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Stairs can and should be one of the main features in your home. From Georgian and Victorian beauties to the refined efficiency of mid-century modern, they come in all shapes and sizes and offer an opportunity to flex design ambition, create space and flow, and function as a clever daylight improving device.
However in some homes they are an anti-climax, a let-down and too often, when a home has been refreshed and refurbished, the stairs are left untouched, seen as too expensive or difficult to alter. Don’t fall into this trap! There are clever ways to re-imagine or tweak a staircase idea without the cost, hassle and dust of tearing it out and starting again.
Imagination is the limit, with the areas I focus on first being light, colour, arrangement, spindles and handrails. Stairs are all about connection, not only enabling people to move between floors but providing a vertical void through a building which allows daylight from one level to another. Often located in the darker parts of a home it means that even a small window or roof light, correctly placed, can flood a dark stair and hallway with light, and accentuate height and space.
Cutting out a few roof joists and creating a light shaft through a loft to a rooflight can be transformative to a home. Many people focus on daylight in main rooms, however bright, naturally lit circulation spaces are just as uplifting. This approach has the added bonus of creating a very effective way to get rid of unwanted heat in summer. Tall spaces create excellent ventilation as the hot air rising has enough height to set up a ‘stack effect’ with escaping hot air sucking in fresh cooler air.
If you’re stuck with an outdated unappealing staircase or just want a change, think colour. Pedestrian pastiche handrails and spindles can be transformed by a lovely glossy yellow or vibrant green. Painting treads can lift a flight of stairs and help bounce light, or paint the whole thing a moody dark colour to create drama. Finally, try and get landings, treads and stringers (the side bits that connect the treads) to match – it helps with flow.
There is sometimes the opportunity to adapt the first few treads of a stair to change its dynamic without having to change the entire flight. Think about adapting the first step or two into larger-shaped treads (sort of mini landings) that change direction and play with the way you approach the staircase. These new treads made of a contrasting material – concrete, brick or appearing like huge chunks of wood – can be transformative to your space.
Finally, if tinkering at the edges is not enough, before you pull out the entire stair, think about changing your handrail ideas and spindles. Moving from painted wood to slender metal or fine hardwood can make a real difference. A lovely simple oval-shaped hardwood handrail is one of my favourite things. While not necessarily cheap, it is 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, emphasising height with floor-to- ceiling slats or rods, creating sculpture with flowing twisting solid balustrades or taut fine metal mesh and wire can all be notes in the design composition of your home.
Roll up your sleeves, sharpen your pencil, take a good long look at your staircase and let your imagination fly.
Charlie Luxton is an architectural designer who juggles his roles as director of Charlie Luxton Design, TV presenter and public speaker. Charlie regularly gives talks and presentations to a wide range of audiences about all aspects of the built environment and sustainability.
Charlie is passionate about the environment and communicating his enthusiasm for sustainable architecture and design. He has combined his design work with writing and presenting television programmes for the last twenty years and fronts Building the Dream and Homes by the Sea for More4, amongst others.
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