shape. After removing everything, we assessed our space. Six baskets could sit on the three shelves we'd planned on installing above the stairs and still provide plenty of headroom when walking into the basement. We would then accomplish our coat storage using a long diagonal coat hook rack running down the left wall. This coat rack would make far better use of the space than the four hook board we had before.

We had a bunch of random wood in the basement so I started picking through the piles, confident I could find all of the wood supplies we needed without buying them. I was triumphant in my quest as we had a few packs of tongue and groove beadboard to use as the shelves, quarter round to use as shelf supports, and long lengths of 1/2 x 4 poplar to use as the coat rack.

We started the whole process by figuring out just where the coat rack board would go. Rather than the previous setup, the new rack would need to follow the line of the basement stairs, so we measured and set a good diagonal line. Next we measured, marked, and pre drilled evenly spaced locations for the new coat hooks.

With the rack location determined, we turned our attention to the shelves. As I mentioned, we already had a bunch of 1/4" thick beadboard packages that had been given to us by a neighbor. It was all rough knotty pine that was excess material from a project our neighbor had been working on. We cut the beadboard pieces to length, glued them together, and ended up with a couple of shelves that were sturdy enough for our purposes, had an interesting vintage look on the bottom, and would be easily removed if necessary.

We also used the 3/4" quarter round attached to either wall to act as the shelf supports. This provided a good and sturdy support system for the shelves while maintaining a nice and finished look. The supports installed very quickly and allowed us to cut the shelves for a good fit. We felt like we were knocking out this project pretty efficiently.

Everything was humming along but the coat rack was just a little bit boring. To overcome this I setup the router to give the coat rack a nice decorative edge. Sure, we could have just left it as a plain piece of wood, but where's the fun in that? If you have the tools, you might as well use them, right?

To attach the boards to the wall, we were able to drill and countersink screws that we could hide behind the hooks. That way the boards would be securely attached to the wall without the need for unsightly fasteners.

Wendy had this brilliant red high gloss paint left over from her trash to treasure stool project last year. Since she wanted to embrace the old schoolhouse/gym feel, this red paint would be absolutely perfect for our project.

While all of the painted items were drying, I started to work on the problems in the stairwell. I was getting all of my supplies ready for patching and painting the walls when the weirdest thing happened. I realized that we didn't have any roller covers to paint with. How was this possible? In the nine years we've been in the house we've never run out of roller covers! I had no option, I had I go back out to the store. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Oddly enough, while picking up the necessary supplies, I remembered what Wendy had said about the lighting. "Not now, but it you find yourself back out here..." Odd how things worked out. I grabbed the roller covers and bee-lined to the lighting aisle. I had thought over what I wanted to do since our last trip, so I picked up a recessed 4" fixture and also a retrofit Sylvania UltraLED 4" insert. Problem solved, mission accomplished (at least the buying mission). I headed home happy.

Wendy was out for the day and I was working on the project, so I decided that I needed to get the light installed and patched before she got home so I didn't get an "I told you!" There was no time to spare. I started by removing the old light fixture. Ugh, that thing was bad (but at least we had finally replaced the nine year burned out light).

Next up, I located the ideal position for the new light a few feet down from the old light's hole. This would allow the new light to sit below the bottom shelf so that it could adequately light the stairs. Using a hole scoring tool and drywall saw, I easily cut the correct diameter hole for the fixture.

A few minutes later, I was wiring up the new fixture in it's newly cut hole.

The light was installed, Wendy wasn't home yet, and I just needed to patch the old hole and I would be in the clear. I used a bit of leftover green board from another project to cut a proper sized patch, screwed a piece of wood near the edge of the hole on the existing drywall, and popped the patch in place.

So quick, so easy, the whole thing only took about two hours. At just about this time, Wendy got home and took a look in the stairs to see what progress I had made while she was away. Get this, SHE DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE THE LIGHT! She even turned it on and didn't notice it. No joke!

The install of the light was the final "construction" item on the coat closet. After that our focus moved onto wall patching and painting. To patch all of the holes and dings that had accumulated over the years, as well as the large hole left by the old light fixture, I mixed up some 20 minute setting type joint compound. Since there wasn't a lot to patch, the 20 minute seemed like the best thing. I figured I could work quickly, let it cure, sand, and apply the next coat.

The problem is, when the coats of joint compound are thick, there is not an actual 20 minute full cure. The joint compound may be hard to the touch, but sanding only clogs up your sanding discs. We had to wait longer than we wanted to for the full cure, overnight in fact, but it ended up looking good when all was said and done. If you're curious, you know when it's a full cure when you don't see any dark gray moisture spots in the material. In this photo (though it's a little blurry), you can see that the patch is still darker gray. This just meant I was clogging up the sanding disc. Grrr.

