Singing the Praises of Beautiful Staircases

Like a great work of art, a well-designed, painstakingly crafted staircase provides a focal point for a custom-built home. The staircases shown here owe as much to form as function, with a wide variety of materials, finishes, details and configurations.

March 01, 2008

In a finely detailed custom home, the staircase isn't merely functional; it's an art form that in some cases can take a year or more to complete. The stair systems featured here were designed to delight the eye, complement their surroundings and create an experience for homeowners and guests.

Stair Sculpture

This unique helical staircase serves as the central core for vertical movement throughout the home. Its steel framework has a veneer of ¾-inch mahogany and lacewood. All stair treads are inlaid with honed limestone. The structural tempered curved glass railings help support the custom bronze metal balustrades. A 12-foot-diameter skylight cascades light through decorative glass floor panels in the upper balcony.

Builder: Homeowners
Architect: DesRosiers Architects
Photography: Beth Singer



Arts and Crafts Homage

This home was designed for a couple who had an affinity for manor-style architecture but with a contemporary bent. Architect Wayne Visbeen played off the Arts and Crafts movement and other classic styles with beefy woodwork that is especially evident in the mahogany staircase. Serving all three floors of the home, the staircase has large, square newel posts; ornamental buttons; and 2¼ inch handrails. It took 12 weeks to assemble.

Builder: Grand Concept Homes
Architect: Visbeen Associates
Photography: Michael Buch/M Buck Studio


Formal Wear

Designed for a Georgian-style home near Charleston, S.C., this stately staircase reflects the owner's appreciation for detail. Its open, freestanding box/curve design was a challenge to execute because the anchor points are at the bottom step. The stair has a 6-inch-by-6-inch knee wall and raised-panel wainscot. The treads are stained Brazilian cherry and the balusters and newels hammered square steel with a center "boss" or ornament. The steel is powder-coated with a black industrial finish, while the bosses are powder-coated in a copper patina finish. The stained mahogany handrail is an over-the-post design with double volutes (decorative, spiral-shaped endings). Using shop-built components, the stair assembly and trimwork, done on site, took 12 to 14 weeks.

Builder: Philip Smith General Contractors
Architect: Stephen Herlong & Associates, Architects
Photography: Warren Lieb


Rising Star

This custom-built staircase suits the mood of the home's rustic, castle-like interior, which is finished in dark woods. As a contrast to the arched windows, the handrail was formed into 45-degree angles — stair-stepping instead of curving — and has delicately carved balusters. The stair parts are made of hickory, prefinished for a vintage look. The handrail has an oak stain to match the treads and risers, and the balusters are hand-painted aluminum. The entire system took approximately four weeks to assemble.

Builder: Harwick Homes
Architect: Eric Brown Design Group
Photography: Doug Thompson


Fit for a Palace

Unfurling like a flag, this two-story staircase rises through a 45-foot-high turret of 14-foot arched windows. A challenging 90-degree turn was required at the foyer; therefore, the underside of the compound curved stair was made of plaster on site. The hand-carved wood handrail is supported by an expertly designed wrought-iron pattern. Brass accents were hot-brushed on during fabrication, and individual flower designs were incorporated into the railing, which took over a year to complete.

Builder: Uztan Construction
Architect: DesRosiers Architects
Photography: George Dzahristos


Family Affair

This helical stair is a back stair for family use, leading from the upstairs bedroom suites directly to the kitchen. Unlike a typical circular stair, it doesn't have a central post but rather an open "donut hole." It's very comfortable to use, with handrails on both sides of the treads. Architect Andrew Zalewski says this type of staircase is considerably more expensive than a circular stair with a post, but it's safer and has a more graceful appearance — all the while fitting into the tight footprint of a circular stair.

Builder: Wood & Clay
Architect: The MZO Group
Photography: Bill Fish

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