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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Our Wolfeboro Home Renovation Takes Shape

I’ve gotten a little behind in my chronicle of my own home renovation. July has been busy!

If you missed my previous posts, the short story is that my husband and I decided to live full-time in an historic house that we originally bought as a second home. An addition that was planned for some point in the future all of a sudden became a priority. We broke ground in late May. If you want to read more, check out these posts: Wolfeboro Historic Home Renovation Round 2 and Our Wolfeboro Home Renovation Begins!

So here we are in July and the addition is starting to take shape!

Wolfeboro NH historic home renovation

Huge kudos goes to Nick Lagannas and his crew (Carroll County Exteriors). These guys are skilled and meticulous… and, especially with a job like this, paying attention to every detail along the way is key.

Tying an addition into an old structure is always a challenge, but a tricky design has added to the fun. We needed to incorporate varied floor heights and elevations. The goal was to work with the existing grade, keep the addition in scale to the house and maintain the lines of a classic New England farmhouse — if you are familiar with the term “vernacular Vermont” architecture, my house is a great example, despite the fact that we are in New Hampshire.

The need for a two-car garage under the house drove the size of the space. On the main living floor, the family room has lots of light (and amazing views to the rear). The top floor was brought down as much as possible to incorporate a back staircase leading to the master bedroom and bath. By using lower knee walls and shed dormers, all of the roof ridges are lower than the existing house.

Rough plumbing and electric is underway…

Exterior roof trim is wrapping up and by the time I post this, the roof shingles and siding should be moving right along!

Thanks for sharing my renovation journey with me. If you’ve got any questions or comments, please use the “conversation” link below.

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My Architectural Field Trip to Chicago

Chicago is often compared to Boston, so I was sure I would love it if I ever got a chance to visit. Well, I finally got the chance! And yes, it was everything I imagined and hoped for!!

Hands down, the highlight of the trip (beyond visiting with our oldest son, Matt) was the Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago’s First Lady. The tour is run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation with docents who are foundation volunteers. Their enthusiasm and knowledge was fantastic!

Chicago’s architecture was shaped by the Fire of 1871. This disastrous event ended up being somewhat of a positive (from an architectural and urban planning standpoint) because it gave a second chance in “designing” a city. Planners were able to identify what had been flaws in traffic flow, building designs and things as simple as set backs and building scale.

The city today gives you the chance to see every type of architecture, style and design that is out there. But somehow it works! How come? Because designers paid attention to surrounding landscape, the intended use and scale.

For example, in the shot below, buildings show three architectural styles, but they are visually tied together through the materials used, the transition between buildings and repeated decorative detailing.

Chicago Skyline by Wentworth Style

In the next photo, the section to the right is an addition, but by renovating and restyling the roof, the two buildings are tied together and create a “calmer” flow. This is often the same thing we do when designing residential additions — but on a much, much larger scale!

Chicago building ties addition together

From a renovation standpoint,  the Chicago Athletic Hotel stood out. Formerly the Chicago Athletic Association, the hotel’s newly renovated building features a game room, an amazing “library” and Cindy’s, one of the hottest new restaurants and bars in this land of amazing food and drink.

The renovation included substantial historic restoration work, like the original tile floor and lots and lots of woodwork, as seen in the photos below.

Chicago Athletic Association tile floor renovation

Chicago Athletic Hotel Woodwork

For me, one of the greatest inspirations was the lighting! Many of the light fixtures are the originals — just rewired and refurbished. I love the trend back to industrial, retro looking fixtures like the ones you see here.

antique lighting fixture

lighting at Chicago Athletic Hotel restaurantotel

renovated lighting fixtures

My trip to Chicago gave me lots of great ideas! I’ll be sharing more inspiration as I travel to other areas in the months ahead! Stay tuned….

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