Drôle House Blog

Postcard 9

{Postcard 9} - "How can I make my narrow apartment entrance more functional?" Submitted by Tarryn

{Postcard 9}: How can I make my narrow apartment entrance more functional? - Submitted by Tarryn

Tarryn's second floor apartment entrance is up a narrow flight of stairs. In her sketch, she points to the "shoe mess" that inevitably collects in piles right at the doorway, making it challenging to move through especially dragging a stroller and pre-schooler.

Tarryn's interior design challenge includes:

  • a narrow shared stairway entrance to a second floor apartment
  • the need to store a family-of-four's worth of winter boots and shoes outside the door
  • the need for solution to be moveable (i.e.: no holes in the wall) because it's an apartment
  • keeping the passway and landing as clear as possible for neighbours
  • re-using the solution in a future home

Entrances without vestibules are so frustrating in northern climates! Having a door enter directly into a hallway leaves very little room for anything but circulation. Where is all the stuff supposed to go? Not clutter, just everyday boots, umbrellas and stroller stuff. The design of this apartment complex didn't accommodate wintertime use let alone the needs of families with littles ones. So, how to fix it?

One possible idea is a tetris-like custom shoe storage bench that fits directly on to the stairs. It's made as bench structure first, with a stepped plywood back for sturdiness. Channels can be routered in the main structure to fit 1/4" panels to divide the storage into cubbies of different sizes. It keeps shoes organized off the floor, as well as comfortable child's height bench (and adult on the longer end) for putting on and removing shoes.

Though a custom piece like this wouldn't likely fit on any other staircase because of the variety of stair riser heights, it can have insanely fun alternate uses. It can be flipped to become a modernist play structure/dollhouse or wall mounted to transform into a child's desk. See? Like tetris.

What alternative uses can you see?







Postcard 6

{Postcard 6} - "How can I design metal legs for an multi-use table to avoid knee knocking?" Submitted by Gary

{Postcard 6} - "How can I design metal legs for an multi-use table to avoid knee knocking?" Submitted by Gary

Gary is a woodworker and hobbiest furniture builder. He is building a large custom dining table out of rectangular slabs of wood and is stuck on how to fashion metal legs to support them and requested some design problem solving. He wants a small table for everyday family use, but the ability to have other narrower tables he can move around for bigger gatherings. He doesn't want the obvious pedestal styled bottom because he "thinks that the stability of the length would not be good if people lean on or put too much weight toward the ends."

This industrial design challenge includes:

  • several identical 2'x4' wood slab table tops
  • that need be able to stand on their own as side tables elsewhere in the home when separated
  • be able to be joined together to form a large dining table
  • allow for flexible dining seating with no 'knee knocking' on table skirts or legs

One idea is to make several L-shaped (extruded metal) legs that work by pivoting and latching in place. With four legs per table, each can be rotated out from a 'closed' pedestal position to several configurations. Latch holes can be drilled from the underside along the routered arc of the leg to enable latching into a traditional 'open' position at the corners, as well as to diagonally connect and support the adjacent table. The legs can be positioned to stay out of the 18 inches needed for knee clearance. Magnet and plates can be installed flush inside the edge of the table for added connectivity, and the adjustable 'toe' to the table leg can make up for any surface discrepancies.


Postcard 4

{Postcard 4}- "How can I build flexible, multi-use play blocks in my backyard" Submitted by Karine

{Postcard 4}- "How can I build flexible, multi-use play blocks in my backyard" Submitted by Karine

Karine's challenge includes:

  • designing multi function, durable exterior stools for sitting and playing on
  • that can also be used to define an area of the backyard
  • be moveable and stackable by children

The idea here is to make a multi-functional garden box stool that could be a more useful and durable alternative to the traditional crate. Material choices such as light weight half inch recycled plastic panels, marine plywood or engineered wood are definitely more durable and stronger than pine. The panels can be cut to five equal sixteen inch squares and attached into a cube with L brackets screwed to the inside. Offsetting all the edges, though limiting the strength of the box, does allow for easy grasping and stacking for kids, better drying for durability, and has the bonus feature of more easily being turned into a lantern. The garden boxes can be any colour, used as stools or stepping stones, made into walls and forts, be stacked as high as bar tables for outdoor parties, and by adding a battery or solar powered light fixture inside each, can glow from within.


Handrail Surprise

Flights of stairs make parents nervous. We worry about falls, kids tripping up or down the steps, we scramble to block the landings with chairs to bar explorative crawlers, or install cumbersome gates that need to be pried open with one-hand-whilst-balancing-a-baby-on-the-hip. Even though I installed gates above and below each flight of stairs in our home, each of my three kids still managed to have some sort of fall at one time or another. There are a few years of young childhood when flights of stairs are just plain iffy and need close supervision as kids practice using them safely.

What if we could redesign common house stairs to make them safer for children? Even the most narrow stairway has at least enough width to accommodate a child’s height handrail. Functional? Yes. Is there a hidden opportunity for play here? Oh yeah. 


Enter the handrail surprise. It's a useable child’s handrail that folds down to become a stair slide. Tadaaa! For the more...adventurous families. This idea has been buzzing in my mind for years. During cold, snow-sparse winters like we can get here in Toronto, we inevitably spend a lot of time indoors. It’s hard to play at the park before it gets dark. We are tired, someone needs to pee, the baby’s heavy, ‘my hands are freeeezing’. Like most families, we hunker down and wrack our brains for physical indoor activities to do.  Balled-up sock fights, mattress ramps and couch forts happen in rotation. Even still, I’m always on the lookout for active and exciting things to do indoors that will expend kids’ energy. 

It's awfully fun. This handrail surprise prototype was built using only materials available at a regular hardware store. It’s designed to be divided into three sections for scaling the length of the slide to the age and capability of a child. 

Please share this post and comment below to let me know you want to learn more about how to accomplish this on your own stairs! If you'd like to get a heads up about new projects, manuals and home renovation resources, remember to subscribe here!


Postcard 1


{Postcard 1}: "How do we fit two twin beds into this space?" - submitted by Conan

Conan's challenge includes a room with:

  • ample furniture, books and toys to store
  • a sloped ceiling that may affect tall shelves and/or headroom
  • radiator and window placement

When rearranging and adding to a room, it's likely that at least one thing will need to be taken away. Figure out what that large piece is (or several small objects are) that need to go. Measure your room including the height in several places and decide if the solution shown can work (twin beds are typically 99cmx190cm). Conan's original sketch shows a small reading corner by the window. New twin beds for each child can mean new reading zones and personal space, but there are also opportunities to include bonus reading "nests" that allow for more sensory enclosure, shown in detail sketches 1 and 2. Discreet, inexpensive shelves can be attached to the wall and/or door to provide special spots for current and favourite books.

Happy rearranging!


Welcome to Drôle House!

Welcome to Drôle House: Collaborative Design For Families. The business and website are up and running!

My name is Deborah Mesher. I have my Masters of Architecture, three energetic kids, and a passion for making old homes more functional, fun, and adaptive to modern families. Drôle House can help you with additions, renovations, playscapes and furniture from schematic design to permit and construction drawings.

I will be at the Wychwood Barns in Toronto on Sunday May 15th, 2016, woman-ing my booth at The Bump To Baby Show. It's free, so bring the family, come find me, see some inspiring projects, and get free design advice about your home.

Subscribe to my blog to know more and be one of the first to receive my FREE idea book about freeing up space in your home called The Extra Room.

Playfully yours,