After the patches had fully cured and we finished sanding, we spot primed all of the new and unpainted areas. Our once dingy stairwell was finally starting to brighten up. We chose to paint the whole stairwell area with white paint in an eggshell finish . We felt this would keep it looking better long term and would provide a little more light in an otherwise dark area.

Once the paint in the stairwell dried, we installed the coat rack boards and hooks, and laid the shelves into place. The difference from the old dark stairwell/coat dumping ground was significant. It was finally going to be a usable space, I could feel it.

The final item in our project was for Wendy to get crafty. Nothing says classic school house like a chalkboard, so Wendy decided to use chalkboard paint leftover from another project as a creative labeling solution for the metal storage baskets.

Using a few scrap pieces of oak that we had in the basement, I cut them to length based on Wendy's requirements. She then primed and painted them with chalkboard paint.

Once the chalkboard paint dried, Wendy used her glue gun to attach them to the front of the metal baskets.

Voila, a creative, easy, and theme ready solution for labeling the items we'd be storing in each basket. Not too shabby, eh?

Wendy loaded up the baskets with our various items and placed them on the shelves. (Yes, the baskets were very color coordinated, a necessity for our guest post photos.)

The whole project was really looking great. And somehow, and I really don't know how this happened, we got the whole thing done on time! This is an amazing rarity for us. We staged the new stairwell/coat closet for a few photos to show off our work for the guest post...

...But then put our real stuff in place. It's amazing how great closets look when they aren't stuffed totally full of clothes and junk. Oh well, this is a real house, so we're gonna have stuff. Here's a shot of the stairwell where you can see our adjacent dining room. We love how the red accents play off the red dining room walls.

And there you have it, our guest post initiated, school house inspired, stairwell/closet makeover to bring some much needed utility to an underutilized space. We absolutely love the end results, and we both keep opening the basement door to turn on the light and look at our new space. It's a little odd, really, having an actual "closet" where we can hang things in an organized manner. The challenge for the Brooklyn Limestone post was to conquer clutter, and I'd say we accomplished this goal quite nicely. And like I said, as an added bonus we completed the project on time! Miracles never cease.

If you haven't already done so, we'd recommend you head on over to Brooklyn Limestone to check all of the posts in the Conquered Clutter series. There's some amazingly creative bloggers out there!

What do you think? Did we make efficient use of our space? Did we accomplish the school house vibe while adding useful and effective storage? Should we have done something different? Let us know what you think of our little project.

As seen on...

UndertheTableandDreaming
The DIY Dreamer
Comments 33

Comments

Justin
2/9/2012 at 10:05 AM
this is so good....I love it.
Wendy
2/9/2012
Thanks so much Justin!
2/9/2012 at 10:52 AM
Oooh, wonderful - such a great use of space, especially compared to the before pics! What a nice guest post, too. :)
Wendy
2/9/2012
Thanks Sarah Kate! We're so thrilled with the amount of storage in the new configuration.
2/9/2012 at 11:03 AM
Whoohoo! I tried to comment over at Brooklyn Limestone but Disqus doesn't work for me when I'm at work.

I love that you guys angled the hooks down the stairs - looks great!
Wendy
2/9/2012
Thanks Ashley! We're loving the amount of hooks we could fit with the angled coat rack. We went from 4 to 14!
Lindsey
2/9/2012 at 11:09 AM
So glad I stumbled upon your blog via your guest post on Brooklyn Limestone! I'm a new Old Town homeowner and it's so nice to see our amazing city showcased so well! I look forward to reading more about your renovation adventure :)
Wendy
2/9/2012
Welcome Lindsey! We're so glad you found us too and it's so nice to "meet" a new neighbor. Isn't Old Town the best? :-)
Lindsey
2/10/2012 at 9:07 AM
Yes!! I've lived in Alexandria for 6 years but this is my first month truly in Old Town - love it!
2/9/2012 at 11:13 AM
looks great! i'm in the middle of my own closet reorganization and i'm definitely stealing your ideas! :)
Wendy
2/9/2012
That's great Katie! Good luck with your closet reorganization. Let us know how it goes!
threadbndr
2/9/2012 at 1:29 PM
Love the more nitty gritty details. I would have never thought to use the overhead like that, but it totally works.

BTW, had to leave my comment at BL under my real name since I could only log on with Facebook, so now you guys know my real name, but that's ok. Karla
Wendy
2/9/2012
So glad you like it and thanks for leaving a comment over at BL too. I guess since you've seen the "skeletons" in our basement, it's only fair we know your real name. :-)

It's funny -- whenever I read your comments I read them as coming from "breadandbutter" every single time. I've actually said to Alex, "Bread and butter" left a really nice comment today. He thinks I'm crazy, and now you probably do too Karla. :-) By the way, it it a knitting reference?
threadbndr (Karla)
2/10/2012 at 8:37 AM
Knitting and weaving reference actually. I'm a major fiber geek - I also quilt, spin and do all kinds of needlework.

