Part K of the Building Regulations tells you pretty much all you need to know about the rules of engagement and what your stair has to achieve in order to be rubber stamped by your local Building Inspector, but what about getting some of that X factor? What if you want your stair to be more than just a safe way of changing levels? For our money, there are few materials that create a more impressive stair than stone, and there are few people that know more about stone staircases than The Stonemasonry Company. This month we talk to Pierre Bidaud as he gives some tips that you won’t find in Part K and which could make the difference between something ordinary and a stairway to heaven:
1. Going up?
When designing a staircase, the single most important aspect is the relationship between the “rise” – how high each step is – and the “going” – the depth of the tread. You should be trying to achieve a regular, easy-to-walk-on “going” that combines with a rise that is not too strenuous but which still gets you where you need to be. The ideal going is around 250mm for a normal, domestic stair with a rise of around 190mm but if you are looking for something more imposing, for a grand entrance stair for example, then a 300mm going combined with a smaller rise of say 165mm will give you more of a wow factor. If you can, make sure that your staircase is 1000mm wide from wall to handrail, but never, ever go under 900 mm!
2. A good start to a great ending
Most staircases we create tend to be placed in the main hall or reception room. This means that the stair forms a major part of a visitor’s first impression so make the stair inviting! For example, give the first two or three steps some flaring. When viewed from the top of the first floor landing, looking back down the stair, this will also create the added effect of making the stair appear as if it is gently sliding or cascading onto the floor.
3. Every theatre needs a stage
If you have more than 19 steps on a flight, then break it midway or even a quarter of the way up. Not only does this give you a chance to catch your breath and take in the view but it can also create the perfect stage from which you can welcome your guests or give a speech! If theatricality is not your scene, then half landings are also great opportunities to create spaces to show off works of art or even just a beautiful arrangement of flowers.
4. Soft landings
It used to be so easy! In the old days, traditional stone staircases would allow for the last stone step to join seamlessly into a stone landing, of the same thickness as the step, resulting in exquisitely simple details. Nowadays, though, with so many services and technology under the floor, the landing is usually at least 300 mm thick, resulting in a mismatch between the thickness of the landing and the stone stairs. To avoid this travesty and the associated messy detailing, simply plan ahead and re-route any services around the landing – your stair will thank you for it!
5. Teamwork that avoids a twist in the tail
When commissioning a stone staircase, the balustrade is crucial so remember to have the spindle fabricators working alongside the stonemasons. Together they can spot any kinks or breaks in the handrail design and a good spindle manufacturer will know how to raise or lower the spindles before a tight turn to have an elegant twist while a good stone draftsman will now how to make the going match the rhythm of the spindles to avoid any unsightly setting out.
6. As always, keep it simple
There can be a temptation to go crazy with elaborate mouldings, but our advice is that the simpler they are, the better. For traditional stone stairs, keep to classical designs for the nosing, such as astragal mouldings, bull noses, or plain, flat nosings. For contemporary stairs with a square step design, it also worth considering a splayed riser so that users’ heels don’t slip or leave marks on the faces of the risers when descending the staircase.
Staircases are some of the most complex and difficult structures to imagine, let alone realise, and it would be a tall order to reduce the design process to “six easy steps”. But, with the right approach and a little help from the people who know, the thing that gets you from the front door to the top floor could be more than just a question of satisfying the regulations, it could be a cause for celebration!
Pierre Bidaud from the Stonemasonry Company was talking to Ryan von Ruben.