A staircase is often the last thing people think of, but it can make a huge difference to a house. When stairs are done properly, they instantly give a house a sense of proportion and style. Done badly, they make the whole place look a mess.
When we bought our derelict Victorian house, the stairs were a disaster. Steps and balustrades were missing, and in one place an entire banister had vanished. It gave the whole building a gloomy feel, and climbing the stairs came with an unwanted frisson of danger.
Fitting an entire staircase can cost a fortune. If you are refurbishing a Georgian or Victorian house, as we were, then it’s far cheaper to repair than replace. This is because it is so tough to find authentic period reproductions. It was almost impossible to find a modern handrail to mimic the beautiful curve of my original.
Yet the pinnacle of all Victorian examples must be the 1901 Grand Staircase at the newly refurbished Midland Hotel at St Pancras Station. Two staircases cascade from the first floor in a triumph of late-Victorian engineering. It makes you want to run down it in a hooped skirt and gloves.
But if you don’t wish to come across too Scarlett O’Hara, then contemporary staircases can be wonderful, too. You don’t even need to have a new house to put them in. Plenty of homeowners are simply chopping out their old stairs and replacing them with something more theatrical.
But how about a cool glass staircase? Not a great idea, according to Roe. “They only need the slightest drop of water on them to get very slippery, and they take a lot of cleaning. Imagine having kids running up and down them with dirty shoes.” There’s another problem, too. One which Roe says few people consider.
The privacy aspect. Nobody ever thinks about it in the showroom, but they will when Granny comes around for Christmas and is walking up the stairs. Much smarter and more popular are the wide oak stairs which Demax combines with a glass balustrade, giving a swishy, spacious feel to the room.
Treads are another thing to be considered. Roe says about a third of his clients choose open-tread stairs, and the rest go for closed. Personally, I find walking up an open-tread staircase a bit like climbing a ladder, and feel they are much easier to fall up or down. The other important aspect to a good flight of stairs is tidiness. They really don’t work when they’re clogged up with books or clothes. For those who are pressed for space and also a bit adventurous, there are now some great staircase storage inventions which slot in, around and below your stairs.
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