Stepping up: Expert tips on making the most of your staircase
- Credit: Archant
From runners to stickers to stealth storage solutions, our staircases can offer much more than a simple route to the next floor
Stairs can get a bad press. We tell the kids to go up them when they’ve been naughty and we hide things beneath them when we want them out of the way. Just ask Harry Potter.
But these days the interiors world is embracing them as something that can do everything from making design statements to providing the most discreet storage options and seriously useable extra space.
And particularly so, given that in these days when modern developments often extend to basements and second floor rooms, there’s plenty of scope to be creative.
One I viewed a few years back in Chiswell Green had made a simple virtue of this, theming the stairway to the first floor as a gallery of family photos and used one to the less-trodden second floor cinema room for their fine art.
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Another, more recently, had four small drawers cut into the first few risers which were being used to store all the family’s shoes, starting with the smallest at the bottom and working their way up. Finger-sized holes had even been drilled in place of protruding handles.
Basically, the word on the street is: it’s easy to ignore them, or just dismiss them as a conduit between up and down. But I’ve seen enough show homes in the past few years to know there’s a fair bit of thought going into them.
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And not just the feature ones – I saw one off New Road in Radlett that Kate Winslet could have emerged onto in Titanic – it’s everything from the discreet and subtley-lit ones that take you to the surprise attic room to the industrial one that descends into the basement and the traditional one you see as soon as you open the front door.
Most experts agree on the importance they play in setting the look and feel of a home. And, given that they can incorporate so many elements, there’s plenty to juggle with to create a unique style.
Discussion threads debate endlessly the value of carpets over hardwood, plain over painted and whether the carpets should fully cover the treads or work best as runners, leaving wood visible either side.
Those with families often prefer something plump and warm for small feet using them independently after the stair gate has gone. And those with teenagers are often glad they’d kept them when the hordes arrive on sleepover nights.
I saw one such only this week on Facebook where Harpenden interiors expert Deborah Fitz was canvassing views after stripping her own stairs.
And she had a particular reason to want to get that choice right as her office is upstairs so, not only do they get a lot of wear, they’re on view to clients seeking just that sort of advice.
She tells me she’s seen a growth in the more innovative ideas among new builds but the main focus of attention has been on upgrading.
“I think mostly it has been traditional stairs that have been made into a feature, but I am seeing more and more stylish ideas for contemporary houses so I think this is becoming more popular,” she said.
“I have been asked to do a fair few staircase makeovers as people realise the potential to transform their property. I am often asked for storage solutions as modern houses can be limited on space, so under-stair pull out storage is a common request, usually to store shoes and bags, sports equipment et cetera.
“I think a beautiful staircase is a lovely thing to greet you when you open the door and I encourage people to make the most of this space.”
Another Hertfordshire stylist, Diana Civil, admits to being an “avid fan of a fabulously designed or decorated staircase”, be it sweeping and traditional stairs, see-through treads, decorative risers or steps that light up or float.
“Styles, not surprisingly, fall in and out of fashion following the latest trends,” she said. “Over the past few seasons as interiors get cosier and dark colours and artisan textures are all the rage, staircases have followed suit with glam dark woods, burnished metals, slick marble and earthy shades of terracotta and concrete.
“When it comes to paint, gone is the stark white gloss staircase, and instead, stairs take on a new look transformed with rich dark colours such as black or navy or whimsical touches such as wallpapered risers with innovative patterns.
“Carpet is still a popular choice but instead of the traditional fitted stair carpet, runners have become the key look for interiors, creating a wide band of colour teamed with a contrast painted stair underneath.”
As for space, Diana who operates from her home in Bushey, added: “The buzz word is multi-use. Innovative use of space and clever design is the key and the previously ‘dead’ under-stairs space is being transformed into all kinds of multifunctional uses.
“Now they’re so much more than just a dumping ground for the vacuum cleaner or coats, even the smallest of under-stairs space still has potential to transform into something magical. There is no end to what you can create under the stairs.”
She’s talking about the sort of creative thinking that won engineer Paul Jacob plaudits in the Dragons Den with the slide-out drawers created by his Clever Closet company. The idea came about when his two daughters grew up and followed – literally – in their mother’s footsteps, leaving him puzzling how to find space to “store the growing shoe mountain”.
And the interiors website homedit.com makes an interesting point about functionality, describing the staircase as something that sits at “a very busy intersection with streets coming from all over the place”. In other words, if you’re going to store anything there, it should be the sort of thing you’ll need to hand “at any moment” with shoes being among them.
Diana goes a step further, citing examples from many of the swish country houses she’s visited, including home offices, pet rooms, multimedia spaces and even “with clever planning” – bathrooms.
Not such a bizarre idea, when you think of the how sanitaryware designers are constantly finding new ways of accommodating small areas – and just how big some staircases are.
“While many homeowners shell out on a wine cellar, you could skip the hassle and create your own dedicated under-stairs storage space for your collection or even go to town and install a bar,” she added.
“And kids would love a hide-away play den Harry Potter style – it doesn’t need to be a dark dingy cupboard – a lick of paint, a string of fairy lights and some imagination can create the ultimate den.”