The Precarious Death Stairs

Brooke here:

The more I think about it, the more I think something dramatic needs to be done to the Precarious Death Stairs (PDS), and soon.

The Precarious Death Stairs. Large image has been digitally lightened to show features, while the upper-left image shows the PDS as they actually appear.

One of the first things Brown did when we moved in was buy a powerful motion-activated LED to light the stairwell (which I removed when taking the picture as it screwed with the quality of the image), so it’s not as though we’re jumping blindly and hoping the stairs are still there, or that the aquarium will catch us if they aren’t.  For anyone not familiar with the kitchen layout, though, the PDS are unsafe.  They are located to the side of the cabinets and begin before the cabinets end.  It’s such a bad design that we’ve toyed with the idea of moving the entire stairwell forward so the gap between the cabinets and the stairwell is minimized, but that’s a last resort.

I had planned to paint the PDS over the winter when I couldn’t do yardwork, but I might bump it up on the List as we’re planning some larger parties and the stairs are really and truly a possible danger for kids.  For everybody, actually, once Jo’s rum-brandy-whiskey eggnog comes out, but…

Any suggestions on how to make this a more distinctive (aka: less dangerous) space?*  Paint, obviously, and better lighting, but what else?

*Regarding the last post where I asked for recommendations, I should mention we’ve figured out what to do with the deadbolt voids and there is a post coming soon, but it involves making a trip out to a cemetery to take a picture of a grave and getting there has been inconvenient.

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12 thoughts on “The Precarious Death Stairs

  1. yfnsa

    It might look like a porch project (or a movie theater) but what about lights on the stairs themselves?

    Do it in neon and make it look like Tron! Geek Out!

  2. Farasha

    Initially I was going to suggest a waist-high railing of some kind starting from the top of the stairs… but then I got to pondering the logistics of working it around the three-inch-lip cabinet problem and my head started to hurt.

    I’m out of ideas, unless you just want to put up a baby gate across the stairs when your guests arrive.

  3. FreaKill

    From what I see the problem is when somebody steps on the first step he/she can easily trip over the sticking out cabinet. What I’m thinking is why not cover the gap?

    Like this for example? (The “plug” I’m talking about is the green part of the scheme, can be made from one piece of wood, firmly attaching it to the wall would probably be enough for it not to break away when someone steps on it)
    That way there won’t be any gap for legs to get caught in and installing such plug is certainly less work than rebuilding the whole stairs.
    What do you think?

  4. yfnsa

    An illuminated bollard to the left of the top step? Would stop people from coming into it from the side.

    The floor and stairs are all wood and look the same. Can you change the look of one or the other so people can see there is a transition?

    I have some extra yellow marking paint left over from painting the lines in our (condo building) parking lot. Want some? 🙂

  5. My first thought is to just take the doors off the cabinets, apply Sawzall liberally, and rebox them as open shelves of the right width. This is why I write all my projects down and get my wife to sign off on them first. Slightly more realistically, a detachable pet or baby gate might work for parties, but that thing is a negligence suit just waitng to happen.

    It looks like you need a rail there really badly… I have a dark interior staircase as well and am planning to put a strip of low-voltage “grain of wheat” type LEDs down both sides, top to bottom, right after Someone paints the stairwell the color of her choice.

    1. indigootter

      I had to go and look at the stairwell while writing this reply, as I thought maybe the structural supports from the ceiling to the cabinets were hanging 3″ over open air and were themselves completely unsupported. And then I freaked out a little and double-checked, but they are set closer towards the center of the room and actually do make a straight line from ceiling to floor, not from ceiling to void. Whew.

      Still, sawing the back off isn’t an option. The cabinets and wall are a single piece, so part of it will always be hanging off in space unless we remodel the entire kitchen and move everything 3″ to the left. We could remove a smaller section closest to the stairs, but there are water and power lines in there, plus the interior of the cabinets (a lazy susan and some drawers) would be wrecked. It would be easier to move the entire staircase instead of cutting the cabinets, rebuilding the interiors, and moving the utility lines.

      I’m leaning towards LEDs myself. I might paint this weekend and go forward from there.

      1. Kimichi Tsuzuku

        I would definitely go with outlining stairs withLEDs and possibly even wall sconces on the right side to help eleviate the gloom.

        As much as I hate painted wood paneling and woodwork, I suggest that you paint it a nice glossy white or a shiny pastel and match that color on each riser. I’d only paint the treads as a last resort.

        Whether or not you end of moving the stairs (architect review & building inspector is mandatory up here, ouch) I’d be tempted to put in a newel post and gate or half-door for privacy and risk-management.

      2. You might need to find an engineer for this, but is ther anyway you could enter the stairwell from the righthand side, as you look up the stairs? if so, you MIGHT be able to put a small landing in and “turn the corner,” as it were, on the stairs. (Up 9 steps, turn on the landing, up one step into the other room.)

        Or a prefab metal spiral staircase. We just had some “minor tread repairs” escalate into “rip it out and do it RIGHT this time.”

  6. Ferret

    Looks like someone already thought of my suggestion(s)…which would be to trim/modify the back sides of the Cabinets so they don’t interfere with the stairs (what *idiot* made them to hang over the edge???), and install a handrail.
    Hope this helps!

  7. Ferret

    Apparently, I posted after someone essplained the situation (and *before* i looked carefully at the picture, and noticed that there was already a railing on the left side…)
    How wide is the stairwell, currently? Is it possible to just fir-out the left wall to match the existing overhang (even “temporarily”, until you guys can afford to remodel the stairwell?)
    You’ll lose 3″ of PDS width…but then, that’s less room for drunks/homeowners to fall 😉

    Also…is the *right* side of the PDS a full wall? Is it possible to put a turn/landing in the stairs (entering from the right of the picture, and turning down)?

    One last thought; Motion-sensors can be attached to *anything* (even LED-rope-lights), and they make stair-riser lights http://usalight.com/landscape-lighting/landscape-lighting-fixtures.html?limit=30

    P.S. I would *definitely* agree with whoever said *not* to paint those lovely wooden stair-treads

    …Doncha *love* complete strangers poking their noses into yer stuff? *grinz*
    Hope this helps!

  8. CS Heath

    I don’t have any solutions for the overhang on the cabinets, but a newel post with a modified fire-place screen attached (one of the type that hinges-they’re easier to work into some sort of gate) should prevent anybody who’s not paying attention from stepping into a void. Total project’s about 90 dollars (plus tax) if you use home depot.

    At least that’s my two pennies. Best of luck! 😀

  9. Jackie

    Pool noodle cabinet bumpers. Cut a slit lengthwise in a pool noodle so you can fit it over the overhanging edge of the cabinets. You can attach them when guests are coming over, and put them away when it’s just you.

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