Staircase Design Masterclass

Far more than just a means of getting from floor to floor, a staircase can make a dramatic impact in the home, with mixed materials and effective lighting turning a functional necessity into sculptural masterpieces. Richard McLane, founder and design director of bespoke staircase firm Bisca explains how to mix practical requirements with showstopping styling.

What are the key points to consider when thinking about where to put a staircase in a new home, or during a comprehensive renovation project?

Is the staircase simply a way of moving from floor to floor, or do you wish to create an impact? In an entrance hall there is the potential to make an amazing visual impact. When it comes to aesthetics, a staircase should integrate totally into the property and not look like a bolt-on or a later addition, so don’t just stop at the staircase – what about the landing? Is the balustrade to be extended?

Direction of travel is an important aspect that’s often overlooked until it’s too late. Think about the room from which you are most likely to approach the stair – if you have the space, you may have the opportunity to orientate the stair for both ease of access and the best visual impact.

Why go to an expert to design your staircase?

In the past, domestic staircases were built within the confines of a hall or entrance lobby, but today the trend towards open plan living has promoted its importance. A feature staircase adds desirability and wow factor as well as being functional.

Space is increasingly at a premium in homes, and staircase designers often have to maximise the illusion of light or openness, incorporate storage areas or work cleverly around room entrance and exits. The ability to tailor an exact shape or choose specific materials is becoming more important to the overall success of a project; the staircase must be integrated sympathetically into the property and not look like an obvious add on.

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The two helical staircases, connected by a new first-floor landing have timber treads and risers on helical steel stringers © Hatch Photography

What are some of the rules and regulations that need to be followed?

All staircases and balustrades must conform with Building Regulations and British Standards. I would strongly urge people to consult the relevant Building Regulations document (Part K: Protection from Falling, Collision and Impact) on the Government’s Planning Portal website

This regulation works on the premise that stairs have to be safe, and gives guidelines regarding how wide/how steep/how much headroom staircases need.

If you are thinking of doing something a bit different, talk to a building control officer, who can be reached via your local council. It’s always better to discuss ideas with them first than to have to take down an already-built construction.

How would you introduce light into a staircase, natural or otherwise?

Natural light is best and there are many ways of introducing more of it, including glass balustrading, glass walls or open treads. Electric lighting incorporated into the treads, or set into the wall above each tread, can make an impact after dark.

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Luxurious walnut treads provide a warm contrast to the crisp white walls and low iron glass balustrades © Jake Fitzjones

What types of staircase will make a particular design impact?

Cantilevered staircases – ie, with no visible support – are light, airy and open. The treads and risers are supported from one side only, usually via a hidden stringer in the wall, so the supporting wall needs to be structurally sound and strong enough to support it.

A helical staircase, which curves around a central void, is always stunning. Unlike a spiral staircase, helical staircases can also assume an oval or elliptical plan. They do take up a lot of room, however, and need even more space to frame them so they can be seen properly.

A T-shaped format is often used for feature stairs, offering access to two parts of the house from a central hallway.

Photo Credit: Jake FitzJones

Helical staircase in mild steel and antique oak © Jake Fitzjones

What are the main options for materials for staircases, and what are the pros and cons for each?

Materials chosen should be in empathy with the look and feel of the property. It is perfectly possible to use contemporary materials in period properties, and vice versa; the clever part about design is achieving a seamless cohesion between old and new.

Timber has natural beauty and is aesthetically pleasing, plus it’s available in a wide choice of woods and finishes; the only con is that being a natural material it can sometimes be difficult to match, and can also move as part of the natural aging process.
Glass is great for letting in light, but it can be high maintenance and difficult to keep clean.

Steel can be used in the spine/structural components of a stair as well as spindles, handrails and newels. Stone can be used to clad a steel staircase carcass – it can be cold to the touch, however.

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