Transitioning from public to private space, from one level to another, from inside to outside: the staircase. We enjoy the creativity that can be expressed in the functional and essential staircase. Stairs are like furniture that flows, curving, lifting, descending; solid, floating, short, or lengthy…and always dependable.
Our fine woodworkers and our designers think of stairs as sculptural and architectural elements. Often a focal point in the home the options for customization are many. Materials, shape, location, and integration with the frame.
Rob D’Alessandro, General Manager of NEWwoodworks, our fine woodworking division, shares, “Stairs are always a challenge, but fitting them within a timber frame adds a whole new element. Proportion: the scale of the stair components so as not to be dwarfed by the heavy timbers. Integration: joining into the frame itself. Material choices: not all wood species are durable and aesthetically pleasing with Douglas fir timbers. There may be other elements, such as metal details that relate the staircase to the timber frame. These are just a handful of the considerations when creating each staircase.”
Grandly traditional, crisply contemporary, gently modern, stairs are an architectural element that unites spaces and overall aesthetics. “Generally, we want the stair to seem to grow out of the frame, to really belong,” Rob explained.
“We always consider what we’re trying to connect to [areas of the home] and what the experience should be,” explained Ty Allen, AIA and General Manager of our Design/Build divisions. “For example where the lower level is a major part of the primary living space, a more open stair encourages transition between levels. Movement and sound can freely travel up and down. By placing a turn with a landing in the stair we increase the footprint; it takes up more area and creates a stronger connection of spaces.”
Handrail shape and flow is as unique as the stairs it accompanies. Second perhaps only to individual step height, rails are where people are most acutely aware of their physical interaction with the stair. The rail’s handcrafted support varies in shape, material, and height. A lasting impression can be made through a stair rail. Rob: “Is the shape comfortable, curving to the cup of a hand? Is it smooth? Is it large enough for palm and fingers to wrap around or is it minimal, encouraging a light touch? Does it offer the warmth of wood or the sleek coolness of metal? Are there returns and easings that are easily negotiated or bluntly celebrated? There are a plethora of details to be addressed when we’re thinking of human interaction with the stair components.”
What’s under the rail plays a key role in the look of the stair and its impact on the space it occupies. Balusters: wood, metal, cable; vertical, horizontal, or both! Single or paired. Curved, carved, or forged. “Really the possibilities here are nearly limitless. The overall effect of the integrated materials speaks to the style of the project. It can have a pretty big impact on the impression people take away. There’s a certain blend of materials that are consistent throughout a project, that tie the elements together. Even outdoor stair rails give queues to the interior design elements within the home,” Rob continued.
To rise or not to rise…it has become more common to eliminate the risers when our fine woodworkers are creating custom stairs. This creates a “floating” effect where treads nest into the stringers or walls without any back connection. Ty explains, “A ‘lighter’ style stair can be created with floating treads, though the treads themselves are often fairly robust. It allows focus to stay on the space as opposed to a stair that features abundant amounts of wood and metal which intentionally draws attention and becomes a dominant player in the room.” In the case of a more contemporary stair design, the stringers may be centered and paired to further the illusion of a floating stair:
Rob describes the craft of passion and demanding detail with stairs: “We give stairs the same attention to detail as any piece of fine furniture or cabinetry. Stairs can be fiddly and ornery…at the same time, they can be creative and rewarding. Their abundant styles plus their ability to fit a broad variety of functional and aesthetics tasks makes them all the more special in our fine woodworking endeavors. While we’re ‘making’ with beauty and craft at the forefront, there’s a hefty amount of precision and engineering that goes into stairs. No matter the look, at the end of the day they’re stable and safe.”