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Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Cupboard Under the Stairs (aka The Indoor Garden)

We've lived in our house for exactly one year now.

It would be true to say that I carried out more DIY based tasks in the first month than the rest of the year put together. Heavily pregnant, and mindful that Time Was Running Out (by this I mean until nappies and sleep deprivation blurriness took over), I was determined to get as much done as possible. Within three days of moving in, I had (pretty much) single handedly painted our bedroom. I then moved on to the room next door, which, being the intended place for our baby to sleep, had to be cleansed of the grubby two tone pink and blue colour scheme and painted white instead. I remember one occasion when, having dropped the children off at school, I dashed back and scaled the step ladder and started painting as though my life and that of my unborn child depended upon it, when the doorbell rang. There on the doorstep stood my midwife, calling round for a routine check up that I had forgotten about in my frenzied decorating blitz. Boy did she give me a lecture and raised eyebrow when I admitted why it had taken me a while to get to the door. Oops.

Still, I am sure I wasn't unusual in being very heavily pregnant and in full swing nesting mode, scoffing at the advice of others to take it a bit easy.

One bit of DIY I have seen to since then is the cupboard under the stairs. You see, in a house with (now) four children, everyone being able to find their shoes and coats is a major help when it comes to leaving the house on time.

Two friends influenced me here with their own cupboards under the stairs, until I had a full blown case of Cupboard Envy going on.

Firstly, my friend Janet, who lives in Bristol. Now there are lots of things that are brilliant about this lady. It is unfair that the first you hear of her on here is her cupboard. Really, it is not the best thing about her. But it is a great cupboard! When I first saw it (yes, this has stuck in my mind for several years), her little boy was just a toddler, and the said cupboard was devoted to his toys. Somehow, she managed to organise the space so his toys were ordered and accessible for him to get out and (most importantly) put away independently - and, the space looked attractive (I seem to remember funky wall stickers, and his name in big letters). Her thinking was to get her son to take ownership of the space by making it feel something to be proud of when his friends came round to play.

Next up on the cupboard envy was my friend Emily, who lives a few doors up (and has the same sized cupboard). She also has children, and lots of shoes to store. But no Shoe Mountain and all the shoving that went with it in the moments before leaving the house, as Emily's cupboard boasted lots of shelves. That's what I wanted, I thought.

I overcame my natural reluctance to spend money on jobs around the house, persuaded the husband to my way of thinking on the urgency of the cupboard situation, and hired a carpenter. Bedford peeps reading this, contact me for his details if you need a carpenter - `Carpenter Marc' as the girls refer to him, is ace, and not at all typical tradesman like (if I can say that without offending all other tradesmen, but you know what I mean). He spent a couple of days putting in a stud wall, shelves and an extra door for the little cupboard created by dividing the cupboard in half. That's where all my sewing machines now live, by the way. He also put in a light, with the switch at the right height for a toddler to use (thinking back to how Janet carefully designed her home to encourage independence).

Once this was done, something unexpected happened.

The space wasn't just a cupboard. It was also a den.

Despite the actual space being halved, having decent storage (and no Shoe Mountain sprawling over the floor) and lighting made it seem bigger. So much so, all three girls took to squishing themselves into it. They would spend time colouring, snacking, and generally hanging out in the tiny space under the stairs.

And that is where the idea for an indoor garden came. Partly in a thinking out loud conversation with the carpenter - the result of which was him giving me a scrap of fake grass he got from a gardening pal.

And (pardon the pun) it has just kind of grown from there, really.

The first job was to paint the shelves. Each girl chose the paint for her own shelf (any parent will understand why I insisted they have their own shelves for their shoes and stick to that!) plus one bonus one, and we painted them together in the garden (luckily the shelves aren't fixed firmly in place).

They each painted a sunflower on the door. And then (because they got into it so much) painted more of them on each wall of the indoor garden. The Cave Girl was smug about slipping in a little lady bird potato print one afternoon whilst her big sisters were still at school. She enjoyed showing off about that.

After our initial burst of DIY enthusiasm, the space remained in an almost but not quite finished state for about three months. 

And then, as two of them played in the cupboard this morning, I felt inspired to do something about the hard sticking up out of the ground disconnected gas pipe. There had been several bumps and knocks, and so I decided to pad it out a bit. The bumblebee is what happened. Don't scrutinise the picture too much - it is poorly made, but I am taking a done is better than not done approach to this whole project. The girls love this latest resident, and that's all that matters.

High on the success of operation bumblebee, I did some rubbish carpentry of my own and created the book ledge. The biggest girl adores retreating to the cupboard for a quiet read, and I thought she'd like this. I know it won't stay like this, but for now, I have selected my own childhood favourites to display, and am going to enjoy the memories those beautiful illustrations evoke for me.

The final thing that got added (just before their bedtime) was a trail of butterflies. Well, I had to get something else fabric based in, didn't I, and the origami butterflies seemed like a fun idea. I just glue gunned them on.

And that's it. One cupboard under the stairs. A place for our coats and shoes. Or, our Indoor Garden, as they like to tell it when their friends come round to play.

Actually, that is not it. For the sake of honesty about Real Life, I would like to point out my shoe collection is not normally displayed in such a dreamy way. See those funky zebra print wedges? Not been worn in years. I have to rescue them from another cupboard and blow the dust off them so I could make the picture look nice. Same goes for the sage green and the purple heels. My Real Life shoes are the flat red Mary Janes. Just one pair. I love them, and they don't give me blisters. If Clarks happen to be reading this, a second pair, in mustard would be lovely. But I only seem to be able to find them in boring old black...


  1. Love it! (Sacha)

  2. I love your cupboard. That's all. Particularly the shoes in ever decreasing sizes!

    1. There were some initial arguments over who was getting which shelf - I ended up having to decree it would be youngest upwards in terms of position. But there was a bit of foot stamping from the 4 year old, because she took the bottom shelf to be an insult to her big girl status!!

  3. I love the rainbow shelves! and what I good idea to let the kids have a shelf each and pick their own colour! and I am so in love with your butterflies!

    1. Thanks! Have now done a tutorial on them, should you feel tempted to make your own... :)