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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Wolfeboro NH home addition drawing

“Seeing” Your Home Renovation Before Construction

A client recently asked me a question that I hear often. She asked if I was surprised how her home renovation turned out. The good news is that the answer was “no”. My job is to see what a space can be and get it there. Although it is always a thrill to see the finished product, I love that it is what I “saw” all along!

In the planning stages, I create a base plan using CADD software. This base plan uses the dimensions and detail of the existing house, and is a great way to really get a sense of the current structure and what we are dealing with from a construction standpoint. From there, using the feedback from client meetings and the earlier development of goals and objectives for the project, I begin design.

The CADD drawings are a great tool for me, but clients love them as well! It enables everyone to actually see the changes that are being proposed and helps my clients understand why I am designing something a certain way or why I am recommending alterations in floor plan, exteriors and even building scale.

Here is an example of a computer-generated view of the addition that is wrapping up on a current project. The CADD view was done a year ago; the photo was taken 2 weeks ago. And there were no surprises!

Wolfeboro NH home addition drawing












Wolfeboro NH home renovation

I also like people to see “special views” inside the house. At the beginning of a project, I will ask a client if they have a special piece of furniture or artwork that they want to have in a certain room, and will factor that into plans. (Right now, on one of my projects, I think I have just solved where a baby grand piano will be going – with a great view of the outdoors as well!)

When I do interiors, I usually place furniture in rooms so people know what will fit or show them the answer to the always asked question:“Where will the TV go?”!

Below is an example of an interior view that was presented to the client more than a year before the “finished product” was complete. We even factored in paint colors early on, giving the clients time to think about the feel of the finished home well before final paint colors needed to be selected.

Wolfeboro NH Lake House Interior Remodel Rendering

Wolfeboro NH Lake House Interior Remodeling

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