Five AM - Isle of Water

How to design stairs

Stairs can be the most annoying, unflexible, impossible-to-update element that permanently occupies your space. They can also be the highlight of an interior.

There are few steps in staircase design process:

1. Location

You should know that stairs affect the entire functional organization of a house or an apartment – this means that location of staircase affects your everyday life.

FIVE AM - Isle of water
FIVE AM – Isle of water // photo: © cafeine.be *featured photo

We love amazing, minimalistic, almost sculptural stairs placed in a living room, but the truth behind that layout is this: if bedrooms are upstairs and you’re out with your friends while your husband or wife or mom has some friends over, you’ll have to walk by them before you get to the bedroom when you come home.

Or you only have bedrooms upstairs while the bathroom is downstairs, and you host a party. This can mean that your kids have to walk through to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This may or may not be a problem for you. If it is, the solution is to locate stairs in the entrance hall or next to the entrance hall. If it’s not, that’s great – there’s no right or wrong here, just what works for you and what doesn’t.

Relocating the staircase during apartment reconstruction is often structurally and financially pretty serious project, but something worth the investment and time if it’s important to you.

Francesco Librizzi - Casa C
Francesco Librizzi – Casa C // photo: © Giovanna Silva

2. Dimensions

Stairs should be as wide as a hallway would be – the function is really the same. The width of a staircase should never be less than 90 cm, ideally 120 cm. That’s the rule.

But (!) sometimes you have to put the staircase in a studio apartment, and 90 cm is way too much because nothing else would fit. Or they lead to one small room in the attic where you have nothing but a pillow, lamp, and a book. The rule can be broken, but be aware of how frequently you’ll have to go up and down and how big are the things you’ll have to bring upstairs, including furniture you’ll maybe bring only once.

In our experience, there’s hardly ever enough room in reconstructions for following standard dimensions of practically anything, but you have to make sure that everything will still be fully functional.STAIR DESIGN formula

The height of the riser and depth of the tread are calculated with the formula: one depth plus two heights equals 63 cm. For kids and elders optimal is the height of 15 cm and the width of 33 cm (33+2*15=63). 63 can be stretched from 60 to 65 (60 is good for young children since their steps are smaller).

STAIR DESIGN formula
stair design formula

The truth is, you can do whatever you want in your own apartment, but by following standard dimensions (or dimensions as close to standard as possible) you’ll design comfortable space for yourself. We are sure you want to have a user-friendly apartment.

3. Safety

Safety is tricky when you’re an architect working for a client, but when you’re designing your own stairs you really can do whatever you want. Keep in mind that staircase without railing may be impressive to your house guests, but it probably won’t be to your grandma or to the parents of a two-year-old. That doesn’t mean you have to have the railing, it just means you have to think about every detail in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises. It’s really not that hard, we do it all the time!

4. Materials

Contemporary staircases are usually made of concrete, steel or/and wood. Check out our Pinterest board for the most amazing designs. The possibilities are endless, but our current favorite is probably the combination of a solid base and a lighter upper part of the staircase. And the ones with the lowest step separated from others and in a different material.

Francesco Librizzi - Casa G
Francesco Librizzi – Casa G // photo: © Alberto Moncada

5. Additional function

We wrote about how to detect and seize the opportunities your apartment is giving you, and the need to have a staircase in your apartment is really a great opportunity to get the most out of the situation by adding an extra function to a standard element.

João Mendes Ribeiro - Fonte Boa House

João Mendes Ribeiro - Fonte Boa House
João Mendes Ribeiro – Fonte Boa House // photo: © José Campos

Space under the stairs can always be used as storage (and you can’t have to much storage space) but that half staircase – half furniture alternatives are true game-changers.
Think about it: no matter where your staircase is, since the bigger part is elevated from the floor surface, and the base can have a function in relation to the function of the room, it will never be in your way no matter the size. It is a chameleon of the staircases!Arhitektri - Apartment [MV]

Stair detail: Arhitektri - Apartment [MV]
Arhitektri – Apartment [MV] // photo: © Bojana Boranieva
Edouard Brunet, François Martens - BRNK
Edouard BrunetFrançois MartensBRNK // photo: © Dennis De Smet 

We would love to hear about your favorites. Feel free to leave us a comment or hop onto our Pinterest board for more inspiration.


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