Staircases

Iron Designs - Staircases Staircases have the potential to wow. Combining function with style, they're usually the only internal element of a house to bridge the various floor levels, so they can be a key sculptural and interactive statement.

The most eye-catching styles are a clever combination of high quality materials, great design and skilful engineering. Ideally they'll allow light to pass through and down the structure, enhance the circulation between different areas and add value to your home. What's required to achieve this is plenty of forward planning, specialist help, through co-ordination between all involved and masses of imagination.

What to consider

Don't think about your staircase in isolation - invariably its design, position and configuration will contribute to the overall feel and flow of a house. Deciding how the staircase will relate to the layout of the floors that it serves should come before you set your heart on any particular material, detail or style.

Other than standard staircase kits costing from around £500 to £1,000, staircases are rarely available off the shelf. Prices for bespoke staircases vary greatly and can be equivalent to the cost of a kitchen or bathroom. Also remember that, unlike these areas, the staircase is an integral part of the structure of the house and be greater focal point.

When it comes to choosing materials, bear in mind the way you live. Some stand up to the rigours of everyday life better that others and are quieter and more comfortable to walk on. Safety is another factor, especially if you have young children or pets, in which case designs with open treads might be unwise.

Don't allow matters of appearance to outweigh common-sense decisions. Staircases are highly regulated and crucial to the look, comfort and practicality of most staircases is their width and the angle of climb. Shallow stairs with wide treads make a staircase more attractive than ones that are narrow and steep to climb.

Remember, you will need quiet a bit of room to make a really dramatic statement. Where space is at a premium, consider accentuating the individual treads through the clever use of material, shape or light.

With loft conversions, it's crucial to balance the space you'll gain with the space you'll lose by accommodating the staircase. Also don't forget a cupboard or cloakroom can often be incorporated underneath.

The void created by a staircase allows light to pass from one floor to another, so it's a good way of helping illuminate an area that would otherwise be gloomy. The materials used, their colour, and design of elements such as balusters, will directly affect the way light passes down and through the structure.

Take care deciding who's going to design and build your staircase. Consult an architect or companies like ours who specialise in designing and building one-off staircases. Most important of all, it's usually far easier to construct walls around a staircase rather than vice versa, so organise the staircase early on in your project.

Types to choose from

Staircases come in a bewildering array of shapes, sizes and styles. However, the design you eventually choose must be governed by the space available and the overall look you want to achieve. The key is to work out where you are going to embark and arrive on any given floor level and then design a staircase to join the levels together.

The simplest form of staircase is a straight flight of steps. This may be open tread, where the stairs are open like the rungs of a ladder, or closed tread, where the gaps are filled in. By incorporating dog legs, landings and galleries or creating a well so that it's possible to look directly down to the floor below, a straight staircase can change direction part way up. Intermediate levels can sometimes be made large enough to create usable areas or even mezzanines.

Among the most graceful and spectacular staircases are those that are cantilevered. Effectively, they hang from the wall so appear virtually unsupported. They can be straight but are even more elegant when they're set against a curved wall.

Spiral staircases are often considered to be space savers, but they can actually take up just as much space as a straight staircase just in a different way. While straight stair is long and narrow, spiral stairs are built with treads fanning out around a central column so they effectively occupy the entire space taken up by their diameter.

Similar to a spiral staircase, but providing a more sweeping sculptural form, helical staircases are ideal for creating a ribbon-like focal point but do require careful design.

For spatially challenged conversions, space-saving designs such as alternate tread staircases, often called paddle stairs, can work well. They have a much steeper pitch than regular stairs and serve a purely practical purpose rather than being attractive or easy to use. In reality, the style of a staircase is only limited by the designer's imagination and the need to ensure it complies with building regulations and is comfortable and safe to use.

Materials and Construction

You can mix materials when constructing a staircase. Concrete or stone structures are often combined with timber, steel or glazed balustrading, for example. Simplicity is the watch word and it's best to keep connections between materials hidden, clean and minimalistic.

Wood has traditionally been the preferred option for staircases as it softens their appearance and be modestly priced, especially when softwood, hardwood, laminates and composite timbers are commonly used. With all timbers, consider it's eco credentials: wood should be sourced from sustainably managed forests and certified under FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) schemes.

Steel is another material that has long been used for staircases due to its structural strength, but its use doesn't mean that the staircase has to look like a fire escape. You can opt to have it polyester powder coated (go to www.interpon.com for more information) to suit your colour scheme (RAL colour chart), choose stainless steel (go to www.bssa.org.uk for more information) or experiment with different finishes: bright, matt, brushed, anodised or galvanised (link to www.hdg.org.uk) . One downside to metal, however is that it can be noisy when heels click up and down the stairs.

Glass is increasingly being used to create staircases that appear to float, maximising a sense of space and light. Glass technology has developed considerably recently and it's now possible to laminate strips of glass together to create a strong supporting structure. Glass is inherently slippery when wet so it's important to ensure the treads are treated in the appropriate way to overcome this problem by sandblasting, for example. Not all elements of a glass staircase have to be glass. Transparent acrylic plastics are sometimes used as they're cheaper and very strong.

Stone is a traditional staircase material, but it can also give a very contemporary look. Companies can create staircases using marble and its stonemasons cut and shape each tread individually. Stone is generally fixed to a concrete or steel sub-structure that's usually fabricated off site and delivered and installed in one piece early on in the project.

When wood forms the sub-structure, it's important to ensure that it's strong enough to support the weight of the stone. As with glass, highly polished finishes are not recommended for stone treads as they are potentially dangerous, though a safety strip or grooving can be incorporated on the leading edge for added safety.

Concrete is another good staircase material and one that can be used to construct any style or shape from simple steps to more complex curves and spirals. Concrete staircases, are often built in -situ with the reinforced concrete cast into a timber formwork. This means they're guaranteed to fit, but they'll required finishing unless a secondary finish is applied such as carpet, tiles or stone. Alternatively, pre-cast stairs formed off-site in fibreglass moulds provide a very clean look. They're craned into position so have to be fitter at an early stage of the build.

An essential element of any staircase is the handrail and balustrade. Handrails are often made of steel, stainless steel, brass or timber, while the balusters or infill panels can be perforated metal, acrylics, glass, mesh or even tensioned stainless-steel cables.

Building Regulations Careful consideration must be given to staircase design as it's governed by the Building Regulations (planningportal.gov.uk). In particular, Part K of the regulations deals with the steepness, the rise and the going, and the headroom required. The height of handrails and the gap between balusters is also covered. When adding a staircase to access a loft conversion, you'll need to consider Part B of the regulations, dealing with fire safety, and the wider implications affecting the rest of the building.

PDF Download of Building regulations Part M

PDF Download of Building regulations Part K