The Star, November 9, 1997
By Susan Kiel Ryan
First impressions, whether they be during a job interview or blind date, are always important.
The same scenario applies when it comes to your home. It makes a statement about you, your tastes and your lifestyle. From the front door to the back porch, your home is a reflection of you.
For that reason you should want a visitor's first impression of your home to be a good one.
"The entrance is the first thing that you are going to see and for that reason the foyer is often the showcase of the home," said JoAnne Brink, owner of Classic Homes, and Orland Park builder of custom homes. "People will put money into nice lighting fixtures and tile or marble because of that," she noted.
According to Brink, while all multi-level homes come complete with staircase designed specifically for that particular house, homeowners are willing to put additional money into designing custom-built staircases because of the positive impression they can make. Such staircases, she said, not only serve a basic function but also showcase the homeowner's flair.
"More often than not the staircase is the first thing people are seeing and so homeowners really want something that stands out," Brink said.
While all staircases, regardless of the material used, serve the same function - connecting the floors of a home - they are not all created equal.
Sweeping and unique designs and unusual material help to distinguish custom-made staircases from the run-of-the-mill straight and narrow floor connector.
Today's homeowners have a variety of options available when it comes to designing their staircases, Brink said. Traditionally staircases are made of wood, but now metal, stone, glass and Lucite are being used to create some unusual designs.
"People really like to customize their staircases," Brink said. "Sometimes they want to do something that is truly unique - like a sweeping shape with glass and Lucite."
To understand staircase designs, it's important to comprehend the vocabulary of a staircase. Manufacturers have given staircases a language of their own, with some of the following the most common terms:
-The stringer or carriage is the zigzag portion that can be seen from the side. It supports the stairs.
-The tread is the step - the part upon which the foot rests upon going up or down.
-The riser is the vertical section at the back of each tread.
-The handrail is what most people call the banister.
-The balusters are the thinner vertical supports between the stringer and the handrail.
-Newel posts are the thin vertical supports of the handrail at the bottom and top, and sometimes in the middle of a particularly long staircase.
-A pie wider is the wedged-shaped thread at the turn in a cruved staircase.
Often, Brink said, it is the materials used for these elements that give the staircase its character.
"A lot of times what we will do with the balusters and risers is combine different types of materials," Brink said.
"Something that is rather simple, but still customizes the staircase is to combine stained wood with p ainted or combine different species of wood," she added.
Ken and David Lautenbach, who build custom staircases through their family-owned Roseland Stair Works in Orland Park, said they can create almost any look for a home's staircase.
"We can do whatever a homeowner wants as long as the space is adequate," Ken said. "Everybody's needs are different in each house. Any staircase can be made to look different."
Deciding on a staircase that is not only the appropriate design, but also the right size is important when choosing a custom staircase, according to the Lautenbachs.
"Your foyer may seem like it's huge, but it's going to look a lot smaller when you have two curved staircases coming down into it, " Ken said.
The basics to consider when deciding on a custom staircase, David said, include the style of the home, the space available and the homeowner's taste.
"While we do mostly wood staircases, we are seeing a lot of people going with a more contemporary look, designs that incorporate more of the glass, iron and brass," David said.
Another increasingly popular option is the free-standing staircase. These staircases have no visible support, do not attach to a wall, and allow people to pass beneath them.
Homeowners like this option, not only because of the unique look, but also because of the sense of space and openness the construction provides.
When building a new home, if a custom built staircases is desired, it's important to make staircase decisions at the beginning of the building process, accorcding to the Lautenbachs.
"I try to get in at the beginning stage of the home," Ken said. "It's important for a stair builder to be involved in the process from the beginning, especially for free-standing stairs. That way we can make it look like they were meant to be there."