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Six heavenly stairways

Jo's Notebook

Jo's Notebook blog — interior design inspiration direct from the pages of Jo Hamilton's notebook

Six heavenly stairways

Jo Hamilton

The staircase is often viewed as a purely functional, transitional space in the home, sadly. Its huge potential to provide a bold backdrop is time and again overshadowed by its utilitarian purpose. But the possibilities are endless.

It’s probably the largest piece you’ll design in the home, so think of it more as a piece of art — a sculptural piece running right through the heart of a property.

A key theme, for me, is clean, simple lines brought to life in a beautiful material that does all the talking. Edgy, industrial styling does just this. The lines are crisp and the textures harsh but there is a definition and honesty to the look that works beautifully when punctuated with warmer textures — artwork and accessories, natural woods and hushed lighting. But staircases can also be curvaceous, elegant and sexy. Natural woods are the perfect material to create these mouth-wateringly fluid shapes.

I've come across some delicious examples to share with you that use a variety of materials, and where the staircase strikes a perfect balance between physical function and beautiful form.

My mother always told me it was rude to stare, but I just can’t help myself — I certainly wouldn’t do her proud in this home (above left). The breathtaking brass speaks for itself in this staircase, with the rail providing for simple, clean lines. Meanwhile, the warm gold tones offer a glorious contrast to the blocky marble flooring. It’s a marriage that softens the scheme beautifully. The gold tones are further picked out in the Spanish tiles, whose soft shapes again soften and warm the look. The staircase on the right, by David Chipperfield Architects, achieves much the same look in the setting of a public building, the Hec School of Management, in Paris.

Ask anybody who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m a big fan of dark, moody walls. It should come as no surprise then that I adore the contrast of the natural warmth of the wood with the hard, angled brass (above). The warm tones keep the scheme comfortable and restful. It has also been cleverly lit with LED strip lighting along the inset handrail demanding you give the muted brushed finish of the brass your deserved attention.

Looking at the home above, you wouldn’t think it, but such beautiful staircases don’t have to be big budget. This simple, contemporary spiral staircase, from Norwegian architect Tron Meyer, is made from milled layers of cross-laminated timber. It’s stunning, it’s warm and it’s sculptural. It’s an art feature in its own right.

These concrete stairs with cord railing are the exciting creation of German architects MO Architekten. Their modernist style might be described as brutal by some and this staircase is certainly functional and industrial. But I love the way the coloured cord gives it a soft, human feel. The contrast is striking — the pliant cord running through heavy duty metal loops set in firm, unyielding concrete. It’s an art piece you want to stand back and look at; and if you don’t like the design, the cord can be swapped for a different colour and restrung through the loops in a pattern more to your liking.

They may seem like a brave or scary option, but industrial style staircases such as the one pictured above can be a super cool addition to a home. The clean, hard lines and cool finish, that might well be cold to the touch and on the eye, are best softened with natural woods and offset with warm textures/soft furnishings such as rugs and cushions and warmer-toned neutrals.

Once I set sail in this exciting sea of staircase opportunity, it's difficult to let go and bow out but I hope I've given you enough to whet your appetite and to get your creative juices flowing.