A staircase, beyond providing access to different floors, can add a striking design element to any style of home. Staircases can be made of many materials, with traditional looks relying heavily on wood, and more modern aesthetics making use of different metals, heavy-gauge wires or man-made materials. Variations in staircase design may come from unusual banisters or railings, vertiginous and sleek free-floating steps or from unusual storage spaces integrated into the stairs.
Railings and Banisters
A very traditional staircase design ascends in a straight line, with a wooden banister parallel to the stairs, a little above waist-height and secured to each step by a wooden spindle or baluster. Often the balusters are turned, with smoothly rounded edges. A modern, stark look can be achieved by painting the banisters a contrasting colour and using clean, crisp lines. Other common materials include aluminium, vinyl and even wrought iron. Aluminium or vinyl are ideal for all-weather spaces, and wrought iron lends a sophisticated touch. Ornate banisters often end with a flourish, sometimes circling around a finial at their base. Wooden banisters may feature decorative carvings. A full banister and balusters will provide the greatest safety of any staircase designs, making them ideal for homes with children or the infirm.
Typical staircase layouts include the spiral staircase, which has pie-shaped steps winding around a central beam; the straight staircase, which is usually flush with a single wall; and the L-shaped staircase, which ascends to a landing and then changes direction for the rest of the ascent. Among these basic types, countless variations abound. Milk Design, of Chicago, includes examples of non-traditional staircases as part of its online portfolio. Simple straight staircases are updated with contrasting materials and colours. Plexiglass replaces traditional balusters to offer safety without sacrificing a degree of transparency. Iron and Wire specialises in balustrades made from heavy-duty wire. For homes without children, "floating" staircases are without any railings whatsoever, complementing sleek, contemporary design.
Storage and Multi-Use Stairs
Many designers have caught on to the considerable unused space available beneath a staircase and have taken advantage of it for extra storage. In many older homes, the space beneath a straight staircase is walled off and used as an enclosed closet or cabinet. Some innovative designs also incorporate storage. Unicraft Joinery, of Australia, has designed staircases with individual drawers enclosed within each step. An innovative staircase-cum-bookshelf was designed for a London flat by Rodrigues Associates, Structural Engineers. Between each of the steps, a recessed shelf offers ample storage for books, magazines and CDs.
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