Modern Staircases

by Scott Edwards

For too long a staircase had been seen as simply a means of getting from floor A to floor B, unless you owned a large house with main hall area. The layout of most older properties incorporated a steep staircase being thrown between walls or in a corner, insinuating the item is some kind of inconvenience. Homeowners of today are focusing far more attention onto their staircase and many are being installed as the main feature of a property. It’s not uncommon to hear a staircase now being referred to as a showpiece, or piece of furniture.

Semi-detached houses from the 1930’s onwards afforded larger hallways and subsequently more space for the stairs, but the majority were characterless with boarded balustrades. It’s a similar story for the larger houses built in the 60’s and 70’s, although it did open the space somewhat, the “Ranch style” design was also devoid of any real character. From around the mid 80’s this began to change.

Turned spindles and newel posts have since become commonplace in the majority of houses, and there are literally hundreds of designs to choose from. Even if you don’t find a style to your liking, absolutely any type of turning you can think of can be produced on a lathe. There are still a few people able to do this in the traditional way by hand and eye, but newel posts and spindles are now manufactured en masse by computerised or manually operated copy lathes.

The modern staircase can be constructed from a full range of materials or even a combination of them, such as timber, glass and steel being used in one single staircase. Although distinct materials and all manner of elaborate designs are fully available, the classic styles or slightly more modern versions are still the most popular. A staircase should flow with the rest of the environment it occupies and be in-keeping with colour scheme and décor. There’s no point placing a retro styled glass and steel staircase in an Edwardian mansion steeped with traditional features, it simply won’t work. If your concept is open plan with clean straight lines then look for a stair design that compliments the rest of the house. For example; square rather than turned spindles and newel posts, or maybe glass panelling secured on steel clamps if everything else is very modern and minimalist.

Whoever you employ to construct your new staircase should be looking at what fits best with your property and your personal design preferences. The difference of cost in specific materials can be vast so always ask for alternatives that may give the same effect at a fraction of the cost. Using a timber like American White Ash and having it coloured to your taste rather than paying for Oak or American Black Walnut can afford a huge saving with little or no loss of effect. Similarly replacing glass for Perspex or chrome for stainless steel will also be beneficial when working within a budget. If using alternatives doesn’t satisfy you and your budget is being compromised then the slightest change in design can sometimes have the biggest financial effect.

If you have an existing staircase, explore the possibility of having it modernised with new stair parts which will likely cost a fraction of complete replacing it. Finally, there’s a minefield of regulations surrounding stairs so be sure to have a reputable and experienced company measure and construct it for you.


1)Maximum pitch = 42 degrees 2)Maximum rise per step = 220mm 3)Minimum tread per step = 220mm 4)Minimum handrail height = 900mm from tread pitch line 5)Maximum space between spindles = 100mm at optimum point 6)Minimum allowable width = 600mm 7)Any glass incorporated must be toughened and polished edge

Always consult your building inspector if you have any doubts or concerns.

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