Upgrade Stairs from Plain to Bold with These Design Tips

January 18, 2022

Stairs provide an exciting architectural opportunity in the hands of Aaron Weinert and Studio DRAW.

Text by Kristin Amico

A home’s staircase can be more than a way to move from one floor to the next. With the right design, infusing unique architectural details into an existing or renovated staircase can reinvigorate the space and enhance the floor plan.

“The stairs are an underutilized area of the home, but they don’t have to be,” says Aaron Weinert, principal of Studio DRAW, a Boston architectural design firm. “Most of us don’t pay much attention to this part of our home. In the hands of an architect, however, they present an incredible opportunity to make a style statement or add more functional space, even in the smallest of units.”

Weinert walks us through innovative ideas that can turn a lackluster staircase into an architectural highlight.

Amp Up a Home’s Design with a Statement Staircase

“Think beyond wood treads and risers, and use the stairs to create a focal point within the home,” explains Weinert.

There are several ways to accomplish this. One way is to rethink the staircase itself, replacing traditional wood treads and balusters with materials like glass and metal—or even a mixture. An angular staircase can be replaced with a circular design.

Another way to turn a staircase into a statement piece is to creatively use its wall space. By creatively using the stairwells wall space, a staircase becomes a statement. Hanging artwork, photography, and adding a beautiful light fixture can convert your means of circulation into an in-home gallery, inviting people to slow down and enjoy one of the least thought of areas in your home.

In homes with open floor plans, like lofts or contemporary remodels, Weinert says a staircase can divide living zones while bringing balance and proportion to each space. In one recent project, Weinert designed a staircase with partial walls and wooden slats to divide the kitchen and living area. The modified staircase created a well-defined layout that makes the space feel larger than it is.


Build Storage or Display Space into the Stairs

“Storage is especially important for those who live in Boston condos or smaller homes. Even the smallest spaces can be transformed from wasted square footage to highly functional nooks,” notes Weinert.

In many of the urban condos and townhouses he’s designed or remodeled, Weinert redefined the staircase, turning the oft-ignored structure into a fully functional wall. He recommends thinking about what elements are important to you and then working that into your stair design. You can add shelves, closets, or storage cubbies under the tallest areas, or create drawers or shallow panels under the shortest treads.

When a staircase is located next to an entryway or foyer, Weinert recommends building benches and storage into the structure. “It’s a space-saving opportunity to add seating and functionality into an area that is often bland and unused.”

One of his favorite stairs-turned-storage projects was transforming the space beneath a landing into a custom display shelf that highlighted the owner’s vinyl record collection.

Brighten Dark Spaces with Smart Staircase Design

When working with multistory units, Weinert is an advocate of opening enclosed stairwells to let in light and make the space feel larger. This is especially effective in Back Bay or South End brownstones where the only natural light typically comes from the front and rear windows.

To flood formerly dark areas of these homes with light, Weinert likes to combine innovative architectural design with a combination of building materials. He’s added skylights to the roof above a stairwell and then transformed solid walls into partial ones to allow the light to enter each floor. In addition, he recommends choosing materials such as glass, open panels, or other opaque surfaces that let light travel through every level of the house.

“Whatever their architectural preferences, I’d urge homeowners to reconsider stairs as an opportunity to add unexpected style and functionality to their home,” adds Weinert.

Studio DRAW, Boston, studio-draw.com

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