Eric Rothman, design director and general manager at HammerSmith, in Decatur, Ga., says that stairs are one of the best opportunities to add an architectural or sculptural element to a project.
“They are about movement and how you go from one space to the next — the connection. There is a lot of drama inherent with a staircase,” he says. “If you only design a staircase to move from point A to point B, you’ve blown it. Whatever the style and character of a house — craftsman, bungalow, modern —
Rothman says that staircases were often the focal point in houses built in the 1800s and 1900s. Though this house was a traditional bungalow built during the 1930s, the owners wanted a Zen-like feel, something that was modern but felt warm.
The remodeler replaced the home’s two existing staircases with one structure for a more efficient floor plan. The only addition to the house was the few square feet in the stair tower area.
The edge of the upper stairs is visible from the lower landing, and the simple jagged line in stained wood makes it look like the staircase is floating.
Rothman says that, in his designs, he tries to admit natural light via the staircase tower, especially when the stairs are located in the dark interior of the house. He likes to include skylights, but hides them in a shaft so that the light source isn’t visible. “It’s much more effective and powerful,” he says. When a staircase is darker at the base, with natural light from above, the contrast creates drama. He also adds artificial light with both recessed cans and lighting hidden in soffits. Another way to create mood is to use mass to make certain elements look heavier.
Rothman designed a simple wood hand rail for the stair (and HammerSmith built a code-compliant railing, but the homeowners later chose to remove it). Stairs are one of the most dramatic elements in any architecture, Rothman says. “It doesn’t take an artist. Anyone can come up with something sculptural.”