When it comes to the design of this essential element, making a sweeping statement pays dividends.
Image: First Step Designs (01782 959 300; firststepdesigns.com)
While staircases are a necessary, functional element of an interior scheme, they can also be a striking addition to your space, serving as a beautiful piece of architecture. They are often the first thing you see upon opening the front door, so installing a new staircase is an opportunity to create a focal point that makes a lasting impression.
Contemporary and traditional off-the-shelf staircases are widely available and a practical choice for tight budgets as it’s possible to get a complete set of stairs for just under £1,000. Going bespoke is more expensive, costing anywhere from £4,000 upwards, but it allows you to be more creative with the design and materials, as well as maximising the flow of light through the stairwell. It could also be the only option for an awkward space.
If you do want to custom-build, it is wise to tell your architect early on in your project. ‘I have visited many near-complete properties where the client wanted a feature staircase, but the architect hadn’t designed the space for it,’ says Adam Taylor, director at First Step Designs. ‘Retrofitting involves moving walls and electrics, incurring extra costs, which can be avoided if a staircase is planned for earlier on.’
You can commission a staircase that is in keeping with your home’s architectural style, but the period of your property doesn’t have to dictate the design. A contemporary option can complement a period setting and vice versa. For something unique, you may prefer to combine period and modern elements. If your property is listed, you will require listed building consent and may be required to select a design more in keeping with the home’s history, so make sure you find out what you’re allowed to do. Even if your home is not listed, any new staircase will have to comply with Building Regulations, which could limit your project. Most staircase designers and manufacturers use computer-aided design (CAD) technology, which offers possible configurations to meet requirements.
Image: Neville Johnson Staircase (0161 873 8333; nevillejohnson.co.uk/staircases)
The materials you choose for your staircase will also have an impact on its design. Stairs can be crafted from wood, stone, concrete, toughened glass or metal, or a mix of these. ‘Different surfaces will make a dramatic impact on the appearance of your hallway,’ says Paul Martin, group product marketing manager for Richard Burbidge (01691 678 300; richardburbidge.com). ‘Glass and metal accessories give a more contemporary finish to traditional oak staircases. These types of balustrading and spindles will open up a dark area and improve the feeling of space in your hall.’
During the day, a glass structure looks most effective when positioned alongside a window, so sunlight can filter through. Bear in mind, though, that while a glass staircase will look striking when it’s first installed, finger prints and marks will show up on it, so if you’re not prepared to clean it often, another material will better suit, particularly if you have pets or young children. If your aim is to maximise light into your home but you want something lower-maintenance than glass, a high-shine surface such as polished metal is a good alternative because it will help to bounce light around the room.
If you’re looking for something sculptural, concrete or stone are perfect. Use stone for a traditional look; concrete has an edgier, industrial finish. These designs can be very expensive to install, however, and metal will offer a cheaper, more flexible alternative. Metal staircases, generally crafted out of steel, can be left raw or be powder-coated in a spectrum of different colours. Steel is also an easy material to curve, which explains why it’s popular for spiral designs.
Image: The Heritage Collecton Stairs (0114 247 4917; theheritage collection.co.uk)
Choose your steps
Open risers are effective for increasing light levels and enhancing the feeling of space. While Building Regulations will ensure the spaces between each one is too small for a child to fall through, they’re not a practical option if you have a young family or small pets. A closed-in design makes the area beneath the stairs more functional; it can be turned into a hidden storage space with cupboard doors and drawers, or a striking open-shelf display.
Spiral or helical stairs can look very stylish. They are particularly useful where space is tight, but to fit them into small places it is often necessary to make the steps quite steep, which isn’t suitable for everyone. If you’ve got the space for it, a wider spiral staircase can dramatically change the architectural style of your home. Having each step gently curve over the next will ensure that your hallway makes quite an impression.
Whatever style and design you opt for, the best position for a staircase is next to a window that straddles all floors. Surround it with a galleried landing and suspend a light fitting in the atrium above to make sure the light disperses throughout. If you want to increase the wow factor, use LED lighting to illuminate each step at night.
