They may not quite be stairways to heaven, but heavenly staircases they certainly are. And they are surging in popularity.
In fact, seven of the 13 entries in the Housing Details category of last fall’s Ottawa Housing Design Awards were staircases. Three of them were among the category’s five finalists. And the winner of the same category the previous year was a sculptural set of stairs by Ha2 Architectural Design and RND Construction.
So, why are we seeing so many staircases featured lately and what went into making them?
“Considerably more effort is being focused on the design of staircases as they truly are or can be one of the focal points of the home,” says custom builder Robert Haslett of Haslett Construction. “Staircases have moved from the realm of utility to the arena of sophistication and detail.”
Staircases, says designer Tanya Collins, are typically a feature in open-concept spaces and custom homes, so details are important. “A great staircase design is one that flows with the rest of the interior materials and finishes and reflects the interior architecture and style of the home. Great design is as functional as it is beautiful.”
A great staircase, adds architect Barry Hobin, comes down to where it’s located, its geometry — “the gracefulness of a stair is the result of the right rise and run of the stair” — getting the handrail right, and designing it for the space so that the context makes sense.
“If you have a really tight hallway, you should be focused on creating a light and open stair to respond,” he says. “When you have more space and you can stand back and review, it opens the door to something more detailed-oriented.”
Architect Rosaline J. Hill is intrigued that “what resonates with people right now is not a home centred around a hearth or home fire, not a home centred around a kitchen, or a great view, but a home centred around the element that connects and joins spaces.”
With that in mind, we canvassed several of Ottawa’s designers, builders and renovators for details about their recent design-savvy creations. Here are 13 of them.
Project: Canary Ridge – contemporary spiral
Creator: Canterra Design + Build; fabricated by Aleika Stairs and Rails
Materials: Stained maple treads and tapered risers without nosings to match the hardwood floors, metal spindles attached to structural stringers and a modern profile wood railing cap system.
About this staircase: “My design inspiration came from drawing basic geometric shapes,” says Canterra’s Cosimo Zacconi. “The idea when walking into the symmetrical front entry/foyer (is that) you are immediately ‘wowed’ by the free-standing, self-supporting, modern-style circular stairwell centered in the space to act as the anchor that ties all the other living spaces around it on all floor levels.”
Project: The Homecoming
Creator: Gordon Weima Design Build; fabricated by Accurate Stairs and Railings with Branje Metal Works
Materials: Steel and quarter sawn oak set against a stone wall
About this staircase: “The design creates a key architectural pillar of the house, while providing a functional solution to a challenging lot,” says Gordon Weima of the staircase he designed for his own home. “The lot features a steep incline from the road and the home was designed with a walkout basement on the street side. The staircase creates a seamless and beautiful connection between the storeys.”
Project: Kanata custom
Materials: Dark-stained maple steps, risers and stringers with wood posts, metal spindles and wood handrail
About this staircase: The goal was to create a focal point for the clients that would be on display both inside and outside, says OakWood’s Patricia Liptak-Satov. “They also wanted a spectacular staircase for their daughters to come down for their weddings.” Besides its obvious function, she adds, “stairs now have new dimension by becoming a piece of art and the centrepiece of the house.”
Project: The DASH home
Creator: Designed by Kariouk Architects; fabricated by Concept Pro-Metal
About this staircase: “Because the primary living area for this home is on the second floor, it was crucial that we designed stairs that were dramatic and open so that everyone entering would immediately understand that their destination was upstairs,” explains architect Paul Kariouk. The open, sculptural steel stair twists as it rises and is illuminated by an enormous round skylight.
Project: The NEO
Creator: Designed by ORDESIGN for Neoteric Developments, with fabricator McCluskey’s Welding
Materials: Steel, white-painted wood, glass
About this staircase: “When designing your most valuable asset, your staircase should be a focal point,” says Shneur (Or) Bielak of ORDESIGN and Neoteric. “Creating a statement piece out of something necessary and functional allows you to make something exciting out of what is typically mundane and overlooked.” In this case, the open treads suspended from a metal girder in the wall allows them to appear to be floating.
