Stairs can easily be reduced to its functional existence: a pathway to provide access from one floor to the other. However, interior design is no longer dismissive of treads, but sees it gaining attention as a focal point in the home.
It is not to say that the stair’s ‘ascension’ (pun intended) up the popularity rungs is reserved for grand staircases in double-volume foyers, but includes even the humble five steps taken to settle into a sunken lounge. It is then not credited to the number of stairs, but how visually attractive the staircase appear. But before adding on a second level to your home, consider your space: your needs, your current design and most importantly, your budget, and engage the services of a professional interior designer to advise you.
Components of a staircase
Knowing the parts that form the stairs will enable you to know which components serve what purpose, and from a design perspective, permits you identify parts you wish to change:
- Treads are the flat, horizontal surface of the steps you place your foot on
- Risers are the vertical surfaces of the steps
- Balustrades are the posts of the handrail
- Bannister is the top part of the handrail above and attached to the balustrade
- Newel posts form the structural integrity of the balustrade and bannister.
With demand for both functional and aesthetically-pleasing design, interior architects and professional decorators have been finding novel ways in which to showcase stairways. Alternatively, a stroll through home-decor stores is sure to give you a glimpse into style options to maximise the impact of your staircase, whether internally or externally.
Structure of stairs
The stairs to your home can be structured in a number of ways.
- Solid built-in stairs
- Open stairs
- Cantilever stairs
- Hanging stairs
- Boxed in stairs
It is strongly recommended that an expert staircase builder be engaged along with employing an architect to draw up plans.
Design elements range from the style, colour, shape, and type of material from which your stair rungs may be fashioned. Take a look at your home’s current arrangement to determine the staircase design that would best fit your space; the last intention you would wish to create is to build is a costly stairwell that sticks out like a sore thumb! Established staircase manufacturers have dedicated showrooms to exhibit their past and potential designs and are always open to creating custom made stairways. Spend some time on our decor website detailing trending staircase design to help inspire you. Materials to choose from are:
- Metal and wire
- Brick and stone
When deciding on which stair design to choose, your first consideration should be your space, then your budget, and lastly, how well it suits the rest of your home. Irrespective of the type of addition or alteration you are going for, you need to know the design options open to you:
Straight stairs are built into the structure of the house, take you from one floor to the next in a linear fashion, and are the most common type of style of stairs. They are the simplest to build and the easiest to use. Straight stairs feature prominently in traditional homes.
Curved stairs see the length of the staircase forming a curve as opposed to it being straight up. They are relatively easy to move about in, and give off an elegant appeal. However, the build process involved to include a curved staircase to your home is quite costly, and requires a skilled contractor. This style is well suited to larger homes.
Also called ‘quarter-turn’ stairs, this style is based on the straight stair, but has a 90-degree ‘break’ in the progression of the stairs, to accommodate a landing, usually in the middle of the entire staircase. At the landing, the stairs run adjacent to the first stairs, and you continue either to the left or the right. The benefits of the landing are twofold:
- It makes for a barrier between the floors, allowing for both privacy as well as cutting down on the amount of sound that would usually travel up straight stairs.
- Because the landing/s are placed at regular intervals, the number of stairs climbed are fewer, allowing for rest periods for the elderly or physically disabled, and is safer in that if a misstep had to occur, there would be minimal injury from a greater number of stairs.
However, it is difficult to build, requires strong support systems, and the handrails need to be specifically designed. This style results in tighter quarters in which to move, and because of the angle, transporting larger items up and down stairs would prove problematic.
Winder stairs are based on the L-shape stairs, but have triangular or semi-circular landings, but have more visual appeal.
Sometimes called ‘scissor-switch’, ‘switchback’ or ‘half-turn’ stairs, U-shaped stairs refer to a single flight of stairs, with a landing at the top that requires a 180-degree turn, where the second flight of stairs sits directly above the first. Much like the L-shaped stairs, U-shaped stairs offer a rest area, and similar limits to build and manoeuvrability exist.
Floating stairs are best suited to homes where space available is limited; they are neat, sleek, and the space dedicated to the stairs themselves are minimised. Because it is made up, purely, of just the free-standing foot spaces of steps, embedded into the wall, the area above and below the stairs are devoid of clutter. These are mostly found in contemporary homes.
Spiral stairs are constructed on a either a cement or metal pole, with each step connected to the pole, and radiates outward. It is highly attractive, and does not need much more support other than the centre pole. Because it is so compact, it conserves space well, but at the same time, is the most difficult to navigate, more so, when moving items between the floors. This style can be adapted to both classic and contemporary home designs.
When the distance between the floors is too large, or the gradient at which the stairs are to sit is steep, it is impractical to have an endless number of continuous steps. Although L- and U-shaped stairs serve space saving well, a more interesting, but costly, option would be incorporating two sets of stairs such as the straight style beginning at the bottom, however, the landing will feature another two straight staircases, on the left and the right.
Sprucing up existing staircases
You need not concentrate all your efforts on the staircase itself; alterations and additions to the area around it can enhance the space as well.
At the top of the stairwell as well as the base - and if the square meterage allows for it - could feature a potted plant or a sculpture.
Not forgetting the largest area available to you, that is, the wall against which the stairs are constructed, you can affix decorative wall-mounted lighting such as sconces and bar lights.
The ceiling should not be left out from your design.
- Hang pendant lights that accentuate your ascent and descent.
- Framed photographs and art pieces personality.
Beneath the stairs
If your stairs are built on a solid structure with no space under the steps, then storage in the form of a closet or linen cupboard could be added. In the event of an open-riser staircase (stairs open beneath the rungs) mount a highly-ornate mirror and matching ledge on the wall directly below the middle point under the steps. Or, you might choose to put a sideboard cupboard, half table, or credenza, with a phone, frames, a scented candle or a vase of fresh-cut flowers atop. If you are partial to nature, an ambitious venture would be to assemble an indoor garden in the space, where you can either display synthetic or indoor plants, and perhaps, a water feature, drawing from the Chinese philosophy of feng shui design principles.
If you can update your existing staircase, consider changing elements of its design as opposed to replacing it; sand down, revarnish, or paint the balustrades and posts, remove tired and worn out carpeting on steps, modernise your railings, look into the latest trend in bespoke staircase: personalise the steps risers by either applying wall paper, or inserting quotes, photographs or artwork on the front. This would price more practical and cheaper.
Some points to consider
- Whether you are selecting stairs to build your dream house or redecorating your current style, pay attention to the functionality of your staircase, particularly for children and the elderly traversing the staircase safely.
- Before removing your stairs, or deciding on which style to choose, determine where the stairs are to begin and end. You need to remain practical when making definitive plans, as mistakes will prove costly in time, materials, and money.
- In the case of you living in the house while renovations are taking place, make arrangements to bring down all the items you’ll need for the duration of the installation, such as power cables for phones and laptops, and clothing.
- Dust, paint smells, and the constant noise from drills and other carpentry tools and machinery are unavoidable with even the smallest renovation, so put some thought into either staying away from home for the duration of the build. Consider it a ‘holiday’ away from home.