A staircase is more than just a way to travel from one floor to another. It is also an opportunity for personal expression that can serve as an architectural centerpiece. While staircase design and renovation are complex processes, they can be a great investment, radically improving the appearance of your home and creating a stunning point of interest.
Traditional staircases often feature turned spindles and a handrail with a heavy newel post or volute. However, when you opt to transform your home with a renovation, you’ll be able to customize the design to achieve the look you desire.
There are generally two types of staircase renovations: cosmetic enhancements or a complete rebuild. The level of customization available to you will depend on the level of renovation you want, your budget, and the existing layout of your home.
When designing a staircase, builders are primarily concerned with purpose and safety as it relates to specific state building codes.
For example, here are just a few of the regulations in the state of Texas:
- Each stair must be a minimum of 36 inches wide
- The maximum riser height (vertical space from one stair to the next) is 7 ¾ inches
- The minimum headroom in all parts of the stairway is 6’ 8”
- Any elevation greater than an 18-inch drop must have a well-secured railing
- If a door opens directly to a stairway, the door must be a minimum of 34 inches wide
There are many additional guidelines to consider, dealing with everything from handrail grip size to the distance between the spindles and how the space under a stairway is to be utilized. In some cases, these building codes may have changed from when your house was first built.
If you’re interested in building, renovating, or adding stairs to a home, you’ll need to hire an architect not only to offer guidance on the numerous designs available but also to accurately interpret and apply the complicated and detailed legalities associated with the project.
Utility Upgrades and Rebuilds
When it comes to the utility of your staircase and the impact it has on your home, the layout really matters. While mostly functional in its purpose, your staircase offers a unique vantage point depending on its placement, design, and location within the home.
One of the trickiest aspects about constructing a stairway where the original floorplan never intended is making it feel like it was always meant to be there. For example, adding a top floor to a pre-existing home can be challenging since the original layout didn’t account for having stairs. Essentially, you’re trying to squeeze a substantial structure into the configuration of your home that makes sense for the main floor while providing ideal access to the rooms upstairs.
New Staircase Considerations:
- Where will the landing go?
- What shape will look and work best: curved, spiral, floating, U-shaped, or L-shaped?
- Are there interior design challenges on the main floor to work around? This could be larger pieces of furniture such as a grand piano, variations of ceiling height, wall placement, or noteworthy fixtures such as an eye-catching chandelier.
Such aspects of a home can prove tricky to work around. However, the unique attributes of a home also provide an opportunity to create a distinctive, modern-looking approach to staircase renovation.
In one of our recent projects in Richardson, Texas, we added a second story onto a home and needed to create a staircase that looked like it was always meant to be there. This can be tricky, as the 3.5 feet needed should make sense on the first and second floors. We opted to add the staircase between the living room and the kitchen, leaving enough space for the homeowner’s grand piano. In the end, we created an open and modern looking staircase that became an integral component of the style of their living room.
Cosmetic Staircase Upgrades
Cosmetic upgrades can be one of the most cost-effective and meaningful ways to change the look of your staircase. There are dozens of different customizations available that can improve its appearance. You can replace handrails and other components with more contemporary ones, including all metal options. You can also paint your staircase in any way that you want to.
Some other cosmetic upgrades include:
- Rug runners
- Higher-end wood materials
- New handrails
- Stair treads
In a recent project, we converted an open staircase built in the 1980s to a brand-new U-shared staircase with wooden slats. The existing staircase was awkward and had different riser heights, as it was modified incorrectly over the years. On the landing, we created a reading nook that went well with the kids’ play space just outside of the stairs. The finished style fits well with the look of the rest of the home.
Key Terms in Staircase Renovation
As there are so many details to consider in the creation or renovation of a stairway. It’s beneficial to have a basic understanding of the various components you may discuss with your architect. How can you tell them what you’re hoping for without the correct terminology?
Here are some key terms you may need to know in your staircase renovation:
- Atrium—a type of gallery or balcony from which to view the space and stairs below.
- Balustrade—a collection of balusters joined together by a handrail.
- Balusters—also known as spindles, these are the upright posts connecting the stair surface to the handrail. These come in many different shapes, designs, and materials.
- Carriage—the infrastructure of a staircase that offers it support.
- Fascia—a decorative section that operates as the face of landings.
- Handrail profiles—the shape or pattern (there are many options) of the handrail.
- Landing—an oversized tread at the bottom of the lowest flight in a staircase or placed as a connection between multiple flights of stairs where they change direction.
- Newel post—larger spindle or baluster at the end of a stairway that also features several different types of newel cap designs.
- Pitch—the angle between floors which changes significantly depending on the shape of the staircase.
- Stringer—the stringer is the boundary or the edge that maintains, supports, or holds the treads, risers, and soffits; there are several types of stringers.
- Tread—the surface of the step, which comes in many shapes and sizes.
- Volute—the ornamental end point of a handrail.
Ultimately, staircase design, renovation and construction is a highly-involved process that requires the input of an experienced architect. It can be one of the most complicated and expensive alterations in a home remodel, so avoiding mistakes is vital to your success and the final results.
If you’re looking to make some attention-grabbing changes in your existing or future home, don’t look past the impact of a perfectly designed and placed staircase and the unique, stylistic options available to you. hpd architecture + interiors is here to help design and plan your staircase renovation.
Laura Davis is a registered architect and interior designer in the state of Texas and Colorado, and a founding member of hpd architecture + interiors. Laura extensive experience includes residential as well as commercial and retail projects. She also has a particular interest in restoration, holding a certificate in Historic Preservation. She is energized by the character of older homes and the stories of those who have lived there. Responding to the needs of the current owner, while also honoring the personality of the original home is a delicate process to be enjoyed.