before and afterInteriors

Before & After: A Tricky Staircase Becomes A Sweet Built-In Bar

by Erin Austen Abbott

I know a lot about the quirks of an old house. Mine was built in 1890 and doors don’t always line up, the hardwood floors are at different levels, and we lack storage space. My husband and I are always trying to think of places to put in a closet, or a new bathroom. The homes we feature here on Design*Sponge impress me endlessly and leave me dreaming all the time. This before and after is certainly no exception and inspired four new ideas for my own home, just while looking through the images alone.

Meet Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain. The couple, along with their black lab, Orvis, live in a home built long before my own — a 1750s hand-hewn timber frame Cape Cod style home in South Portland, Maine. While working to open up their dining room and kitchen, they were faced with a closed-off staircase that couldn’t be removed from the home because of the utilities, and the reverse side is their indoor cellar access, which Michael says is “A great thing to have during the cold Maine winters.” The unused set of stairs in the “before” image (below) sits under a bathroom on the second floor, with a second set of stairs giving access to that level. “The tiered closet became an eyesore junk closet, complete with plumbing and electric for the bathroom above,” Meredith shares. The couple loves to entertain, so building a built-in bar in the tricky stair space was a perfect fit for their home. The built-in bar now offers storage, shelving, and a beautiful transition area from the living room to the dining room. The marble counter and backsplash match the kitchen, making the bar feel like an extension of that room. What a gorgeous addition — and solution — to the old home. —Erin 

Photography by Meredith Perdue@meredithperdue

Image above: The bar is the perfect replacement for the staircase. A great little addition for storage, books, and spirits.

Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
A "before" look at the staircase, to the now small bar that has transformed the area in between the living room and dining room.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
"The view of the bar area before shows the old stairway and a glimpse into our old laundry room before we removed the wall and made it part of our combined kitchen and dining area," Meredith shares.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
The "after" view of the built-in bar that replaced the entrance to the staircase.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
"We display the alcohol and glassware we use the most, while everything else is stored on the stairs (which act as shelves) inside the cabinets," Meredith says. Clever!
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
"We’ve acquired a number of cookbooks over the years, so we’re only able to display the ones we use the most - our absolute favorites - on these shelves," Michael notes.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge

“Calligrapher, Li Ward, is a dear and very talented friend who gave us this original piece of hers for our kitchen years ago — it’s aptly titled, ‘The ABCs of Cocktails,’ with a cocktail for every letter of the alphabet,” Meredith shares.

Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
"The cased opening that we widened by only a few feet during this renovation project really worked in connecting the living room to the dining area more, and the bar area is the perfect place of transition," Meredith shares.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
A few of the couple's favorite and most used bottles, to share with guests.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge
A peek into the living room from the bar.
Meredith Perdue and Michael Cain for Design*Sponge

“A favorite bottle of Sonoma’s Scribe Winery, stored in one of the 10 openings on our wine shelf,” Meredith shares.

Bar Source List:

Wall paint – Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White

Cabinet paint – Benjamin Moore Gentleman’s Gray

Trim paint: Benjamin Moore Super White 

Marble Countertops and Backsplash – Midcoast Marble & Granite

ABCs of Cocktails artwork – Li Wardian

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  • Very nice! I was hoping to have a glimpse of the steps behind the cabinet doors used as shelves…but this was a beautiful renovation!

  • I really liked this renovation. Nicely done! The marble as the back of the bottom shelf is a cool touch! I would like though to see it lit up, for I noticed a recessed spotlight on top and made me wonder how the light diffuses in relation to the top two solid blue shelves. Personally I would have gone for glass shelves in fear of obstructing the light’s coned diffusion. :)

  • really pretty,…. want to see the rest? so smart, and despite the gorgeous cabinets and all, my eyes can’t help but wander to the floors, those wide pine planks on the floors
    are stunning! are they original??

  • Stairs that lead to nowhere are on my personal list of creepy things. Now it’s a great use of space! And who doesn’t need another bookshelf?!

  • We have old stairs in the kitchen of our 1875 New England Victorian, which also used to be a junk closet when we moved in – we took off the door and made the exposed stairs a part of our kitchen storage. Refinished the original plaster walls and original wood treads (they were covered with many, many decades of old paint), and added hooks for hanging all out pots and pans. The big Dutch ovens and stock pots sit on the top stairs. We also love sitting on the stairs there to chat with whoever is cooking. And we have our weekly meal planning menu board hanging up in there. It’s turned into a great little nook – and not creepy at all, I promise! =) I’d attach a pic if I could!