Heavenly Stairs and Spirals; HOMES AND PROPERTY;Fay Sweet Meets the Designers Who Let Their Imaginations Run Riot

By Sweet, Fay | The Evening Standard (London, England), February 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

Heavenly Stairs and Spirals; HOMES AND PROPERTY;Fay Sweet Meets the Designers Who Let Their Imaginations Run Riot


Sweet, Fay, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: FAY SWEET

Fay Sweet meets the designers who let their imaginations run riot

THEY are the ultimate flights of fancy, triumphs of balance and poise as, step-by-step, they pirouette and leap and zigzag their way through space.

There's no doubt that stairways are in the ascendant. Far from the familiar carpeted and heavily balustraded wooden stair of the past, new designs have sprung free of the walls, been stripped back and transformed into daring sculptural masterpieces which now take centre stage in the home as feats of engineering brilliance.

Long fascinated by the challenge of stair design, architects and designers are taking the stair to new heights. "Every project has its own set of constraints and opportunities," says stair specialist and cabinetmaker Patrick Kennedy, who has worked on dozens of designs for homes and offices.

"The possibilities are endless, but a balance must always be struck between aesthetics and engineering."

Kennedy runs the east London studio and workshop KDA, designing and making his own stairs and working with architects. Prices start at around [pound]3,000 for a simple flight, up to as much as [pound]30,000 for a complex job using finely tooled materials. And he's following in his father's stair treads, as Kennedy senior runs the Sussex-based company Spiral Staircases Systems.

KDA draws on a huge palette of materials, from glass and stainless steel to stone, timber and even acrylic. Kennedy concludes: "In the early stages, clients tend to be conservative in what they want, but with a little encouragement they soon see the possibilities and excitement of using unusual materials in interesting and sculptural ways to make a stair that's not just functional, but becomes a real feature."

Contemporary staircases

BRINGING together more than 50 of the world's most amazing new stair designs from homes and offices and public buildings, architecture journalist Catherine Slessor has created a book filled with inspirational ideas.

Favourites include the dazzling glass and stainless steel web of a stair by Eva Jiricna for the Joseph Store in Sloane Street, the breathtaking double helix by Architecture Studio at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, Steven Holl's gorgeous, swirling white concrete stair in Helsinki's Kiasma Art, and, for me the most unusual of all, a folded, concertina stair made from a single narrow ribbon of galvanised steel by Bert Dirrix (right) for a house in the Netherlands.

Contemporary Staircases by Catherine Slessor is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced [pound]30. To order a copy for [pound]25 (inc.

p&p), call 0870 162 0870.

'The design was kept as light and simple as possible' FROM its medieval origins to the present day, the spiral staircase remains one of the most elegant and intriguing forms of stair design. These complex and beautiful structures have been the focus of almost perpetual reinvention, and KDA's recent project in a west London apartment adds another twist to the tale.

Client Joss Wilbrahan bought his two-storey maisonette with the aim of total refurbishment, and at the heart of the project was to be a new lightwell and stair to open up the space and create views between the two floors.

"I looked at several companies which sold readymade spiral staircases but they really weren't exciting or anywhere near the level of quality that I wanted." Wilbrahan's vision also included glass balconies to open the landing to the floor below. KDA's solution looks deceptively simple: a neat spiral stair of maplewood treads which wrap round a central stainless steel column.

This rises to the landing, where waist-level plate glass panels are topped with a sparkling, mirror-polished stainless steel handrail. …

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