Image: Sky House Design highacres-spiral-staircase (01480 301 102; spiral.uk.com)
When choosing a design, consider the shape of the hallway or surrounding space, and how people move around the home – as well as the staircase itself. Though an open style will allow light to pass through it, a closed stair has a good deal of room beneath, which could provide invaluable storage if fitted with drawers and cupboards. Go for a bespoke solution, and the possibilities expand dramatically; depending on the space available and your budget you could choose a lofty double-helix design with sweeping stone curves or a cantilevered style that appears to float in thin air.
Custom-made staircases start at around £20,000, and the sky’s the limit. Incorporating lighting will enhance the design further. If you’re simply planning a revamp, companies such as Neville Johnson will give stairs a facelift with new treads, balustrades and newel posts, in contemporary and traditional designs, from £2,400.
A shining example of clever design, a cantilevered staircase is fixed to the wall or within it at one side while the other appears to float freely. Although this style can be retro fitted, you will need advice from a structural engineer. The treads can be in timber, stone, glass or metal. In contrast, a straight staircase is economical, costing from around £400 in kitform, and slots neatly into most home designs. It can be customised with extras such as bullnose treads to add interest. In a closed string staircase, a fascia covers the cut edges of the stair, while a cut string leaves the zigzag profile visible.
Image: Michaelis Boyd (020 7221 1237; michaelisboyd.com)
Winders, or winding stairs, and landings areused to negotiate turns. A half-turn staircase turns 180 degrees back on itself. Spiral and helical stairs require a square space rather than a longslim slot. For a loft or basement, a staircase with alternating treads isa space-saving option.
Wood is one of the most versatile options, lending itself just as well to cantilevered designs as it does to period details, such as elegant turned balustrades, carved embellishments and rounded stair nosings. Like flooring, timber stairs and balustrades can be brightened and highlighted with the latest washed, raised grain and pigment finishes.
To introduce an industrial look, you could choose a cast concrete staircase, formed using shuttering. This heavyweight option is less adaptable than steel, which can be made to precise tolerances. Once in place, the concrete can be clad in timber or stone, and the stringer, which hides the edges, can be completed in plaster, wood or MDF.
Stone is another interesting option. In a wide hallway a sweeping cantilevered staircase carved from solid stone would make an eye-catching focal point. Alternatively, concrete- and steel-framed staircases can be clad in stone, which can be sourced with pre-drilled slots to take the balustrade.
Image: Bisca (01439 771 702; bisca.co.uk)
A staircase in steel achieves a balance of strength with a light look, especially if open treads are used. These can be clad in wood or stone and fitted with stringers in solid timber, or metal, depending on the look you want. A steel staircase can be installed in two stages – the first to provide the working structure, and then a return visit to clad it. Options for the stringers include solid or veneered timber or a metal covering.
Glass treads create the illusion of floating and allow natural light to pass through, and are even more eye-catching if LEDs are incorporated. They can have patterns and colours included within the material and typically will be sandblasted or textured to make them anti-slip, and finished with a specialist treatment to help keep the glass clean.
For a country look with a touch of modernity, consider oak treads with toughened glass risers; these are a good alternative to the safety bars or downstands, which are fitted to lessen the gap between treads required to meet Building Regulations.
Much of the drama of a staircase is created by the balustrades, whether in ornate metalwork, classic wood or on-trend steel with glass panels. Glass is visually stunning, but bear in mind that children’s sticky fingerprints will show up. A newel post and spindles in timber add weight and a feeling of permanence, while steel balustrades can be completely contemporary or traditional. And, if you hanker after elegant, sweeping curves, the latest materials, such as Hi-Macs acrylic stone, can be employed for gently twisting shapes and sharp bends that can be put together in sections to rise up seamlessly between floors.
Image: Hi-Macs by LG Hausys (+44 (0)18 92 70 40 74; himacs.eu)
Words: Caroline Rodrigues, Anna Tobin