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The staircase as design feature

Updated: Jan 4

A staircase can provide the opportunity to provide a dramatic space linking floors. A well considered design adds interest and provide the opportunity to top light a space from above within 2 storey voids, creating an atrium effect.

staircase toplit void design hallway
Top-lighting a staircase always makes an impact. Image: Carvell Associates.













A poorly considered stair requires a large amount of valuable room, especially in a loft extension. A staircase takes up a lot of space; don't make the mistake of trying to squeeze it into a small cupboard....the stair itself can provide value to a property if well considered, making a hallway feel lighter and more roomy. Don't be fooled into thinking a spiral stair saves space either.


Loft extensions.

In this loft extension we located the stair below the eaves to provide a lightwell to light the Hall at First floor. Consider where the door to the upstairs room will be located. It needs to be a fire door (of extending 2-storey dwellings) and so will block light from the stairwell into the hall if it is located on the First Floor. Here we located the door at the top of the stairs. The landing at the top of the stairs was large enough for a small home office and worked well. the internal glazing provided the bathroom below with natural daylight.



Small properties.

This study was commissioned by the owner of a tiny railway cottage in Durham to investigate ways to make the best use of space. We fitted a small toilet space below the winding treads to maximise space, which was at a premium. The video shows how we intended to use the stairwell as a small library, providing shelving within the stair void.



A combination of open and closed tread risers. The open tread flight provides additional daylight from above. Image: Carvell Associates.

This staircase sits within a vertical lightwell that we created within an existing building. The lightwell was a fundamental design element in the complete re-design and refurbishment of an existing property.








3d model stair architect durham
Internal stairs incorporating a half-landing. The half-landing leads to a raised terrace externally and helps connect internal and external space. Image: Carvell Associates.

On stepped sites a well considered staircase is important to address changes in level across the site. On this new build project we are looking to make the stair a key feature of the design; the half landing off the internal staircase acts leads to a raised external terrace. An external stair runs alongside the large feature wall to complement the internal stair. This device reduces the number of individual flights.



Church conversion. Internal levels study. Image: Carvell Associates.

Final image of stairwell. Image: Carvell Associates.


In this conversion of a Methodist church, originally constructed on a steeply sloping site the single staircase linked the 2 existing levels. the 2 levels (main congregation hall and assembly room) were linked through a large feature archway (originally behind the altar). Top-lighting the space with rooflights provided much needed natural light.





staircase durham architect
Cascading staircase with full height South facing glass window. Image: carvell Associates.

Another stepped site. Access is from the front of the property. On arrival, the small hallway (on a half landing between Ground and Frist Floor) leads down to the kitchen. The First floor steps back into the space to provide a gallery space overlooking the full void beyond. This project is currently on site.









stair, 3d image, fireplace
Changes in level around a staircase adds interest and helps define different spaces











Feature stair leading up to First Floor bedroom with balcony overlooking the Lounge. Stepping down into the lounge provided the headroom below the balcony and helped break up the open plan into different spaces.





staircase architect durham
A bridge leading from the top of the stairs to bedrooms provides a gallery overlooking the main dining area. Image: Carvell Associates.

For this project we incorporated a bridge overlooking the space below, as part of a double height space in the entrance hall. The bridgeworks to link the bedrooms at First floor level and provides a strong visual feature. The bridge could have been closed off with partitions to create a corridor; this would have closed off the spaces and would have prevented natural daylight percolating into the depth of the building. the bridge itself overlooks the dining area and garden to one side and the entrance hall to the other. High level rooflights were considered to allow natural daylight (including direct sunlight at specific times of the day) to percolate through the building.








3d Clay model. Image: Carvell Associates.

to demonstrate how the separate internal spaces related to each other we used 3d modelling to communicate the design intent. This image shows how the stair leads to the gallery, or bridge space which in turn partially divides the entrance Hall from the Dining area. Such early stage development models are built before the project goes to site. This particular example uses 'ambient occlusion' to provide an indication of natural daylighting, allowing us to make informed decisions on the location of rooflights.








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