Staircases are one of the major items that make or break the function and appearance of a cottage design. A poorly placed staircase can ruin the traffic flow throughout the building. Because it is so large, a staircase can be a visual centre of interest and an opportunity to reinforce, through ornamentation, the design of the building.
Image: Antique hemlock stairs contrast the creamy tongue and groove walls
Your architect will give primary consideration to the placement of your staircase, and will likely attempt to provide you with a straight run rather than a turning staircase. It is most important to try to avoid a “turner step”on a staircase, as it is less safe and less easy to use compared to a staircase with a straight run or a turning platform. A “turner”is a step on which you change direction as you rise. A turning platform is a place to turn without rising at the same time, making it safer.
There are hundreds of alternatives when designing the railings, spindles, steps and risers of your staircase. The design of your staircase should be sympathetic to the design of your cottage. For instance, an open stair, one that has an open space rather than a riser, is commonly found in a modern design, rather than in a traditional design such as Georgian, Victorian or Arts & Crafts. Traditional cottage designs have staircases with wooden risers that are either painted or are left with the wood stained a natural shade.
Image: Natural wood stairs with craftsman spindles
Staircases are very complex, detailed work and must be constructed by those who know what they are doing. In a custom designed and custom built cottage it is exciting for clients, architects and contractors to work together to create a staircase that is unique to the cottage and to the taste of the owners.
How to finish the staircase is a difficult decision to make, as there are many choices. It can be wise to make this decision early on so that some parts of the staircase can be painted before they are assembled, making it easier and less expensive to do.
The vocabulary associated with a staircase are:
Handrail: The section that you run your hand on when going up or down the stairs.
Balusters: These are sometimes called spindles and they hold the handrail up.
Balustrade: This is the entire railing assembly consisting of handrail, spindles or balasters, and a bottom rail.
Image: Arts & Crafts newel post on a staircase with natural treads and painted risers
Newel Post: This is the large decorative post at the top and the bottom of the staircase. It is usually higher than the handrail and more decorative or specially ornamented in some way than all the other posts.
Treads: This is the section that you step on.
Nose: The nose is the front of the tread. When it is rounded, it is called a bull nose.
Risers: The risers are the backing to support the tread. They must be very carefully constructed in order to stop your staircase from squeaking. The riser should be inset into the upper tread and should have an angled piece of wood nailed between it and the upper tread. There should also be a screw inset through the riser into the lower tread.
Stringers: Stringers are boards that run diagonally up the sides of the treads.
The area under the stairs provides opportunity for creative use of space in a way which will delight the eye because it is backed by this most important feature. It could become a spot for built ins or for a private sitting area.