Adah asked a good question in the comments a few days ago, and I thought that I’d answer it here, in a post, rather than directly to her comment. She recently moved into a two-story house with her husband and two kids, from a one-story home, and she was asking how we avoid running up and down the stairs a zillion times every day just to get out of the house. I thought I might expand on that a little, and talk about how things work now, what goes smoothly, what doesn’t, and how our addition / renovation will address those things.
Our house is very skinny and very vertical. I love this for lots of dreamy, romanticized reasons. I love the style and the era of homes in our neighborhood, I love their working class roots, and the handcrafted nature of the details. Although there are challenges to living on a street with houses so close together, I also love that they are built that way. It feels efficient and freeing at the same time. When you walk the length of a block you pass twenty houses, with narrow glimpses into hidden garden gems. There are no large expanses of manicured lawns; instead there are tiny pocket parks that are all unique.
I love the way our first floor sits so high out of the ground, over a third of a story right there. I love having three floors to the house; there’s something romantic about a finished attic space, with its sloping walls and ceilings, dormers and exposed beams. I love the tall, tall ceilings in our rooms. Our house doesn’t have a large footprint, but the proportions of the rooms are lovely and comfortable to be in. I love the way we have three distinct zones in the house – imposed on us, I suppose, by the structure of the house, but we’ve settled into those zones in a very organic way.
There is some mystery left in our neighborhood, and this is something that can only come with time and transition and tending (or neglecting). There is a sidewalk, a front garden, a line of brick fronts, a fairly rigid set of layers from public to private. But there are few indicators on the outside of what you might find beyond that front facade. Painstakingly restored and historically accurate, gutted and modernized, neglected and crumbling – you never really know. They all co-exist in a way that is comfortable and accepting.
But, the topic was stairs and stuff, and we have a lot of both. There are thirty-nine risers between our sidewalk and the top floor. They are tall risers, maxed out at the highest riser height allowed by code so that we could actually fit our stairs inside. I would consider all four of us to be active, fit people, and traveling up the lot of them in one push (while carrying something, always) is still quite the workout. Racing up and down them a few times during a morning rush can leave me sweaty and irritable. So we’ve learned to minimize that as much as possible with our routines.
When I was a kid, I always woke up hungry, and liked to eat immediately, in my pajamas. We still do that occasionally on the weekends, but our weekday mornings are really structured by the layout of our house.
E has an alarm clock and wakes up on her own now. I get ready on the second floor while she gets ready on the third – dressed, teeth brushed, bed made, backpack gathered up.
UP (2nd-3rd): I go up to wake F and she gets dressed in her room, we make her bed, and then head downstairs.
DOWN: (3rd-2nd): Sometimes we stop off at the laundry room, on the second floor, and switch over a load or drop something off.
DOWN (2nd-1st): Everyone is down for breakfast in the kitchen. After breakfast, F brushes her teeth in the half bath on this floor – I keep a second toothbrush and paste in a mason jar there. Sunscreen is on this floor; so are all our shoes and jackets. If there are other things we need for the day, we try to go through those the night before and set them out at the top of the stairs to bring down with us in the morning.
OUT (1st-Sidewalk): We’re out the door and on our way.
UP (Sidewalk-1st): Everyone in the door, putting away shoes, unpacking backpacks, washing hands. Typically everyone hangs out on this floor, games or books or Legos in the living room, or violin practice during dinner prep. Dinnertime, cleanup.
UP (1st-2nd): Everyone carries up something as they go, including dirty dishtowels and dinner napkins, and drops them off in laundry room. I usually stop a few minutes longer in the laundry to switch over a load, or grab some of the girls’ items to carry upstairs to fold as they get ready for bed. We leave our phones plugged into chargers on the first floor.
UP (2nd-3rd): Nightime rituals, pajamas and teeth brushing. Some play, but usually reading time. Sometimes we’ll read for forty-five minutes or more – depends on the book, and if M and I can keep our eyes open!
DOWN (3rd-2nd): F’s in bed, sometimes E comes back down with us to hang out in the den. Sometimes she reads there while M and I work on the house project or bills or ironing (we keep our ironing board in this room), and sometimes we all fold clothes together while watching pre-recorded This Old House episodes or Amazing Race episodes. Most often it’s just M and I heading back down though, and I typically head to the tub for a soak for a few minutes, or occasionally longer, with a book. (Ahhh.)
DOWN (2nd-1st): Right before we turn in, we usually make one last trip downstairs to check on things and bring down glasses. Sometimes we’ll check to make sure there aren’t any messages we’ve missed on our phones, before leaving them there again.
UP (2nd-3rd): One last trip up to kiss sleeping cheeks, pull up covers, and turn off nightlights.
DOWN (3rd-2nd): Reading in bed until one of us drops our books into our laps. Let’s see, that’s 11 trips on the stairs on a good day, plus any extra things we might throw in, like gathering up the trash throughout the house, or working on a project, or being summoned up to a certain bedroom for an additional conversation or two…
Improvements coming in our addition / renovation plans: a MUDROOM at a new family entrance – the first one we’ve ever had. More like a glorified closet, but it will be leaps and bounds better than the armoire we currently shove everything into. We have zero closets on our first floor, so it’s not been the easiest to actually manage everything we need to house there to avoid running up and down stairs.
Spreading out our first floor footprint is going to really transform how we use the house. For as much as I love the vertical nature of our house, it’s really limiting for entertaining because the public level is so small – under 700sf total. I realize that’s not exactly tiny but since we have no hallways in our house, our stair hall really dominates the center of our house, and makes the middle space a little difficult to navigate and occupy. Once our project is complete, we plan to use the middle room as a second living space – essentially doubling the living area and seating on the first floor. The updated kitchen (and new walk-thru pantry) will be in the center, and then we’ll have a glassy, modern dining room / gathering space that opens fully out onto a small, but thoughtfully designed garden – a “secret garden”!
Of course, we’ll be adding more stairs in the process, but we can handle it. We’ve had years of practice!
That might not have been a very specific answer, but it certainly was a wordy one. If you have other questions related to this, fire away.