Making stairs grand again

Jarrod Matthews of Jarrods Staircases is passionate about the potential to elevate staircases to an art form. He explains why creating the perfect staircase should be a priority, not an afterthought.

Ioften refer to the space where the staircase sits as the ‘forgotten room’. While architects and designers have long been fascinated by this method of moving from one level to another, it’s only recently that people embarking on their own self-build projects are acknowledging its importance, in terms of functionality and design.

The problem with many staircases is that they have been literally ‘plonked’ with little regard for the space in which they sit, or aesthetics generally. They are often an afterthought; something that’s been hastily put together after the house has been designed or renovated. The end result is a functional piece of furniture that really doesn’t ‘go’ with the rest of the home.

Try and look at your home and the space with fresh eyes. Think of your staircase as the heart of the home, rather than just a functional piece of furniture.

If you have a look or style you love, make sure your staircase fits in with that; be bold, be creative. Think of your new staircase as a work of art. From the sculptural to the traditional and ornate, it’s possible to create beautiful staircases, regardless of how much space you have.

The first step

When my wife and I built our home, we designed and built it around the staircase, which is the focal point of our hallway. We wanted a traditional look and feel, in keeping with the area and the house’s architecture, with the staircase as a central feature. We wanted something that you could see beyond, from the front door right through to the garden, which gives a feeling of space. We also wanted to be able to walk around it.

It’s grand yet homely, and as practical as it is elegant. With four children and a dog, we also needed plenty of storage without compromising on the feeling of light and space, so we incorporated storage into the design via four angled cupboards on either side of the stair rakes. Beauty and functionality aren’t mutually exclusive. As well as enabling you to get from one floor to another, your staircase should have a ‘wow’ factor.

From research to design

Staircase design and installation is a specialist field, so do your research regardless of whether you want to do it yourself, or employ a company to do it for you. If you plump for the latter, look for a company that specialises in staircases and offers a turnkey service, as well as the ability to oversee the entire process.

Ask for a designer to visit your home so they can look at the space you want your staircase to sit in. It’s also a good idea to create a ‘mood board’ of the kind of designs you like – what kind of finish you want, the purpose of your staircase (aside from the obvious!) and the configuration that best suits your home and lifestyle.

Do you want to create a feeling of space and light? Do you want to be able to walk around the staircase? Do you want it to incorporate storage space? The latest technology has allowed staircase specialists to develop clever innovations such as demountable balustrades – a good option for narrow spaces – curved flights for impossibly tight corners, and stairs with hidden storage, all without compromising on aesthetics.

Cantilevered staircases are becoming increasingly popular, especially for clients for whom space is at a premium. A staircase seemingly floating from one level to the next not only creates a feeling of light and space, but it also allows the staircase to become an art form in its own right.

We recently carried out work on a ‘kite winder’ staircase, whereby bespoke wrought iron spindles have been made from floor to ceiling in height, thus linking the ground to first floor and creating a spindle ‘wall’ – a clever design statement which allows light to flood through.

The devil is in the detail, as they say, so it’s vital that all measurements are precise to the millimetre. Floors and walls may look plumb to the naked eye, but they rarely are. Each element of your new staircase will have been ‘cut to fit’ so even the tiniest degree of difference can affect the look and fit of your new staircase, and how it sits. It’s a technical process, but doing your research beforehand will help ensure your new staircase fits like a proverbial glove.

The safety factor

You’ll also need to make sure that your new or refurbished staircase meets Building Regulations. These cover a raft of potential issues from the space between the treads to headroom. British regulations are stricter than many European and American ones, so what may be accepted in other countries will not necessarily be passed in the UK. If you’ve fallen in love with a staircase you saw on a recent trip to LA, you may need to make some tweaks before you replicate it at home.

Of all the pieces of furniture in your home, your staircase is the piece that’s used the most. Therefore, it needs to be beautiful, timeless and of course safe. It has a job to do, but your staircase should also be something that makes you feel proud every time you set foot on it.

Jarrod Matthews is a fellow of the Institute of Carpenters and founded Jarrods Staircases with his wife Sherelle