Bread and Butter is OK too - since I'm a closet foodie. You know, I'd have more time for all my hobbies if it wasn't for this inconvient thing called work LOL.
Whitney
2/9/2012 at 5:18 PM
Looks awesome!! Good thing you have all that headroom for the overhead shelves!! Alex isn't at risk for a good head bonking?
Wendy
2/9/2012
Luckily we tested it out and there's plenty of clearance above his head. Although since he seems to bonk his head on EVERYTHING, I'm sure he'll find a way. LOL
2/9/2012 at 7:42 PM
Looks great! I like the red color for the coat rack. It looks like it's attached to your party-wall side of the stair. Is that a masonry wall? We have some hooks mounted to a board on the plaster-covered masonry party wall, but I'm afraid to mess with it, because of the brick etc.

We have the same problem in our Philly rowhouse: not a single closet on the entire first floor. So, the stairs to the basement end up doing at least some of the closet duty. You're lucky your stairs to the second floor are so high: we can't put shelves up overhead like that in ours.

Lucky for us, our basement back door opens out level into the rear alley, by our garage, so the area by the back door in the (still unfinished) basement acts as our mud room.

We re-did one of our MBR closets with the Elfa system two weekends ago, and boy what a difference.

Anyway, good stuff as always.
Wendy
2/9/2012
Thanks so much Thad. Yes, the coat rack is attached to our party wall but in our house our party wall is comprised of slats of wood (like the right side) covered in drywall. So luckily the screws had something to grab onto.

So glad to hear your closet project turned out well!
Karen
2/9/2012 at 10:08 PM
Congrats on your guest post on BL! Great design and implementation. Looks terrific!
Alex
2/10/2012
Thank you! Guest posting was an interesting experience. I think we need to try one that is less labor intensive next time. But I'm very happy you enjoyed it.
Tee
2/9/2012 at 11:03 PM
Great project! You have given me some ideas for my closet under our stairs.
Wendy
2/11/2012
That's great! Good luck with your project Tee.
Katherine
2/10/2012 at 6:18 PM
Looks Great! I am loving your site and I need to know....when did she realize the light and what was her response?!
Alex
2/10/2012
Hah! I love your comment.

Actually, she didn't realize it until she came upstairs to ask me what I'd accomplished on the project, since it "didn't look like I really got anything done." When I finally turned on the light and pointed it out she said something along the lines of, "Great, now I can see what you didn't get done."

In the end she likes it a lot, but her opinion would have surely been different if we hadn't actually gotten it done on time.
2/13/2012 at 9:22 AM
What a great idea and creative use of the space! Never would've crossed my mind.
Wendy
2/13/2012
Thanks so much Sam!
2/19/2012 at 10:36 PM
Wow! Now that's a great idea... I have the same stairwell.... hmmmmm..
Susan
Homeroad
3/4/2012 at 7:08 AM
Oh my goodness!!!! I have the EXACT same stairwell and NEVER thought of doing anything like that. It truly is wonderful!!! Oh and the baskets are to die for!!!

I really hope you come over to The DIY Dreamer and share this.. Please :)
thediydreamer.blogspot.com/2012/02/from-dream-to-reality-linky-party-5.html
Wendy
3/4/2012
Thanks for your comment Christine. We are LOVING the wire baskets. They're so stylish and I was so happy to find them online for such a good price.

Thanks for the link party information. I just posted it. :-)
Kelly
4/2/2012 at 10:13 AM
This looks a-maz-ing. Do you guys also not have any closets downstairs? Our old house has zero coat closets or broom closets -- nothing. Did people in the 1800s not have shoes or coats, c'mon?

We've resorted to having two wall-mounted coat racks in our kitchen as a result, but I would *love* to fix our basement entry (which is almost identical to yours) up like you did.

The problem with our entry is that its pretty grisly. There is cracked plaster everywhere and a giant hot air duct in the corner as you open the basement door that runs up to the second floor landing, pictured in the link below, where you can see the cracks and poor patches. (i.imgur.com/AtYr0.jpg)

Can
I just slap some wall joint compound over everything and try to smooth it all out?
8/9/2012 at 10:53 AM
Awww this makes me wish I had a basement...FL homes don't believe in them for some reason. :( But yours turned out awesomely!

My best, Lynn
Wendy
8/9/2012
Thanks so much, Lynn! Without a true coat closet on our first floor, it was the next best thing. :-)
8/13/2012 at 2:15 PM
Love it! I wish our staircase was high enough to do this. We can barely sneak by with a small coat rack on one side. My BF is forever hitting his head on the low part. Your's looks great though!
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