How to design a staircase

A staircase should be the focal point of any hallway, so if you are planning to redesign your home, don’t take another step until you have checked out the latest options, from modern to classic

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When renovating a property, the location of the staircase is often fixed and moving it may  seem like a costly solution. However, if you’re building a new addition to your home, such as a loft or cellar conversion, an extension, or have taken a property back to a shell for a complete makeover, a new staircase may be required. You might also need to relocate an existing design.

There are several things to consider when planning a new staircases, click below to find exactly what you’re looking for.


Related articles: The staircase style guide | 10 tips for lighting your staircase | How easy is it to update your staircase?

How much will a new staircase cost?

Renovating an existing staircase will be the least expensive option, and changing balustrading (spindles, handrail and newel posts), or cladding stair treads and risers, is a quick and easy solution.

  • DIY kits start from as little as £200-300, though this figure can soon rise depending on the materials used.
  • Staircase companies offer a full design and installation service, which involves updating all non-structural staircase parts in situ, costing from around £2,000.

If your existing stairs are badly positioned, it is worth moving them. However, replacing any stairs is similar to knocking down a structural wall, so consult an architect or specialist company for advice.

  • £200 for a basic off-the-shelf MDF and plywood straight run or a spiral staircase
  • £500 for a softwood design (all of which exclude balustrading).
  • Complete self-assembly kits will cost £1,000-2,000 and are a popular choice for spiral staircases.
  • Modular stairs offer greater design choice and cost £2,000-5,000 for a fully installed staircase.
  • Bespoke staircases are the most expensive option, with basic styles starting from £5,000 but rising to £20,000-90,000 — however, the entire project will be managed for you and the result will be a unique installation.

staircase drawing plan

An architects stairway design

Staircase specifications and regulations

The issues of staircase safety and comfort are dictated by building control regulations. If you’re updating or replacing a staircase, you’ll need to seek building control approval to ensure the stairs are designed well, safe to climb and easy to navigate.

The most important measurement is the total rise – the vertical distance from floor to floor. This dictates the number of ‘rises’ or verticals, and ‘goings’, also known as flat steps or treads. The rises must all be the same height, between 19cm and a maximum of 22cm and all goings must be a minimum of 22cm.

For example, say your total rise is 260cm (a fairly standard total), this divides into 13 steps at 20cm high. The maximum allowed pitch of a staircase is 42 degrees, with a minimum head height of two metres at all points on and off the staircase (a little less for loft conversions), and landings provided at the top and bottom, which are usually wider than the staircase width.

Another key requirement is a handrail, which needs to be on one side for stairs less than one metre wide, and balustrading for anything more than two risers. There is no minimum width for domestic staircases, though most are 86cm. While very narrow secondary staircases can be allowed, they have to be approved by building control.

glazed staircase in an open plan scheme

A glazed stairway in an open plan scheme

Designing your staircase

Once you’ve researched what’s allowed, you can think about a design that will be practical and add a wow factor.

If your existing stairs block the central core of your home, moving it could be the best option to opening up a ground-floor space. Think about the next floor up, too; you don’t want to open up downstairs, but dramatically reduce bedrooms upstairs.

Location decided, consider the age, style and design of your home. Is it classic or contemporary? Timber, glass, metal or concrete are great options, but won’t all suit your property. Ask your architect for advice, or be led by the era of your house.

Think about practicality, too: a spiral staircase may look beautiful, but will it suit family life? Consider noise levels on bare metal or hollow timber stairs, as sound echoes around quiet houses at night, and also think about incorporating LED lighting into the risers for illumination.

Find a staircase designer or installer

First, check your budget. Stunning stairs are often designed by an architect, which comes at a price. An expert company who’ll complete the design and build is an excellent mid-range option, while a local joiner, builders’ merchant, or off-the-shelf design are often more affordable solutions.

Always make sure you measure accurately and double check measurements before investing. Some companies offer designs that you can then personalise with glass panels and railings to result in a bespoke style. Specialist balustrading can make the simplest of stairs look amazing, while a plain pine stairway can look great painted grey or white and with a modern runner.