All the houses I have ever lived in have had stairs, and at the top of those stairs was a landing. (Actually, all except one, where the stairs just ended up at the door of the only bedroom). Every landing has posed a similar DIY challenge – how to make the most of a tiny floor area that was usually poorly lit and full of doors.
When we bought our watermill in France we were faced with a different problem. When the previous owner had converted the building from what had basically been a factory, he had carved up two thirds of the top floor into four large square rooms, two on either side of a long central corridor, pinching a bit of one bedroom and the bathroom to create a separate toilet.
The rest was left as what can only be described as ‘the landing.’ (Time for another visual aid!). Compared to previous landings it was huge!
When we first viewed the house this area had nothing but a rather unsavoury-looking mattress on the floor which had very recently been slept on. The walls were filthy; the gloomy wallpaper stained with nicotine and the boxed-in flue from the fireplace below covered in black mould (from a leaking roof) and soot from two ‘air vents’ which he presumably added to duct heat into the area! (Goodness only knows how they weren’t all asphyxiated!)
On the plus side, there was a large set of french windows looking out over the river at the back, two small south-facing windows which let in sunlight all day on the stair wall and another which let in the rays of the setting sun on the front of the house. Even if the windows themselves were somewhat yucky.
For the first couple of years we were here, we had no idea what we would do with this landing, and to be fair, there were a few other priorities, like a workable kitchen, bathrooms and somewhere for family and friends to sleep when they visited.
Our first instinct was to put up dividing walls and make some additional rooms – but what? There’s only two of us and we already had 4 bedrooms. We just couldn’t decide what to do – so we didn’t do anything.
It wasn’t long before Parkinson’s Law came into force and this large empty space started to fill up with all manner of rubbish – tools, ladders and pots of paint from the work going on in the other rooms, boxes of books we had nowhere to unpack to, two torn old armchairs that I had fallen in love with in a secondhand furniture barn, that were waiting for some TLC.
I needed somewhere to work, where I wouldn’t disturb Colin with my constant Zoom meetings and training sessions so a big table appeared for my computer and associated peripherals. Boxes of job-related files littered the floor.
After a couple of winters we realised that this was actually a lovely warm spot. Any residual heat from downstairs rises up the stairs and the attic floor is very well insulated, so all the heat is trapped. We barely heat the ground floor during the day as we’re both working upstairs and the log burner creates enough heat to keep us toasty in the living room in the evenings. We found ourselves taking our lunch-break camped in the tatty old chairs, eating our sandwiches as we gazed out over the river. (We have never managed to cope with the French large lunches – I just want to sleep all afternoon!)
At weekends, I often found myself curling up in one of the insanely comfy chairs to read a book that I’d finally managed to locate in one of the cardboard boxes.
Colin liked to pour himself a glass of beer (says it lubricates his fingers!) and sit up there to practise on his guitar after work.
Because of the wonderful light all day, my ‘desk’ often got cleared to make way for my sewing machine or craft bits and bobs. So much so , that I began to think I needed two desks so that I didn’t keep moving stuff off onto the floor. There was still nowhere to put anything away and the mess started to become a real pain. We’re naturally quite tidy people and I stress when the house looks like a tip. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to lead a life of renovating all these years without going mad. (Don’t. say. a. word!)
Then on one of our weekends away in 2019 (in those carefree days when it was still possible to book a hotel room, visit galleries and museums, take in a concert, trawl the chic boutiques and department stores and people-watch from a café terrace), we were stocking up on bits and bobs in Ikea, we spotted an area displaying different configurations of bookshelves. Ooooh, wouldn’t it be lovely to have somewhere to put our books!
And an idea was born.
What we needed was a library cum sitting room cum office cum craft room cum music room. Simples!
The landing had a natural thoroughfare from the top of the stairs to the corridor which obviously had to be kept clear, so we were left with two distinct parts to this room. It will probably come as no surprise that we therefore tackled the makeover in two parts, and consequently there will be two more blog posts on what we did!
And that dear reader, is how, with absolutely no input from us, the landing told us what to do with it…and designed itself.
And if you would like to see the results, see the blog post called ‘The ‘library’.