Space of Week: This Cozy, Under-the-Stairs Reading Nook Maximizes Unused Space

Designer Bria Hammel ensured that this “Southern preppy” home would be special.

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Reading nook under stairs with green cushion and pink pillows and bookcases
Design by Bria Hammel / Photography by Aimee Mazzenga

Bria Hammel, the CEO and creative director of a namesake interior design firm, has a straightforward yet demanding philosophy whenever she and her team take on a new project. "It's important for us to create unique and unexpected moments throughout an entire home," she says. So when a couple in Middleton, Wis. asked for that mindset to transform their young family's house into a functional and photogenic retreat, it was as if they knew Hammel would be up for the challenge.

"Much like myself, they had a strong attraction to Southern, preppy style," she says. "Inspiration was effortless for my team and our clients, particularly when it came to the inviting blue exterior with the wraparound porch and hanging swings."

Inside, the collaboration continued with the same penchant for naturally inspired shades of open sky, white clouds, floral pinks, and pops of green, which travel from a great room to a kitchen to a playroom. "We aimed for the welcoming elements of color, pattern, and texture to be noticeable from the moment anyone stepped through the front door," Hammel says.

But as they tied everything together, Hammel and her team noticed that there was a rather plain element that stood out. "We knew the lower level in this home had to be extra special," she says. "Typically lower levels tend to have underutilized space, and we wanted to do the opposite of that."

The stairs curved in a calming spiral, which left enough square footage for the team to imagine a character-enhancing bookcase made to mimic the slight swirl. They pictured a small banquet underneath that could seat multiple people, and shelves that would provide storage as well as a place to display the family's personality. And when this design came to life, they also had a solution for finishing it off. "We paired the bookcases's airiness with bright green accents, and added tennis rackets to show their passion for sports," Hammel continues. "Customizing a curved built-in bench and bookcase made a great spot for the kiddos to curl up and read or play board games," Hammel says.

Close up of under stairs reading nook with bookcase
Design by Bria Hammel / Photography by Aimee Mazzenga

Get the Look

Sneak In More Storage

La Jolla Woven Basket
Serena and Lily

On the side of the stairs, handwoven seagrass baskets hide kids' toys and spare blankets. The lids help the space look pulled-together, while protecting the contents from dust.

Durable Pillows

natural fiber trim white throw pillow
Pottery Barn

Throw pillows that were designed for indoor or outdoor use are study enough to stand up to the messes of an active family.

Gilded Accents

Gold Leaf Statue
Brooke and Lou

Metallic touches—a brass sconce, candlesticks, and a gold leaf statue—help this under-the-stairs alcove shine.

Textural Light Fixtures

Hemp Shade Sconce
Kathy Kuo Home

Small sconces with shades wrapped in hemp nod to the nautical while illuminating the reading nook.

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