by Brian Burkett
Oh stairs… you are both the bane of and the reason for a designer’s existence. Almost every project that we work on has at least one set of them. Stairs are one of those fun architectural elements that can either completely dominate a space, or (literally) be shoved out of the way, depending on our goals. They need to be code compliant and functional, but we also like them to be beautiful, occasionally to the point of being sculptural. They take up precious floor space, but are also one of our best ways to get vertical communication through spaces, allowing light, sound, heat, and views through two (or occasionally more!) stories. Let’s look at a few, shall we? Okay, hands up: who hasn’t seen this picture floating around the internet? It’s a really fun idea to take advantage of what seems like wasted space. One downside is that I can never remember what I stored in that 6” tall space…probably shoes, but I can’t recall if that particular pair of running sneakers was stored in the 7th or the 8th riser? Better check them all! Thirteen short custom cabinets won’t be expensive, will they? In the case above, the drawers take up much of the “wasted” space under the stairs. In our climate where basements are typical, the space underneath a staircase is often utilized by the required clearance space of another staircase below it. The idea of stacking staircases has been around a long time, and is a good one that saves lots of floor space. The stair to the right has a lot of transparency, and goes up to the second floor and down to the basement, allowing the stories to not be so distinct from one another. If the space below the stairs is available (there are no basement stairs below), we would love to incorporate some storage into it. Instead of accessing storage from the front of stairs, however, we often prefer to access it from the side of the space under a staircase. We’ve found that this is a great way to maximize the effect of this kind of storage. It makes for interesting spaces and tons of good storage. This cabinetry is under a staircase going to the story above. Stairs enclosed by walls tend to be efficient and relatively inexpensive, but can seem narrow, closed-in, and restrictive in how they don’t allow the two stories to interact with one another. One of our favorite things to do with stairs, of course, is make a piece of art out of them. It takes a keen eye for detailing and great craftsmen to create a visually interesting, functional staircase. The building code requires specific dimensions for the width of a staircase, the height and depth of each step, and for how “open” the guard rail on the side can be. These limitations can seem frustrating, but are in place for a reason: non-code compliant stairs can be difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to traverse. Finding solutions to this can lead to some interesting and creative ways to make a beautiful piece. Sometimes, we can get a little bit of everything. Below is a stacked staircase that is a little sculptural, incorporates some shelving and seating, and has really comfortable dimensions that make it easy to use, now and into the future. It becomes a functional showpiece that highlights what might be possible. Stairs comprise a massive subject, one that we’ve only scratched the surface of here. I look at the stairs in my house and can think of a dozen ways I might make them better. The possibilities are pretty endless! How do want your stairs to function, look, and feel?