|Article: Custom Stairs: Artistry & Elegance Elevated
Custom staircases infuse artistry and personality into the home
By Corinne Johnston
Today's homeowners have a discriminating flair for luxury and are stepping up in style to include beautiful grand-scale staircases in their homes What might have once been simply a means of transportation to the next floor of home has become a work of art which serves as an extraordinary design element that truly expresses the homeowner's individual personality and style.
The staircase in the foyer or entrance is often referred to as the "centerpiece," or focal point, of the home because it is such a dominant architectural component, one which utilizes large vertical forms of space. "When you enter someone's home, it's natural for the eyes to go up and admire the architecture and design of a stunning staircase," said Gloria Jones, an interior designer and president of Gloria J. Jones Ltd. in Olympia Fields. "A beautiful staircase is your set focus point in a house, and it's much like an art piece."
A beautiful staircase isn't limited to prominent areas of the home, such as the entryway or foyer, according to Kathy Dickinson, president of Kathy Dickinson Designs, Corp. in Oak Brook. "A luxurious home today doesn't always have to have a staircase in the foyer. It's not mandatory. It could be off the main hallway or it could be part of the main hallway."
Dickinson added that it is common for larger homes to have more than one staircase, and not uncommon to have two staircases in a "luxury" home.
Usually an entire team of professionals, including an architect, interior designer, general contractor, homeowner and staircase builder are involved in building a custom staircase of r a new or existing home. Together, they determine the various materials and design elements which will be used to create a luxurious yet functional staircase.
The specialized skills and approach needed to create a custom staircase, along with the materials, is what you pay for. Building a staircase is a unique blend of carpentry and artistry, according to David Lautenbach, co-owner of Roseland Stair Works, Inc. in Orland Park, which has been customizing staircases since 1914 and has built stairs in hundreds of luxury homes as well as the Chicago Hilton & Towers and the Peabody Museum in Boston.
While Lautenbach creates some components for his staircases as standard, others can be custom-ordered, and, he said, no two staircases are alike. In fact, he considers each one an original work of art.
In the Midwest, red oak wood has long been considered the standard for staircases. But homeowners throughout the area ar enow selecting other types of woods with variations in color and grain, such as white oak, Brazilian cherry, American cherry, walnut and maple.
There are many shapes and configurations a staircase can take, according to Lautenbach, who works along with his two brothers, Ken and Laurence "Lars," to develop and build their famous staircase creations. "There are basically three types of stairs: a straight stair, a circular/curved stair and a spiral stair, but there are many configurations and variations within those," he explained.
From the designer's standpoint, the size of a staircase depends on the size of the home. "It's important that the staircase be constructed in proper scale," noted Dickinson. "Grand staircases should be in grand homes. You wouldn't allocate 400 square feet for a staircase and put it in a 2,000-square-foot home. The relationship and proportion of the staircase and the home should have a direct correlation," she said.
The tread (the horizontal part of the step) and a riser (the vertical part of the step) together create the actual step of a staircase, and a staircase can be either open (with no risers), or enclosed (with risers). Stringers are another essential component because they support the treads and risers.
A grand traditional home might feature treads and risers made of elegant hardwoods, fine marbles or sleek granites. An extremely modern design might feature an open staircase with acrylic or glass as the tread. "You have to have the house that is fitting for the stair," said Lautenbach.
Depending on the blueprint, designing a staircase can be a very simple or extremely complicated process. "You're working with a lot of different pieces," he explained. "Stair building takes designing, creativity, planning and an understanding of the mechanics. It's a very individualized process, and every staircase will have different mechanics to make it work," he said.
According to Dickinson, homeowners should enjoy walking upstairs and an architect should be able to design the staircase with a comfortable rise. "Everybody should have a pleasant transfer when going from one floor to another, and the homes athat are built with an extreme eye to detail will always have a comfortable rise to the staircases," she explained.
Many homeowners and designers will also customize and embellish the balustrade portion of a staircase a series of vertical posts (balusters) that support the handrail. The newel post is usually the first main structural vertical post and serves as an anchor for the balustrade system. Balustrade systems can depict a variety of styles such as Colonial, Traditional, Old English or Country French.
Balustrade systems can be hand-carved of fine woods and can showcase a variety of unique wood, metal or glass design elements. Imagine twisted iron or fine oak balusters embellished iwth brass tulip inserts, a scrolled etched glass insert, or maybe even bronze and iron scrolled panels. How about a solid, curved glass balustrade? The possiblities are endless, depending of course on the homeowner's individual preferences and budget.
According to Dickinson, iron balusters have become very popular in the Midwest, a style that has been popular in Europe and the Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain for centuries. A wooden handrail frequently accompanies iron balusters for a distinctive European look.