Designing Stairs – Where Function Meets Inspiration


Staircases are a fascinating part of a multi-story home, both highly functional and rich in cultural symbolism and artistry. Through innovative design and engineering, your home’s stairs can enrich your overall architectural design while supporting the flow and feel of your space. Here are some important elements to focus on when designing your home’s stairs.


In older homes, stairs had a limited purpose – they were used to create a grand entrance to a home in order to impress visitors (think sweeping marble stairs with richly carved wooden balustrades), or as a means to travel from one story to another (usually cramped, narrow and bare).

In modern homes, stairways have a more multifunctional purpose. As well as being functional, they are also an opportunity to create a visually interesting vertical space that adds an eye-catching design element to a room. Stairways are placed more centrally in the home as a feature rather than a tired necessity and are positioned to allow plenty of natural light to flood into space – something that wasn’t considered in older architecture. Modern staircases are also useful storage spaces in many designs, with features that showcase art, sculpture, books or plants, that offer useful storage or that can be used as an office space, maximizing the usefulness of your square footage.

Shape and Flow

There are numerous architectural approaches towards designing the shape of a staircase, usually formed around the homeowner’s preferences, the space dictated by the rooms around the staircase space and the height of the home’s stories. Cost is also a consideration with custom winding wooden grand staircases made by hand by real craftsmen running into 10’s of thousands of dollars. But even a basic staircase can be dressed up quite a bit and for a low cost. Actually being creative on a budget is one of the things Leeb Architecture prides itself in.

Some options for your staircase include:

  • Elegant single stair flights
  • Dogleg stairs, where you have a single flight ending in 180 degree turns, usually with a landing.
  • 90 degree turn stairs, with a short, curved or squared off the landing.
  • Winding or spiral stairs.
  • You can also combine these designs in some cases.

The key to choosing the right shape staircase is looking at the space available and making the most of that vertical space within the interior design you want to achieve. It’s also about who is using the space.

Black, wrought iron spiral staircases look eye-catching in minimalist, industrial spaces but this isn’t a great choice for small children or elderly family members. Broad, sweeping stairs that elegantly flare out are a wonderful feature for large homes with a colonial or European look but will take up far too much space in a smaller building and look out of place. Floating wooden stairs with open risers are a great choice in light-filled, modern spaces but will usually contrast too severely with more traditional, character-rich buildings. This is where having an architect to guide your design can really pay off, helping to source different designs and discover how they fit within your project.

Materials, Finishes and Aesthetic

 The materials and finishes used in your stairs are generally selected to suit the overall design of your home and it’s interior, creating a harmonious yet striking feature that delivers the aesthetic (or feel) you are looking for. There’s plenty of options to choose from, so it can get overwhelming – but again, your architect can be a very useful resource.

Some general guidelines include:

  • Matching your floor finish to your stairs – using the same material as the rooms where the stairs terminate and begin gives the space a seamless flow and makes the stair look like they belong to the overall design.
  • Using robust materials – Carpet on stairs wears very quickly and architects generally recommend more durable materials like wood, concrete, metal or ceramic tiles.
  • Non-slip – Safety is important where stairs are concerned, so it is essential that the flooring offers a good grip.
  • Supports – Railings can be a great style feature as well as a safety feature. There are some regulations your architect needs to adhere to but there’s also a lot of flexibility. Stair railings can be invisible (glass panels), or made from steel, iron, wood or concrete, reclaimed items or a combination of materials – it’s all about matching it with the design of your staircase.

Speak to an Architect for the Right Staircase Design for Your Home

Staircases are such an important feature in a home – they get used countless times a day by every person within the home and they are featuring that guests both see and use. They can become a real design focus for your home with the right touch.

If you’d like some expert advice on designing a staircase that is a pleasure to look at as well as a pleasure to use, talk to Seth Leeb, a residential architect today for guidance, inspiration, and his understanding of how to make high design, on a low budget.

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