Monday, January 2, 2012

Homes With Amazing Staircases

During medieval times, circular stairs were commonplace in castle towers. Staircases were designed to go the same direction all the way around, ascending clockwise, to suit right-handed swordsmen for ease in hindering the attacker. Fast forward to the late 1800s and stair design changes dramatically when steel and reinforced concrete are introduced, and the use of dramatic curves and fantastic sweeps become important elements in staircase workmanship. Even today, stair-crafting ingenuity continues, with many staircases doubling for incredible feats of gravity and eye-popping works of art.
“We like to think of them as practical sculptures,” said Geoffrey Packer, a senior designer with EeStairs UK Ltd, a stair supplier based in the United Kingdom specializing in tailor made staircases.

Some stairs stretch the limits of human imagination, says Eva Jiricna, architect and author of Staircases. “Sometimes it is the technical knowledge that sweeps us off our feet, another time the appearance, the form, materials, or specific detailing,” she writes. One set of stairs that accomplishes all of the above: The Ribbon Stairs. This modern staircase, resembling a delicate rippling ribbon, resides in the main living area of a house in Libeñ, Prague, in the Czech Republic. It might appear fragile, but the steps are engineered solid - constructed from 10mm-thick sheet metal.

Other staircases are more memorable for their singularly lavish features. To wit: The 56,500-square foot Spelling Manor, recently snatched up by heiress Petra Ecclestone. The palatial Holmby Hills mega-home touts a grand set of steps resembling the famous stairs from Hollywood classic, Gone With The Wind. The sweeping double staircase elegantly frames a grand entryway and features gold-colored detailing on the face of each step. The home, which has its own dog grooming room, movie theater and salon was on the market for $150 million dollars before being sold to Ecclestone.

Here are some homes with amazing staircases:

Ribbon Staircase, The Czech Republic

This modern staircase, resembling a delicate rippling ribbon, is in the main living area of a house in Liben, Prague, in the Czech Republic. It is constructed from 10mm thick sheet metal, and pairs of adjoining steps connect with an external side joist that forms a bracket anchored to the wall, according to HSH Architects, the Czech based architectural firm that designed it. It looks fragile, but each bracket is constructed as a rigid frame, the firm noted on its Web Site, and the higher steps bear most of the weight, while pressure is transmitted through the lower steps. The staircase was awarded the Certificate of Merit in the grand prix of the Czech Society of Architects in 2002.

The Cells®, France

One of Geoffrey Packer’s favorite sculptural staircases is Cells®, which EeStairs manufactured and installed in 2011. The staircase is located in a modern house overlooking the sea in Le Havre, France. “The client had seen some of our previous designs and although liked them, felt that the stair was too open and wished for a more closed balustrade structure,” Packer said. “EeStairs was challenged to design a stair with an organic feel that was open, but still felt enclosed.” Using specialist software EeStairs came up with Cells®, Packer said. “It is both geometric and organic simultaneously, allowing both a solid feel that is also pleasing to the eye. The Cells pattern appears many times naturally, from a microscopic level to bee-hives.”

The Mindstep, United Kingdom

The Mind Step staircase was manufactured and installed in 2010 in an eco friendly building in the Sussex country side, United Kingdom. “Our client required a stair that had green credentials, with a limited budget and unique looking,” Packer said. “After seeing predominant use of timber in the buildings structure, we focused our attention on a bamboo structure with great success. The Mind step staircase consists of slightly different, repeating forms. This softens the look, giving it a more natural appearance. After many years of drawing stairs with identical forms repeated, we experimented with altering the forms slightly for each support. Again nature uses repeating patterns, which are never 100% the same giving an organic feel. The forms provided by skeletal backbone inspired the Mind Step shape,” Packer said.

