How to specify a staircase

Richard McLane, Founder and Design Director of Bisca, explains why consulting a staircase specialist is as important as consulting a kitchen or bathroom specialist.

Unless you are a serial self-builder, building or re-modelling your own home can be one of the most challenging, stressful, time-consuming, but ultimately rewarding, projects you undertake in your entire life.

At the very beginning you have a blank space, white paper and a hundreds of ideas all vying for a place in your property; arranging these ideas on paper to optimise your space and create a home that works for your family is the tricky part.

Regardless of how much it costs and how it looks and what type of property it is going into, there are some fairly standard points to consider and understand when choosing your new staircase:

BUDGET: if you have your heart set on a bespoke staircase, it’s always worth allocating a budget for the staircase element rather than lumping it in with main project costs as your budget defines what you type of staircase you can have. Prices for a complete staircase and balustrade vary from as little as circa £400 for a DIY store MDF option to a fully bespoke design from specialist staircase manufacturers starting around £20,000

SPACE: consider the space as a whole, not just the hallway or immediate vicinity of the staircase. If you have an open-plan configuration, remember the staircase is on view from other areas of the property. Think about direction of traffic – how do you approach the staircase – would a curved staircase, or directional bottom treads be an option?

TIME: don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to commission a bespoke staircase. To avoid backing yourselves into a compromise situation its worth getting the staircase specialist involved as early as possible to get some layout ideas and outline costs. Bisca are able to give you a guide price based on drawings and their Concept Design Services provides layout schematic, sketched visuals, samples and a budget cost based on a survey and materials of your choice.

TREADS: open treads are a great way to let light into the area, and glass, timber, stone, Sertave, marble or even Corian are all materials you could consider. Most bespoke staircase manufacturers will try to match existing timber in the property if this is important to you. Without question brash and bling has made way for tactile and timeless. Innovation in floor finishes has revolutionised timber available for staircase components. Bisca now offer a wide variety of washed, raised grain and pigment finish for timber treads and handrails.

BALUSTRADES: roughly speaking you have the choice between glass, timber, steel or plaster. Position, family requirements and budget are all important factors in making the right decision. It’s important to consider any landing or galleries when obtaining quotations not just the staircase itself. Glass is not perhaps the best option if you have a young family – unless you relish the chore of regular cleaning to remove tiny handprints! Timber spindles will give you a more traditional effect and are a cost effective option, whilst forged or machined steel balustrades can be as simple or as ornate as you desire.

Finally, comparing quotations for any bespoke item on paper is always open to interpretation due to the variable nature of the item and its method of manufacture. It is really worth doing your homework to understand exactly what you are being quoted for so you can make an informed decision. For example

  • Glass – are you being quoted for standard glass (with a green tint), or premium low iron (reduced tint and superior optical quality)? If you have asked for a quote based on an image or previous project, be clear on what type of glass was used in the project against that quoted
  • Handrail – softwood or hardwood? Is it of a continuous design or cheaper angular sections bolted together? – sections are much cheaper than a continuous run, but can spoil the overall look
  • Treads – type and provenance of timber and finishes all vary greatly in price – make sure you are comparing like for like.
  • Glass fixings – companies offering a 24hour replacement service and lower cost options generally rely on visible fixings and clips from stock for reasons of speed and cost. A carefully designed bespoke glass balustrade does not need visible fixings as it can be designed without the need for them.
  • Steel Uprights – ensure all parties are quoting for the same material and the same design. You need to understand the diameter and shape of the uprights, the process of manufacture – machined or forged and how they will be finished.
  • Fixed or not fixed – It’s also worth asking how they will be fixed to the handrail – the cheapest option is to include a ribbon rail top and bottom, but this is not to everyone’s taste and may come as a shock if it’ not what you were expecting.

In short, if there is anything you do not understand about a quotation, ask and ask again until you are clear what is included for your money and more importantly how it will look.