Five steps to designing the perfect staircase (and fixing any plan)

Those embarking on a redevelopment project should always start with the stairs – and be brave – advises architect Rodrigo Moreno Masey

The staircase is much, much more than simply a means of getting from A to B, insists west London-based architect Rodrigo Moreno Masey. It’s a key design element that underpins and anchors the composition, structure and style of a space.

The end goal is to create a design that “harmoniously balances form and function”, says the MorenoMasey founder. “In a space on multiple levels, a strong staircase design is central in achieving this: whether it is through utilising cantilevered steps, minimalist rails or glass balustrades, modern staircases are striking architectural focal points that seamlessly link one space to another.

“I am a fan of being brave with the staircase, it will fix almost any plan.”

That sounds like a strong design mantra, so we stole five minutes of his precious time to talk us through the top five factors to consider…

1. Location

The first thing to consider in a staircase is the location within the space. It is fundamental to the resolution of any plan whether it be for a house, apartment or commercial space – a staircase ties levels together in order for them to communicate and create a unified whole.

Single sculptural staircase in the centre of a house (former brickworks, Notting Hill)

2. Purpose

Next is the purpose that a staircase serves, some are functional and with more mundane operational requirements; some are beautiful sculptural forms channelling light, space and energy through the voids they fill. Most critically however, all carry people from one place to another, making them mainly about the journey through a space. The transition of the inhabitants via a staircase takes them seamlessly from horizontal to vertical circulation, whilst being an event in themselves.

Complex curved staircase that narrows towards the top (penthouse, Trafalgar Square)

3. Material

Material choice is key. We have worked on a multitude of different staircases with vast array of requests from clients, including timber, stone, metal and glass. Wood is a versatile material and can create a variety of looks with a warm feel; glass allows light to flow easily between different rooms and floors; metal staircases have made the transition from being seen as purely industrial features to the home; and finally stone has the benefit of being able to be made to look both traditional and contemporary.

Glass balustrades (modern apartment, Temple)

4. Challenges

Solve the circulation and you solve the building. The staircase is often the key to creating flow within a project. They are seen not only as a means of circulation or driver of efficiency but as a beautiful architectural form, which has the power to unlock an architectural scheme. Vertical flow through a building can open up light and volume and connect the individual pockets of life contained within any project through a series of poetic views, moments and journeys. MorenoMasey is experienced in extensive renovation work of existing buildings with constrained and compromised staircases. These challenges are frequently solved by zooming out and understanding the whole in order to gain perspective on where space can be unlocked to create flow.

Twisting central core (townhouse, Notting Hill)

5. Trends

We are seeing a move towards making staircases as more than just routes of circulation and instead as a bold design statement in the home. Statement staircases have been popular throughout history, dating back to the palaces of the 13th century, but now they often have an additional feature, e.g. a stair with a light-well, bookcase or gallery wall. A staircase’s beauty increasingly derives from what it displays in addition to its own aesthetic value, which can be contextual, spatial and functional.

Minimalist staircase (family house, Barnes)