Buying a Staircase: A Buyer’s Guide

10th March 2022

‘Despite being a key traffic corridor, stairs are one of the most commonly disregarded aspects of a home when it comes to design and decorating,’ says Hugo Tugman, an architectural consultant from Architect Your Home. ‘Your staircase’s visual effect may reflect on the entire house because it’s generally the first thing guests notice when they enter through your front door.’

There’s lots of opportunity for creating a statement, from spirals to spindles, glass to granite, but homeowners wishing to enhance their space are typically ignorant of the options. Understanding your alternatives and the influence that building laws may have on your home’s design is crucial.

Changing out your stairwell

‘First and foremost, staircases must perform their fundamental role of transporting you from one level to the next,’ explains Enclosure Architects’ Mark Dyson. Once this requirement is completed, you may focus on the aesthetics and develop something that makes a strong first impression.’
Replacing a staircase is comparable to tearing down a structural wall in terms of remodelling. However, if your stairs are inconveniently placed, oppressive, or obstruct light movement through the house, a new flight may be worth considering.

Always seek the advice of an architect or a specialist firm, as it’s vital that a new staircase is proportionately and visually appropriate. Richard McLane, co-director of staircase expert Bisca, explains, “A staircase is always interacting with another aspect of the home, so there are many of variables to consider.” ‘While the centre portion of the staircase can be simple, the linkages to the rest of the structure should be smooth.’

Also keep in mind that plans must adhere to building codes, notably Approved Document K, or Protection, Falling, and Impact, and in particular section K1, which deals with steps, ladders, and ramps. It’s available for free at

Before you begin,

Prepare for dust and interruption, and keep in mind that you won’t be able to access the top levels unless you have a second staircase.

Standard straight staircase kits start at roughly £250, but customised designs start at over £3,000. A customised one with true wow effect may cost upwards of £25,000. Accessibility issues can drive up the ultimate cost even further (installing a staircase on the sixth floor will be more pricey than on lower levels, for example).

What you can do depends on how much room you have, and unless you live in a contemporary structure, it’s tough to go outside of these bounds. If you have extra room, you might be able to reorganise it to make greater use of the existing square footage.

According to Mark Dyson, a staircase should be at least 80cm broad. A domestic flight requires at least 2m of head space (the distance between the level of a tread and the building immediately above it), with a maximum pitch of 42 degrees. The number of steps in a straight flight is restricted to 36. If there are more than 36, the flight should perform a 30 degree turn in the opposite direction.

If the flight is less than 1m broad, it shall include a handrail on at least one side, and both sides if it is wider. A rail must be at least 90cm in height, and one is not required except for the lowest two steps. The distance between the spindles should be no more than 10cm.

From floating glass structures to modern steel stairs in bright, matt, or brushed finishes, to wood or teak, there is a lot of potential for varied building materials. Consider mixing and matching materials and deciding what would work best in your space. Richard McLane adds, “The style presently is trending towards a more timeless design, and I would encourage excellent materials and basic touches.” ‘You can’t replace a staircase as frequently as you can a kitchen, and it’s such an important component of the home that it should be timeless.’

Updates are simple.

If your budget won’t allow for a whole new staircase, there are several fast and inexpensive changes you may make.

To create a more open-plan vibe, consider eliminating the understairs cabinet.

To enable light to seep through to the space below, replace solid risers with glass.

Solid balustrades and antiquated spindles should be replaced with more contemporary alternatives. Sheet glass has a clean aesthetic and enables more light to pass through. Alternatively, for a classic look, go with a magnificent wooden balustrade.

Stairs with carpeting

If you prefer carpeting to bare wood or glass, ensure sure it is acceptable for stair use. ‘It’s critical that you pick a high-quality, long-lasting carpet with an 80/20 wool/nylon ratio,’ explains Rupert Anton, marketing director of The Carpet Foundation. ‘Avoid loop-pile carpets because they “grin” (open up when bent) and are slick.’ Fit the carpet so the pile flows down the steps and use a decent underlay on both the tread and the riser. As a runner, a strip of carpet can also be used. Consider Ryalux, which can carpet to your desired width. See Roger Oates or The Carpet Library’s Hartley runners for runners that are reversible and will last twice as long.

Stairs with a cantilever

The majority of the weight of the treads is carried by one wall, making a cantilevered staircase a triumph of engineering. To comply with UK construction rules, you’ll need a balustrade, but glass is inconspicuous and yet gives the illusion of weightlessness. A professional should always design and construct these staircases.

Stairs that are straight

Straight doesn’t have to mean boring, and cladding, such as wood, tile, or stone, may help to modernise less-than-pleasant steps. Many new homes feature concrete steps, which are perfect for refinishing. If you’re upgrading a rickety staircase, make sure it’s sound by sheathing it with marine plywood before installing any type of tile, otherwise the tiles may fracture. ‘Depending on the balustrade you pick, you can re-clad a staircase in oak for between £500-£1,000,’ explains Vanessa Garrett, director of Broadleaf Timber. ‘If you don’t have a large budget, don’t want to make major structural modifications, or are restricted by space, this is a far more accessible answer.’

Alternating stairwells

According to Mark Dyson, ‘ninety percent of new staircases are built to provide access to a loft conversion.’ ‘Building a flight of steps can be challenging due to the pitch of the roof; in this situation, alternate-tread stairs may be the solution. These feature one tread for the left foot and another for the right, allowing for a narrower angle of 42 to 65 degrees on the steps.’ Because they are more difficult to navigate than regular stairs, think about who will need to utilise them. Moving things up and down them might also be difficult.

Spiral and helical staircases are two types of stairs.

Spiral stairs feature a railing on the outside only and wrap around a central pole. There is no central pole on helical stairs, and there is a railing on both sides. If a spiral staircase is used to reach a single room, it must have a diameter of at least 1500mm. If the spiral leads to more than one room, however, it is considered a major staircase and must be at least 1900mm wide. ‘Keep in mind that the hole in which your spiral fits must be 100mm wider than the spiral itself,’ explains Oakleaf Industries’ Sally Noseda. Many spiral staircases are available in kit form for around £800, although they only go as broad as 1600mm. A customised spiral would start at £3,000 and go up from there. Because moving heavy objects up and down the steps might be problematic, build the stairs before moving large items in.