Making the most of awkward spaces


Making the most of the awkward - main image

I love a good Ugly Duckling story: scrawny duck becomes beautiful swan, pimply teenager becomes princess of Genovia.  Maybe I like them so much because my own life has been a bit of an ugly duckling story itself.

I was a super awkward kid, in both appearance and personality.  I was a tiny slip of a thing, perpetually the shortest kid in class. My mom kept my hair short, so strangers frequently mistook me for a boy.  Coupled with too-big, too-blue, and too-bright eyes, I’m pretty sure I looked like a creepy little kid from a horror movie.  To top it off, I was so painfully shy that I sometimes cried when strangers talked to me.  I was much happier with my nose buried deeply in a book than anywhere in the real world.  I’m not saying I’m a swan now, but the mere fact I survived pre-adolescence relatively unscathed is a miracle.

This little project I’ve been working on mirrors the Ugly Duckling narrative.  We all have those little corners in our house that are useless, ugly, awkward.  In our house, it was the spot under the stairs:


This nook is visible from everywhere: front entryway, kitchen, dining room, and living room.  When we first looked at the house, it had a giant pile of junk in it, and I hated it.  It was almost a deal-breaker.

I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  The slope of the ceiling is sharp, making it low.  At first, I thought I’d make it into a mini-office/mail drop area, but a desk wouldn’t fit comfortably at all.  Then, I thought I’d wall it in, but I realized that since our entryway is really small, it’s the natural place people leave their shoes when they come over.

But, this December, when we put up our Christmas tree, we needed to move a chair out of the living room.  We slid it under the stairs for storage, but it actually looked pretty good there — too big — but an idea was born.  The nook could have a new life as a sitting room!

First, that horrible brown paint had to go.

In progress

Painting the ceiling of the far right corner was no treat but laying on my back and imagining myself as Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while narrating a ridiculous story in an Italian accent helped.  If you haven’t tried that while painting a ceiling, it’s worth a shot.

I rescued a small old chair from my dad’s shop and reupholstered it.  The chair has a Danish modern vibe to it, so I decided the whole nook should have a bit of Scandinavian flair.  This seems particularly apropos since Hans Christian Andersen, the writer of “The Ugly Duckling” is – of course – Danish, though not modern.

I reframed framed the Mads Stage painting of Nyhavn (Copenhagen’s historic harbor) I found while thrifting this summer and bought a faux sheep throw rug for the floor. (You can read my post about thrifting here!)

Here are the results: the ugly duckling all grown up!

Stairs with Context

Close Up

Yes, that’s my ukulele in the basket.  This nook is also the perfect place to practice.  I am not good.  I predict this cozy practice spot will lead to improvement!

Up Close2

I made that abstract wooden ball thing with two embroidery hoops.  I just stained and layered them.  The metal key was a Goodwill Christmas gift from my sister-in-law!

Under the Stairs2

My mom got me the blue pigs for Christmas.  Aren’t they adorable?  I spotted the green suitcase from the road this summer as we were driving past a garage sale and make Chris pull a u-turn to get it.  I have an eagle eye for good “junk!”

For about a week after I finished this project, I was physically incapable of walking past it without squealing, “It’s so cuuute!” This probably got annoying because I walk by this nook about a thousand times per day.

What about you?  What awkward, ugly duckling corners do you have?  Post a picture!  Let’s brainstorm a way to make the most of them!



6 thoughts on “Making the most of awkward spaces

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