Stairs can and should be one of the main features of your home. From Georgian and Victorian beauties to the refined efficiency of mid-century modern, they come in all shapes and sizes and offer the opportunity to flex design ambition, create space and flow, and function as a smart device to enhance the light of the day.
However in some homes they are an anti-climax, a disappointment and too often, when a home has been refreshed and remodeled, the stairs remain intact, seen as too expensive or difficult to modify. Don’t fall into this trap! There are clever ways to reimagine or change an idea of scale without the cost, hassle and dust of tearing it up and starting over.
Imagination is the limit, with the areas I focus on first being light, color, arrangement, spindles and handrails. Stairs are all about connection, not just allowing people to move between floors, but providing a vertical void across a building that allows daylight from level to level. Often located in the darkest parts of a home it means that even a small window or roof light, placed correctly, can flood a dark staircase or hallway with light and accentuate height and space.
Cutting some roof joists and creating a beam of light through a loft to a skylight can be transformative in a home. Many people focus on daylight in the main rooms, however the bright and naturally lit circulation spaces are just as uplifting. This approach has the added benefit of creating a very effective way to get rid of unwanted heat in the summer. High spaces create excellent ventilation as the rising warm air is high enough to create a “pile effect” with the escaping hot air sucking in cooler cool air.
If you’re stuck with an old-fashioned, unattractive straight or just want a change, think about the color. The handrails and spindles in pedestrian pastiche can be transformed into a beautiful shiny yellow or a vibrant green. Painting the steps can lift a flight of stairs and help bounce the light, or paint the whole thing a moody dark color to create drama. Finally, try to get landings, steps and crossbars (the side spikes that connect the steps) to match – it helps with flow.
Sometimes there is the possibility to adapt the first steps of a staircase to change its dynamics without having to change the entire flight. Think about fitting the first or two steps into larger shaped steps (sort of like mini landings) that change direction and play with the way you approach the staircase. These new steps made of a contrasting material – concrete, brick, or that look like huge pieces of wood – can transform your space.
Finally, if tinkering at the edges isn’t enough, before pulling out the entire staircase, think about changing your ideas and your handrails. Switching from painted wood to thin metal or fine wood can make a real difference. A cute and simple oval shaped hardwood handrail is one of my favorite things. While not necessarily cheap, it’s worth focusing your budget on where you touch a building – good quality door handles, light switches, and handrails will bring you joy for years to come. Balustrades are an area that can be incredibly creative, emphasize height with floor-to-ceiling slats or rods, create sculptures with solid and winding balustrades or stretched wire mesh and wire can all be known in your home design composition .
Roll up your sleeves, sharpen your pencil, take a long look at your ladder and let your imagination fly.