Before and After: A DIYer Turns a Spot Under a Staircase into a Tiny Outdoor Oasis for $100

updated Oct 19, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Stair landing before

When her friend Hannah moved into a new apartment in Chicago earlier this summer, DIYer Johanna Beach saw serious patio potential in a small unclaimed, ground level spot underneath the building’s staircase. Sure, the space was dirty, and they’d have to figure out how to deal with a wooden railing that was currently closing off the space. These challenges didn’t stop them from claiming this little corner for a little outdoor living though, as long as the season can be extended.

Budget was not on Beach’s side for this particular project—her friend had about $100 to spend on supplies and decor. The first major challenge was dismantling the old railing that was physically closing off the space. “The nails were all rusted, and I wanted to keep the piece intact so we could easily reverse it when she moves out,” says Beach, who didn’t ask for landlord approval for this reason. “I decided to hinge the railing, so it would be a gated entrance to the space.” 

Once this structural change was complete, Beach built two benches out of free pallet wood and found cushions on Facebook Marketplace to create a cozy seating nook. For a coffee table, she scored marble tile on the cheap ($5.50 to be exact) from the Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago for the tabletop and attached hairpin legs leftover from a previous project as the base. Old throw pillows were spiffed up with new covers made from a $10 waterproof shower curtain, and Beach customized a plain gray indoor/outdoor rug from The Home Depot up with white painted stripes. 

From there, it was all about creating extra ambiance. Beach MacGyvered $8 wrought iron wall sconces into an outdoor chandelier with zip ties, while store-bought string lights add a soft glow after hours. “The biggest ticket item was this bamboo surround,” says Beach of the flexible fencing she used like a window covering to partially obscure the view from this spot. “The space has recycling bins directly outside of it, and I knew if they were visible, the vibe would be ruined.”

Now a completely underutilized space at the base of a staircase has reached its full potential as a tiny patio that, with the addition of a portable outdoor heater, could even be used to extend the outdoor living season. “I love how a dirty, dingy, forgotten space now feels so luxe and romantic!” says Beach of the space. “I love that it feels like a secret. You wouldn’t know it was there!”