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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Architectural Ascendance: Transforming Staircases from Functional Necessity to Stylish Centerpieces

While the function of stairs is to provide access from one floor to another, staircases also provide an opportunity to turn a structural feature into a fashionable focal point.

When it comes to bold staircases, there’s nothing more eye-catching than treads that seem to float in the air with gaps between them and no means of support visible.

This illusion of ‘floating stairs’ may create a minimalist look, but it actually requires a lot of behind-the-scenes engineering to make a so-called ‘floating staircase’ safe.

If you’re wondering how floating stairs work and whether this unique staircase design could be the right fit for your home, keep reading to learn more!

How are floating stairs installed?

A standard floating staircase will consist of cantilevered stairs, with treads that are securely embedded into the wall at one end to leave the other end open with no visible support.

While the treads of a traditional staircase span two stringer supports, one on each side, a cantilevered staircase will have just one steel stringer on one side, which is hidden behind the wall.

This is why floating staircases can get expensive, as they are likely to require some remodelling, unless they are installed during the initial construction of the building as part of the original design.

However, there are several ways to mimic the illusion of floating steps other than cantilevered stairs with a hidden stringer. Alternative design options include:

Floating stairs with visible stringer – Without altering the supporting wall, a steel stringer can be fitted to it to anchor the treads. While this is visible and the treads aren’t truly ‘floating’, the stringer can be painted to blend in or made into a feature of its own.

Wall-mounted floating staircase – In some cases, when there are no structural problems with the wall and the treads aren’t too wide, the stairs can be fixed directly into the wall using anchor bolts instead of a stringer, with steel spacers for stability.

Central spine floating staircase – If both cantilevering and wall-mounting aren’t possible, the required support for the stairs can be provided via a central steel spine, which runs underneath the treads in the centre to achieve a semi-floating appearance.

Are floating stairs safe?

Yes, floating stairs are structurally safe, as long as they are professionally engineered and installed in line with building regulations and safety standards for staircases.

The suitable size and spacing for stair treads and requirements for handrails and balustrades in the UK can be found in ‘Approved Document K: protection from falling, collision and impact’.

Due to the greater risk of tripping with higher foot traffic, open risers are not allowed in non-dwellings or common access areas. However, private residence owners can install stairs with open risers at their discretion, provided that the gaps are no larger than 100mm and the treads overlap by at least 16mm.

Generally, vertical rises must be between 150mm–220mm, and horizontal goings must be between 220mm–300mm for private staircases.

Stairs must typically be at least 1000mm–1200mm wide, using no more than 12–16 risers in between landings – and not using more than 36 risers in a consecutive flight without making at least one change of direction at a 30° minimum angle.

At least one handrail is required on one side, and continuous handrails are required on both sides of the stairs if they are more than 1000mm wide.

If there are two or more risers or a drop of 600mm or more, there must be a guarding at the side to prevent falls. Guardings must not have openings larger than 100mm if the stairs in the dwelling will be used by anyone under 5 years old.

Anyone designing, supplying, or fitting a floating staircase will be knowledgeable about these rules, as they will dictate what can and cannot be achieved in specific settings.

Which materials are best for floating stairs?

In order to deliver the best illusion of floating steps, most of these staircases will use a cantilevered design with sturdy wooden treads extending out of the wall, and maintain safety with see-through glass balustrading that can protect against falls without significantly disrupting the visual effect.

Some people may prefer to have a sweeping handrail along the top to add grandeur, whether in a matching material to the timber treads or a contrasting modern metal for a more lightweight look.

Others may find a minimalist industrial style more appealing, and go for all-metal – stringers, treads, rails, and all. If this comes across too utilitarian, some may mix-and-match metal and glass elements instead, for the ultimate streamlined yet stylish staircase.

In some cases, floating stairs can be separated from the drop with floor-to-ceiling glass partitions, which facilitate the vision of unsupported individual treads while ensuring they are safe to climb.

Whichever floating staircase design appeals to you the most, and whichever installation method would be the most practical for your property, the final result is sure to look stunning and be totally safe when you rely on high-quality material suppliers and qualified engineers and fitters.

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