Eric Nicholls of Spiral UK explores the different options for feature staircases available to housebuilders and developers, detailing the benefits of each.
Choosing a staircase sounds easy – after all a staircase has only one function – but why should residents suffer a monotonous trudge up and down steps every day when they could enjoy descending a feature flight every morning?
If you are embarking on a new build or a structural renovation, start thinking about your stairs early on. Thanks to bespoke staircase manufacturers, there is a world of stair design to consider – virtually whatever you can dream up, can be made.
The first thing to consider is the space you have available, as that will define the shape of stair you can consider. Of course, if you have a large atrium hallway to fill, then you can go as elaborate as your budget allows, but corner stairs or restricted footprints may need a bit more clever thinking for example, if your space is low and wide, a cantilever stair may suit the space best, but if the main distance to cover is vertical, a spiral stair is the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing option.
The size and type of staircase may influence the build, so be sure to contact a specialist at a stage where it won’t be expensive or difficult to make alterations such as load-bearing walls and concrete footings. However, what staircase suits your project best?
Spiral stairs are defined as steps fitted around a central pole, so they are best for tight spaces or small footprints – but that doesn’t mean they need to disappear into the background. Interior spirals can be made to match the décor or stand out as a feature, delicate ‘tendrils’ climbing up to the next level or sturdy structures that are solid in appearance.
The main design consideration with spiral stairs is headroom – the turn and tread depth need to be just right to allow for more than adequate room to walk underneath, and this includes stepping on and off the beginning and end of the stair. This can be tricky to achieve in limited spaces as the where you enter the stair may need to be at a different angle to where you leave it.
Building Regulations are strict on safety protocols – defining minimum widths and gap sizes depending on the intended use of the stair.
Otherwise known as curved stairs, these can spiral but without the support of a central column, allowing for a beautiful floating visual effect, or simply a straight flight that arcs for a more organic form.
Helical stairs are often the most dramatic and impressive options, but they require some serious engineering to ensure they are adequately supported. The shape and weight can cause tension at the points it attaches to the fabric of the building, twisting and contorting and pulling the footings up. By their design they are usually more expensive, but well worth the end effort for buyers if the budget can allow.
Once within the remit of Brutalist architecture, concrete stairs are now en vogue for domestic settings, in particular the use of ‘fair face’ concrete which has a beautiful white colouring to match modern décor.
Concrete is a heavy material, but can be designed to create a surprisingly light looking structure, the juxtaposition of solid stone seemingly floating mid air as it ascends forming an impressive feature. It is also extremely practical – hardwearing as well as quiet as there is very little movement. They are also comparatively affordable, making them all the more attractive.
A firm favourite this decade, this is a simple update to a standard stair that makes a big impact, with an individual stair seeming to protrude from the wall unsupported.
The chosen location will need a structurally sufficient, load-bearing wall for the stairs to hang from, but the stringer that attaches them can then be hidden behind your chosen render.
Most cantilever stair have open treads, which allow light through and aren’t too imposing in a room, but it’s becoming more fashionable to have closed treads, which creates a zig-zag side profile.
A useful option where there are no supporting walls, one or two central beams connect to the building at the top and bottom, with steps ‘balanced.’
This design can be quite artistic in an open space – the space all around the stair allows for creative options for balustrading such as futuristic tunnels, simple full height uprights or anything else you can come up with that adheres to safety standards!
Sometimes you need a stair that traverses a building in a less than simple way, involving going around corners as well as upward. This may mean a bespoke stair created from straight sections as well as curved, cantilevered as well as solid.
Your specialist stair manufacturer can advise what would work best for you and your customers, but sometimes it pays to think outside the box.
Any of the above can be applied to internal or external use, but of course weather conditions need to be taken into account, affecting material use and protection.
Most fire escapes are simple galvanised steel spirals, but for some buildings the aesthetic suits a feature helical, or interesting cantilever. Spirals may also require canopies and/or caging, all of which can be advised on a case-by-case basis.
There are many materials stairs can be constructed from but for longevity, stability and flexible design, steel is often the way to go. Steel structures can be fabricated then either powder-coated for a more industrial aesthetic or clad in timber, stone, marble, inlaid with tiles, carpet – the list is endless.
So, before you buy an off-the-shelf option that adds little to your otherwise ideal building project, have second thoughts and consider something more bespoke. The right supplier will not only make your customer’s dreams a reality, but build to budget, consider Building Regulations on your behalf, and make expert recommendations on options.
Eric Nicholls is managing director at Spiral UK