Hidden Passageways, Location Not Disclosed

Secret passages are still popular today, said Steven Humble, president of Creative Home Engineering. They are often built for security reasons, as panic rooms to provide safety for people and vault rooms used to protect valuables, but some are built just for fun, he said. “Most security passages concealing rooms are behind a bookcase,” and the most popular switching device, to gain entry, is by pushing on a book. “We do tons of those,” Humble said. Other popular switching devices include fingerprint and iris scans, pushing a particular note on a piano, and some seen in the movies, like when a bust of Shakespeare pops open to reveal a security button. In recent year, about 60 percent of secret passages were for fun and about 40 percent were for security purpose, but “it’s changed over the years with the downturn in the economy,” said Humble. Today “ it’s become more heavily security.” Currently, about 70 percent are built for security and only about 30 percent for fun. The company also designs movable staircases, but they are much rarer; they are heavy, expensive and difficult to install, Humble said. (Because of the confidential nature of the company’s work, the location of the homes with these staircases can not be identified.)

Spelling Manor Stairs, Los Angeles

The 56,500-square foot mansion bought by heiress Petra Ecclestone touts a grand set of steps resembling the famous stairs from Hollywood classic, Gone With The Wind. The sweeping double staircase frames an opulent chandelier and features gold-colored detailing on the face of each step. The home, which has its own dog grooming room, movie theater and salon was on the market for $150 million dollars before being sold to Ecclestone.

Bookcase Staircase, England

Space saving is the inspiration for a bookcase staircase in an attic apartment that occupies part of the top floor of an existing Victorian mansion in London. “We created a ‘secret’ staircase, hidden from the main reception room, to access a new loft bedroom lit by roof lights,” states the Web site of Levitate, a London based architecture and design studio, which designed it. “Limited by space, we melded the idea of a staircase with our client’s desire for a library to form a ‘library staircase’ in which English oak stair treads and shelves are both completely lined with books on three sides.” People are essentially surrounded by books as they ascend or descend the stairs. A skylight above illuminates the staircase, making it “the perfect place to stop and browse a tome.” The innovative design extended the apartment into an unused loft space above, creating a new bedroom level and increasing the floor area of the apartment by about a third. Challenges included the use of the alternating tread design, which created a steeper staircase, and the fact that structurally it is suspended from the top to avoid issues with the residential floors below.

Floating Staircase, Spain

Some staircases are so minimal; they seem scary, like this “floating” staircase designed for a private home by Jordi Vayreda of the Spanish design studio Jordivayreda Projectteam. The architect told the blog Neatorama that the secret of his floating staircase is that it is not actually floating -- there is a camouflaged guardrail. A width change on the wall creates a handrail that people can use, but it cannot be seen easily in a photograph. Also, the staircase was designed for occasional access to a small maintenance loft zone for climatic systems. Another staircase was created for daily use to reach the bedroom area. And the construction techniques used, the architect said, ensure that the steps can support 200 kilograms or about 440 pounds of weight.

On Cavallo, Off the Coast of Corsica

Some staircases are less about making a statement and more about integration with the environment, like this intimate one featured in a prominent architectural magazine. The staircase is in a sculpted residence that was designed to be an extension of the landscape. “I respected the existing environment. The house is married to the land and to the sea,” architect Savin Couëlle said of the residence he designed on Cavallo, near Corsica. A curving staircase leads to the living room on the second floor, where there is an even more intimate set of stairs. “It’s a vault like space, with the walls and stone niches painted white to give it harmony and composition…..I believe in the simplicity of design,” the architect said in the magazine.

Staircase Slide, England

Some staircases are visually appealing and fun, allowing people to get from point A to point B playfully, like this one that has a slide alongside the staircase. This one was designed by Alex Michaelis of Michaelis Boyd Associates, based in London, and was built in an environmentally sustainable, detached 5 bedroom two-storey townhouse built underground, complete with indoor pool and children’s play area. But the fun is not reserved just for kids. Some adults can not resist the temptation to slide down, Michaelis said. "We’ve been known after a big dinner party to use the slide," the architect told Cookie Magazine.

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