Add Storage to Your Stair Rail
A long cabinet with traditional joinery and improvised details replaces a traditional stairwell railing.
Synopsis: Instead of a traditional railing, contributing writer Scott Gibson chose to enclose the open side of his wife’s home-office stairwell with a long bookcase. At 36 in. high, it meets code requirements, increases the room’s storage capacity, and adds a new level of style. Gibson built the unit in his shop as two plywood boxes joined together with front and back face frames. He used mortise-and-tenon joinery on the face frames and doors, and added nine decorative panels on the front and back, painted the same color as the MDF beadboard back. Cantilevered over the stairs, the bookcase occupies little floor space. A ledger and corbels provide decorative support.
My friend Kevin took a long look at the makeshift railing at the top of the stairs and hesitated only slightly before asking, “Have you thought about turning that into a bookcase?” It was not so much a question but rather a suggestion I recognized immediately as requiring a ton of extra work. But it was also too good to ignore. My wife’s home office is right next to the stairwell, and by substituting a bookcase for a traditional balustrade, I could provide lots of storage for books and office supplies.
I sketched some ideas until I arrived at one I liked. Facing my wife’s work area, the cabinet would have two sections of open shelves for books flanked by cabinets concealed with doors. A frame-and-panel back would face the stairs. To save a few inches of floor space, the case would overhang the stairwell, resting on a ledger and a series of brackets.
The bookcase gives us 18 running ft. of shelf space, plus two cabinets nearly 2 ft. wide, while taking up about 6 1⁄2 sq. ft. of floor space.
Make a long built-in manageable
The bookcase is only…