Design Tips for a Step Down Room

Like its name suggests, a step down room is a room that is a step or two down from the main, first floor level of a home. A step down room might be created to provide a higher ceiling or to delineate a different space in a free-flowing floor plan. Family rooms, in particular, are often good candidates for the step down design.

While step down rooms are a great feature that add impact, the entrance to them can be tricky.  You don’t want people to make a grand entrance to the room by stumbling down the stairs because they weren’t prepared for the step down!

A few safety tips:

  • When possible, have at least one tread (preferably more) meaning you are taking at least two steps down into the room (typically 14 inches). A seven-inch transition isn’t significant enough to catch a person’s attention and may lead to stumbles.
  • The depth of the step on this step down should be at least 12 to 14 inches deep and the full width of the door opening. The large size helps increase awareness of the step.

In addition to safety, there are aesthetic issues as well. Don’t forget to consider:

  • The doorway – Will you case the opening or just leave it as a plaster (or drywall) wall? Will you add a door or have free-flowing space? Be sure to think through the desired look and feel of the transition to the step down space.
  • The sight lines – As you enter a step down room, the ceiling becomes more prominent because you are entering the room closer to it. You can add visual interest to the ceiling by using wood or bead board instead of traditional drywall or plaster. If you have enough room, you can also add beams. You can also re-frame the view by adding a header across the doorway that creates a more traditional view as you enter the room.

Wolfeboro step down room 2016


In the project shown above, occupants of the step down room have a clear view of other doorways. We added visual continuity by creating a header that is the same height as those other doorways. To make it more interesting, we built this header with an opening above. It creates a shelf, adds some detail, but still achieves the goal of making sure, as you step into the room, that you are not overwhelmed by an expanse of a white plaster ceiling.



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