Selecting the right staircase for a new build or refurbishment

Selecting the right staircase for a new build or refurbishment is an important decision to get right, explains Nick Rackham, managing director for Complete Stair Systems.

A staircase is often on view when entering a property, the perfect opportunity to create an impression with a design that complements the house.

Staircase design has really come into its element over the last decade with a vast number of companies now offering contemporary and innovative designs with a focus on hardwood and glass. Staircases are no longer viewed as just a way to get from one level to the next but as a way to enhance a property and create a real ‘wow factor’.

Faced with such a vast array of styles and materials where do you start? Staircases range in cost from £500 to £50,000 so it is important to allocate a budget early on and work out what you can and can’t afford. Perhaps you want a basic carpeted flight or a stunning floating cantilevered structure with frameless glass balustrade and exposed timber treads. Get some online inspiration and put some feelers out for some indicative costs. You will be able to get advice on costing through your architect or builder and any staircase company. If you contact a staircase company you will need to have a rough idea of the shape of the staircase, the floor to floor height and the sort of materials you would like to use, ideally supplying them with a drawing or a sketch showing some basic dimensions.

Space

It is important you have sufficient space for the type of staircase you require. If you have an architect or surveyor involved with the work then they will be able to plot the space required for the new staircase. You can also talk to a staircase company who will quickly be able to establish the opening required in the floor for the shape of staircase you would like. Indeed you might have an existing opening that you can’t enlarge and wish to find your best options for the space you have.

Configurations

Staircases come in all shapes and sizes but are generally supplied as straight flights, quarter turns (one 90 degree turn), half turns (two 90 degree turns), and spirals. The opening in the floor and the available space will usually dictate the shape of the staircase you can have. A staircase company will be able to advise with this and perhaps provide some sketches and drawings to help.

Standard stairs

The majority of houses in the UK have straight, quarter turns or half turn staircases, which are carpeted. These flights often have an under stairs toilet or storage and are generally constructed with softwood stringers (side pieces that support the steps), MDF treads and ply risers. This type of staircase tends to be the most economically priced and is supplied by a number of larger national companies and local joiners. You might want to consider this type of staircase if you plan to carpet the stairs or you need to utilise the space below and therefore can’t have open risers. To modernise the structure you could add glass infill panels instead of spindles and perhaps opt for a hardwood stringer down the side of the staircase.

Modern and open stairs

Should your budget permit, you might want to consider a more modern approach and opt for an open riser flight with exposed treads. Within staircase design there is an emphasis on light and open styles with subtle supporting structures to allow the maximum passage of light. Instead of the normal ‘double-stringer’ structures there are now staircases supported with a single spine or indeed with treads cantilevered directly from the wall, that appear to float in mid air.

The treads on these modern flights tend to be in hardwood with beech, oak and ash very popular. You could perhaps choose the same species of timber to match your new hardwood floor or new doors.

The conventional ‘spindle’ on modern stairs has been overtaken with infill’s that are less obtrusive and that are a little more appealing to the eye. Glass is extremely popular and can look stunning in the right location. But be warned – streaks left by sticky little figures or pets will be very visible in the light. Horizontal wires and rails are undoubtedly a more appealing option to spindles but they generally don’t comply with UK regulations. This is mainly because they are deemed ‘climbable’ by building inspectors as the horizontals form a ladder effect.

There is also a rule governing the gap between the steps. Any open riser staircase should have a maximum riser gap of 100mm to prevent small children falling through the staircase. Most companies offering these open and modern staircases will have an option to infill this gap, keeping it open but reducing the gap to less than 100mm.

The best advice would be to get a staircase company involved from the early stages in your new build or refurbishment. Think about how important the staircase will be in the development and set aside a proportion of your budget for it. Get some early quotations to help with this so you know what type of staircase you can and can’t afford. A stair company will be able to advise on the opening required in the floor and will be able to ensure the staircase complies with the regulations.