When it comes to stairs, you may often overlook them as a functional part of your home. At the same time though, well-designed stairs can become a highlight feature of your home, which complements its overall style perfectly.
Whatever the choice, the first step is to ask yourself how you intend to use your stairs. Are they internal or external? Are they purely functional to connect you with a particular area (like a cellar or attic)? Or are they at the entrance to your home, where gorgeous design sets the tone for the rest of your home?
Choosing the right stairs for your home
Once you know how you’ll use your stairs, think about:
* whether your stairs will be hidden or seen
* what materials you’d like to use
* the style of your home
* how they should look and what designs appeal to you
* the dimensions and how to use space optimally
Options for internal stairs
In general there are two types of internal stairs – custom built and pre-made, and your choice will depend on the cost and space available.
Depending on your personal taste and where you’d like to install them, custom-built stairs are an excellent solution for small rooms where space is limited and more luxurious homes which may need to incorporate a specific design. Materials can include wood, iron and masonry, and will depend on the space. For wood and iron stairs, they’ll need to be made elsewhere and installed on site, whereas masonry stairs need more space and are built on site.
With a host of models, materials and styles to choose from, prefabricated stairs offer a standardised solution to suit your needs. While they may not be suited to smaller, irregular shaped rooms, today’s pre-made stairs come in a range of modular, flexible and attractive designs.
Straight, Turned or Spiral?
Your choice here depends on where your stairs begin and end. A straight flight of stairs is usually the cheapest and simple option, but may not work in the space. The general rule of thumb is to position the base of the staircase near the front door, for easy access and exit (this is especially important when it comes to three-storey homes when stairs are your fire escape route).
If you need the stairs to get around corners, you’ll need to join the two flights with a 90° quarter turn landing or a half turn of 180°. When you see steps turning corners as you climb – these are called winders.
Spiral staircases are the most visually appealing, but be warned, it’s hard to carry furniture up and down them and they are more expensive.
How to design stairs
Once you’ve decided on the style of stairs to suit your home and functional needs, you’ll need to look into the balustrading. These are the bits that give the stairs their style – like the handrail, newel posts and spindles. While for older homes, balustrading would usually be ornately carved, today’s more modern styles are simple and clean-looking, using metal tension wires and laminated glass panels.
Balustrading: The term balustrading is used to describe the combination of the spindles, handrail and newel posts on a staircase. Often it is these elements which give the staircase its character — they can transform an off-the-shelf flight into something special. Timber, glass, metal and even fabric sandwiched between glass panels can all form balustrading. In period homes balustrading was often elaborately carved, but these days people are keeping it simple with laminated glass panels and metal tension wires being favourites.
Light: Make sure your staircases aren’t gloomy places by remembering to let as much natural light in as possible with a rooflight or light pipe. If that’s not possible, turn it into a feature with LED lights on the stairs, around the spindles or along the handrail.
Which materials can be used for stairs?
You’ll need to choose the materials that will suit your home style best.
Timber: Wood is timeless and easy to work with, and can work in contemporary homes with cantilevered steps, as well as the more classic carved or simple wooden posts. If you’re carpeting your stairs, pine or plywood is a good solution. If you’re showing them off, hardwoods like oak, ash and beech look amazing but can be between two and five times more expensive than softwoods.
Glass and Acrylic – allowing more light, they’re a great choice for modern homes, but acrylic can scratch (and can’t be used on fire escape routes because they’re flammable). If you opt for this more designed option, you can expect to pay a bit more.
Metal – a great look for more industrial homes and perfect for straight or spiral stairs, metal looks good with glass balustrades and mesh or tension wires. Metal is also durable and quite affordable.
Stone and Concrete – can be traditional or contemporary in style. Designed for a more solid look, they can be expensive. If you opt for cast concrete premade stairs, you may have to wait a while to have them made.
Can I install stairs myself?
While you can install stairs yourself, it's always best to consult with an interior architect. If you're planning to design a bespoke staircase, you'll need to also ask a structural engineer to check for safety and.whether slab reinforcements are needed.
Most importantly, you'll need to ensure you comply with building regulations. This is where a specialist staircase company or interior architect can save you money and time in the long run.
How much should expect to pay for stairs?
Depending on the style, size and materials you use, costs can vary from between £500 for a softwood design (without balustrading), to £3,000-£5,000 for a fully installed modular staircase. Of course, if you're planning to design a bespoke staircase to create a feature in your home, you'll be looking at anything from £5,000 to £90,000.
Just be sure to get a few quotes from joiners or staircase specialists in your area, and make sure installation is specified. Find a staircase specialist now.
important Staircase Building Regulations
* Staircases should have a maximum rise of 220mm and a minimum going of 220mm
* They should have a maximum pitch of 42°
* Flights should have a handrail on at least one side if they are less than one metre wide and on both sides if they are wider
* Handrails on stairs and landings should have a minimum height of 900mm
* No openings of any balustrading should allow the passage of a 100mm sphere
* A minimum of 2,000mm of clear headroom is required above the pitch line