Concrete, Wood, Steel and Glass: How to choose the material of a Staircase?
Most of us use stairways every day, but a few times do we stop to contemplate their design or put much thought into their function. With their steps, treads and railing, they are easily one of the most fundamental architectural elements in any home. Apart from providing a safe, simple and easy access from one floor to another, it is through staircases that architects create unique spatial forms and strong visuals. From afar, one can observe people moving up and down repeatedly; from within, the user is treated to new angles and ways to perceive a space. Therefore, a good staircase is more than just a means of vertical circulation. Through its might and scale, it can become the protagonist of a space – a design focal point that rises to the level of art.
Stairs have evolved drastically throughout the years. From the intricate, ornamented designs of the Art Nouveau, to today’s more minimalistic, clean-line aesthetic. With technologies and improved manufacture methods, stairs can now adopt complex sculptural shapes, exploring new creative possibilities and even innovative structural limitations. And thanks to this high design flexibility, there are practically endless options to choose from when selecting the right fit for your home. Of course, most of us don’t get to replace interior staircases very often, so whether it is for new projects or renovations, it’s important for architects, designers and homeowners to choose wisely.
Some factors to consider when designing a staircase
Before any aesthetic decision, one of the first factors to take into account is the budget, as it can automatically narrow down material and stylistic options. Steel, for example, is usually more expensive than wood – just like spiral staircases are more expensive than straight ones. Second, meeting building regulations is crucial to ensure safety, especially when there are children or elderly members in the household that might require sturdier, accident-free stairs. The choice is also limited by the size of the available space. While a larger space requires a grand stair, a smaller one can only fit a curved or spiral stair. In that sense, it can be useful to remember how to calculate staircase dimensions.
Once these points are defined, there are many types of stairways to choose from, the most common being straight, cornering, winder, spiral and helical. Because straight stairs get all their rise along just one linear axis, these are easy to install and can be pushed to one side of the property. They offer a sleek, minimalistic look, but can be way too simple for some. Cornering stairs allow specifiers to squeeze them into a floor plan’s corners, requiring a shorter but wider area on both floors. Depending on the number of 90-degree turns, these can be L-, U- and even S-shaped. Stairs with winders, on the other hand, use either two 45-degree or three 30-degree treads to turn the corner, providing a smooth curve.
Although the spiral and helical typologies are often mixed up, they are actually quite different. Whereas spiral stairs are much tighter – wrapping the thin edge of their winding treads around a central axis -, helical stairs include deeper treads that rise in a wider, more gradual manner. With their elegance and complexity, both styles represent the pinnacle of stair craftsmanship.
The importance of selecting the right materials
Regardless of the style, which tends to be defined by the amount of space anyway, perhaps the most important decision concerns the main material the stair will be built with – concrete, wood, steel or glass, among others. But why is this so pivotal? Choosing the right material not only contributes to a home’s aesthetic; It also defines structural integrity, performance, life cycle and design limitations, as well as influencing costs and foot traffic volume. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal taste and priorities. Whereas some might prefer a glass staircase to match a luxurious style, others may want to prioritize durability with a concrete staircase.
To facilitate the selection process, below we dive into the unique characteristics of common staircase materials, along with a series of beautiful, inspiring stairs that certainly make a statement in modern homes.
Concrete: modern and durable
Concrete, with its unique ability to be molded into any complex shape, is the most popular material used to construct a stairway. Offering a modern appearance, it is especially in trend in its raw, exposed form. Because the manufacturing process – from preparing the foundation to curling the material – can be quite time consuming and messy, concrete stairs usually have a higher cost than those made of steel or wood. They do provide, however, excellent noise and heat absorbency, fire resistance, strength, and durability, with an unmatched ability to withstand heavy loads and high impact. And since concrete can be crushed to be reused again in new mixtures, these stairs can also be manufactured sustainably.
For more examples, visit the ‘Concrete stairs’ product category in Architonic.
Wood: warm and versatile
Thanks to their coziness and nature-inspired warmth, wood stairs have been around for quite some time, achieving a traditional rustic feel or a sleek modern look. But not all wood or timber choices are appropriate for staircases. Rather than manufactured wood like plywood or MDF, the best choice tends to be solid wood like Fir, Beech, Oak or Walnut. Although these differ in price and visual qualities, they generally perform very well in stairs. While exposed wood won’t last as long as steel, it is possible to achieve exceptional performance with improved manufacture methods, a routine maintenance and finishes like Shellac and Lacquer. Without this care, the stair is likely to suffer damages in daily use.
For more examples, visit the ‘Wooden stairs’ product category in Architonic.
Steel: industrial and flexible
With the sophisticated industrial look gaining popularity in recent years, steel stairs have come back into the spotlight. The material is flexible and can be fabricated into many different narrow shapes – painted over or left exposed, perforated or continuous. Withstanding great stress, steel stairways last a lifetime. In fact, even if the material is reused repeatedly, its strength and durability are never compromised. These stairs are also easily assembled with nuts and bolts or welding, usually being faster and cheaper to install than wood stairs, for instance. Nonetheless, steel can be very noisy, which may create inconveniences in areas of the home that require silence.
For more examples, visit the ‘Steel stairs’ product category in Architonic.
Glass: luxurious and surprisingly strong
Glass is the ultimate choice in achieving an ultra-contemporary luxurious look. Giving the impression of walking on air, its various levels of transparency allow natural light to pass through in different intensities. Initially, glass and stairs don’t seem compatible. But thanks to significant technological improvements, a once delicate material has now acquired great strength. By using special architectural glass that is chemically treated, tempered and laminated, it is possible to build glass staircases with great load-bearing capacity. These can withstand daily wear-and-tear, as well as endure shocks and impacts. However, among other common materials, glass stairs still remain the least durable, needing the most regular maintenance.
For more examples, visit the ‘Glass stairs’ product category in Architonic.