Project: Chippewa cul-de-sac
Creator: Designed by Ethos Developments with Miroca Designs; fabricated by Enrico Angelosante Stairs
Materials: Glass, white stringers and oak to match the flooring
About this staircase: Existing mature trees on this infill lot created design challenges. “We wanted a true sense of bringing the outdoors inside while also using the trees to create privacy,” says Jennifer Sarumi of Ethos Developments, adding that the materials used “demonstrate the minimalist but warm esthetic shown in the rest of the home.”
Project: Showstopping staircase
Creator: Amsted Design-Build; glass by Mirror Works
Materials: Drywall, exotic wood, glass and metal
About this staircase: This project was a renovation in which the homeowners wanted to modernize the staircase to match updates that had been made throughout the house and to create a statement piece, says Amsted’s Paulette McGregor. “(It’s) a real showstopper given the open effect throughout the levels and right off the entry door.”
Project: Modern treasure
Creator: Designed by ORDESIGN for Neoteric Developments, with input from the homeowner; fabricated by McCluskey’s Welding
Materials: Steel substructure covered in maple, glass
About this staircase: “Our client was looking to get an all-wood staircase that would appear to be seamless,” explains Shneur (Or) Bielak of ORDESIGN and Neoteric. It also needed to create a focal point in the home. Sitting on a raised platform and framed by the two-storey windows, “this staircase is not simply functional; it is art,” he says.
Creator: Ha2 Architectural Design and RND Construction; fabrication by Accurate Stairs and Railings
Materials: Drywall and oak
About this staircase: The award-winning circular staircase was a key focal point in this custom home. “Of the many jewels within this stunning home, the two-part circular staircase, built out of wood and not steel, is a thing of beauty,” says Ha2’s Houry Avedissian. Spanning three floors and designed to showcase the homeowners’ art, it forms a curvy central spine that’s meant to be an experience.
Project: 2018 Minto dream home
Creator: Designed by Tanya Collins Design; fabricated by Ottawa Classic Stairs & Bannisters for Minto Communities
Materials: White oak treads, white painted risers, glass panels and white oak railing stained black
About this staircase: The intent was to create a “contemporary, understated yet timeless staircase that was not too industrial or unrefined, which can often result with the use of a lot of steel or metal,” says Collins. “I wanted to maintain a streamlined airy frameless look as I did not want the staircase details to compete with the double-sided fireplace clad in book-matched marble.”
Project: Building for the boss
Creator: Stair design by Vogt Design with Haslett Construction; floor plan by Rosaline J. Hill Architect; fabricated by Accurate Stairs and Railings
Materials: Black stringers and railings, open risers, white oak treads and glass railings
About this staircase: This is the home of Haslett Construction’s Robert Haslett. “The design of the home and floor plate available required a centre staircase design. As a result, it was immediately recognized that the staircase design and foyer needed to be something special and unique,” he says. “This was accomplished with not only the bold black detail contrasted by the white oak treads, but also by the volume of light brought into the space by the two-storey windows and soaring real brick feature wall.”
Project: Setting the stage
Creator: Aleika Stairs and Rails and artist Manon Prince for Greenmark Builders
Materials: Maple, glass, black steel hardware and spine
About this staircase: “Our most impactful staircase designs are when we incorporate art into the stairwell,” says Greenmark’s Mark Kranenburg. That’s exactly what he did in this custom home, bringing in artist Manon Prince, who took all the paint colours used in the home and created an abstract artwork by pouring the paint down the upright canvas.
Project: Minimalist ascent
Creator: Designed by Hobin Architecture and 2H Interior Design for Cada Construction; steel subframe fabricated by Ontario Iron Works
Materials: Marble, glass and steel
About this staircase: It’s the centrepiece of this stately Westboro home, says Todd Duckworth of Hobin Architecture. White marble treads cantilever from the wall, supported by a concealed framework of structural steel, appearing weightless in spite of their inherent mass. Glass guardrails intersect the marble treads instead of bookending them to visually reinforce their free-floating design.