Reader SOS – Solutions for Awkward Spaces

I’m back with another “DIY Playbook, Save our Space”. My plan for #DIYPlaybookSOS is to take a reader’s space and (virtually) offer design tips and tricks on how to improve it.

Here are some old design problems I’ve solved during this series…

Reader SOS from the DIY Playbook

Today, I’m tackling questions from two different readers, Steph and Erik, who are struggling with making awkward spaces in their homes more functional and, well….less awkward! I have one of these awkward spaces in my new house and I know a lot of you do too, so I thought it was time to explore potential solutions to this common dilemma.

Awkward Space #1

First up, Steph’s question about an alcove off of her kitchen.

reader sos nook

We have this alcove that’s slightly less than 70 inches wide and want to make the most of it. My dream would be to install built-ins, but I’m hesitant because this isn’t our forever home and we do have other expensive projects to prioritize. 

reader sos - kitchen view

We hope to gain lots of extra storage (this space is right off the kitchen, and we’re running out of places to put kitchen items), plus a spot to hold our record player and record collection. Do you think built-ins add to the value of a home in a way that would justify the upfront cost? I was thinking a sideboard/buffet could achieve that goal of gaining more storage and we could bring the furniture item with us to our future home. -Steph

Invest in Built-In Storage

Before we tackle Steph’s awkward space, let’s chat about her built-in question. She asked if the cost of built-in storage was worth it if they were planning on moving within a couple of years? My answer is a big fat YES! Of course, a credenza would work in this space too, however, a built-in will offer more functionality while they are living in this home because they can maximize every square inch. Plus, it is an amazing selling feature when that time comes and I’m confident they would get their money back (and more!).

Fixing awkward spaces with built-ins

Our built-ins were a big investment of about $5,000, but they were worth every penny! We have zero regrets adding built-in storage to our condo (you need all the storage you can get when you’re a city dweller), and it made the room feel complete and much more high-end. They were the main conversation piece when we had our open house and multiple offers on our condo. The built-in size that Steph needs is much smaller, so I think she could potentially DIY this project to save some cash and still get the built-in look.

Creating a Built-in Bar

Steph mentioned that storage is limited in their kitchen. I noticed they had a cute bar cart in their living area, so I think this awkward space could become an awesome bar to hold some of their less-used kitchen items. So, instead of doing traditional built-ins like mine, I think she could make this alcove a fun bar spot!

reader sos bar inspo for an awkward space

Image via Barrie Benson Interiors

How amazing is this built-in bar designed by interior designer, Barrie Benson? I’m seriously obsessed and I know this can be re-created on the cheap! To keep costs low, I recommend using ready-made cabinets. I did a little research on Ikea’s website and even used their planning tool to visualize this for Steph.

bar nook reader sos

Here’s what I would recommend for their 70-inch space:

  • Two 24-inch cabinets
  • One 18-inch drawer unit
  • Two filler pieces
  • Toe kicks
  • Countertop

There are so many great tutorials on installing the cabinets yourself, including this one from Chris Loves Julia. Using those cabinets would add plenty of secret storage and it could act as an extension of the kitchen. And if they’re big wine drinkers, this little area would be the perfect spot for a wine fridge (just take out one of the cabinets to make room for it!).

Adding Shelves & Accessories

To make the look even more custom and fun, I would incorporate some of the design elements from the inspiration above. Steph could install a mirror (it’s actually not that expensive to have one cut to size) on the back wall. This mirror would brighten up the area, bouncing light off the windows to make the space feel bigger and lighter!

Image via Apartment Therapy

Or, she could even add some peel and stick wallpaper (tutorial right here) to the sides, back, and ceiling of the alcove for a pop of color (I love this one for a subtle pattern; this one is so pretty; and there is a lot of color in this one). That would really make a statement in this little area! For added storage above the cabinets, I recommend open shelving, like these simple ones, or you could DIY some new shelves. That would keep costs low and provide plenty of room for vintage glassware and pretty decor.

There’s an opportunity to upgrade at each step of this project, but my guess is you could get this all done for less than $1,500. That’s not much more than a credenza would cost.

Awkward Space #2

The next reader, Erik, has a much more awkward space in the basement of his home. And I feel like a lot of homes in America have this in the basement! We have this dead space under the stairs in our basement and it’s now a closet that isn’t very functional at all.

reader sos nook - under stairs

We live in a bungalow that is completely renovated, but one particular area has me stumped. So, I’m officially sending out an SOS. It’s a funny little nook in our basement below the stairs.

reader sos nook - living room view

Our basement is our family hub. It’s a big entertaining space, serving as our hosting destination for big family dinners. It’s also our son’s playroom. We absolutely adore the space. But my wife and I have this nook and we just don’t know what to do! Do we make it a space for our son? Storage? -Erik

Create a Reading Nook

reader sos reading nook
Erik mentioned that his basement works double duty as it’s a family space but also his son’s playroom. With this in mind, it makes sense to transform this nook under the stairs into a cozy reading corner. That way it works for his son, but can transition easily as he grows up. My first tip would be to add some light to this space. It’s dark and uninviting, so adding a wall light like this one will make a huge difference! He could hire an electrician to move a box into the nook, or he could use this trick to create a battery-operated sconce (I love this idea and plan to use it in our house!).
Next, I would add a wall feature (like shiplap!) that would make the area feel more intentional. For this space, I envision the shiplap on the ceiling. Placing it here will hopefully make the ceiling feel taller and further brighten the entire area. Here’s my tutorial for this easy and budget-friendly weekend project!
I also recommend giving the entire area a fresh coat of white paint. Finding the right white paint can be tricky especially in places that are already dark. You can read about how I approach selecting the perfect white paint here.
How to create a reading nook under your stairs
Once the electric and wall feature are in place, tackle the built-in bench. This tutorial has lots of great tips and advice if you decide to take it on yourself (which I highly recommend!). I especially like this tutorial because the bench frame includes drawers. You could hold toys, books, and all kinds of kids stuff in there, all hidden and tucked away.
DIY book ledges
And since this is a reading nook, I would complete the space with a DIY picture ledge, used to store books. Patterned pillows add an element of fun and make the space even more inviting.  It’s the perfect spot to cozy up with a good read.
This awkward space could be really cute and useful with some DIY love. I hope Erik takes on this project!

Submit your Reader SOS

I always love hearing your design dilemmas. If you have a space you want me to tackle next, email [email protected] with the subject line “READER SOS”. Please include as many photos and information as possible. Can’t wait to read…


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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