How To Design Storage Stairs For Your Tiny House

The storage stairs inside our tiny house named lucy
Storage stairs utilize wasted space and reduce clutter

Our tiny house Lucy feels spacious and comfortable to live in. But without our storage stairs it would be a different story. We would either have lots of stuff lying around or we would have to build storage elsewhere in our open plan lounge... Not cool!

When we were creating our plans, these were the types of features which I found the most interesting to design. It's fun thinking about how you can take wasted space and turn it into something useful.

Other people obviously think the storage stairs are pretty nifty too because we get requests almost daily asking how we built them.

And although we didn't physically build them ourselves - we got a cabinet maker to build the drawers and wardrobe - we can still show you how we designed them. That way, whether you build them yourself or not, you'll at least know the measurements you need.

 

Measure Your Space

We started off by measuring the space we had to work with.

  • The height from our floor to loft was set in stone at 2290mm.
  • The distance our stairs could extend out across the floor had to be short enough to not collide with our couch. We decided a good maximum length was 1980mm.
  • We also had a 190mm high wheel well in there which affected the stair measurements. We'll talk about later.

The layout of our storage stairs inside our tiny house
The space we had to work with for our storage stairs

 

Crunch Some Simple Numbers

The next step is to figure out 2 things...

  1. How many steps are you going to have?
  2. What are the height (riser) and width (tread) of each step.

Our approach involves playing around with numbers a little bit. I know, playing and numbers in the same sentance... crazy huh! But don't be afraid it's pretty simple really.

Take a look at these 2 formula's.

The equations we use to figure out the dimensions of our storage stairs
The equations to figure out the dimensions for your storage stairs

Now we're going to play a guessing game. Take a stab at how many stairs you think would fit in that space. It doesn't matter if you get it wrong. We're going to give those numbers a try and see what size our risers and treads end up as. If they don't work, we try again. Simple!

Let's go through an example using our space. We'll try 6 stairs to begin with...

Try the storage stairs equations with 6 steps

These seem quite big for risers and treads. On the DBH website they have recommendations for riser and tread heights. The maximum riser height that you would typically see in a building is 220mm.

To make the step sizes smaller all we have to do is add another step. So let's try 7 steps (Are you having fun yet?)

Try the storage stairs equations with 7 steps

These sizes are a bit more reasonable. However they still seem kinda large for a riser. So let's try again with 8 steps.

Try the storage stairs equations with 8 steps

That riser height seems much better. But the tread is starting to get too small. I measured my foot and it is 270mm long.

At this point we realised that our steps were never going to be the perfect combo of riser and tread size because the space we have to work with is limited. So it was a matter of weighing up what is more important.

  1. Having a comfortable tread to stand on with a high step up, or...
  2. Having an easy step up with not much room for your foot on each step.

We felt it better to have lots of foot room. So we went with 7 steps.

 

Physically Measure Your Stairs

When deciding upon the dimensions of your storage stairs, it really helps to take a measuring tape and go and look at some actual steps. Measure them and see how they feel. Now measure the size of the steps you're considering. How do they feel? Would they be comfortable to go up and down regularly? Are they safe?

Stair safety tip

One of the most important things to get right when designing stairs is that the height of every step on the staircase is the same. If you walk up 4 steps that are the same height then you will expect that the 5th will be the same. If it isn't, I guarantee people will trip!

 

Decide On A Comfortable Stair Width

When deciding our stair width, we physically stood on various pieces of furniture around the house with different widths. Some of them felt too narrow. Others were unnecessarily wide. We finally settled on a comfortable stair width of 550mm. Try this out for yourself.

 

Draw Your Stairs

Here are the final measurements of our stairs.

The final dimensions of our storage stairs
The final dimensions of our storage stairs

Notice how the cabinets don't go all the way to the floor. That's because of that wheel well which we had to hide.

We designed the cabinets to sit partly on top of the wheel well and partly on a custom built shoe storage area. As a result, the height of each cabinet was reduced by 190mm

  • Our largest storage cupboard is the height of 6 stairs (less the wheel well height) 6 x 286 - 190 = 1526mm
  • The middle one is the height of 4 stairs (less the wheel well height) 4 x 286 - 190 = 954mm
  • The smallest one is the height of 2 stairs (less the wheel well height) 2 x 286 - 190 = 382mm

All of them are 2 treads wide (283 x 2 = 566mm) and 550mm deep (the comfortable size we decided on earlier)

Here are the drawings we sent to the cabinet maker...

The final dimensions of our storage stairs that we sent to the cabinet maker
The final 3 cabinets for the cabinet maker to build

The benefit of having 7 stairs is that you can have 3 large cabinets and 4 little in-between cupboards. If we had 8 (or any other even number) we would have to make an L shaped cupboard to fit at the bottom. It's not a major problem, but it is a little bit more awkward.

And here are the individual cupboard sizes - each just the size of a tread by a riser.

The small single cupboard steps

 

That should be everything you need to build your own set of storage stairs. Give this approach a try and transform your wasted space into clever and useful storage.