choosing staircases

Choosing Staircases – How to get best staircase for your budget

Aristotle famously said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Richard McLane, Design Director of Bisca, explains that where staircases are concerned, the opposite may be true.

If you think you can’t afford a staircase specialist to design your new staircase, think again. You want the best staircase possible for your money, but the way to achieve this may come as a surprise.

Your Quantity Surveyor (QS) may split out components to get the lowest price – on paper. Taking this approach with your staircase may end up costing you more.

On paper a builder’s staircase may appear attractive compared to the price submitted by a staircase specialist. In reality this can be a very different story. A good example is a couple who asked Bisca to design a balustrade for their new concrete staircase.

When we carried out a survey of the concrete staircase some problems became clear. These problems prevented the customers from having the design they wanted.

  • the architect had drawn the balustrade and staircase independent of each other. The drawings did not consider how it connected or how it looked.
  • the balustrade “design” was only a concept. It was not based on actual dimensional details or structural possibilities.
  • allowances for cladding, floor finishes and interfaces were not considered or included.
  • the architect’s design was too complex to retrofit to a concrete staircase. It would only have been possible with a steel stair providing a jig for construction purposes.
  • drilling into reinforced concrete in situ is dangerous. There is a danger of hitting hidden steels and weakening structural elements and the safety of the staircase itself
  • the architect had intended the balustrade to fit to the side of the staircase. Because this information was not on the plans, the builder built the stair touching the wall. Fixing the balustrade as intended became a physical impossibility.

Our clients had two options – neither of them ideal

  1. Remove the staircase and start again to get the balustrade design and look they wanted.
  2. Abandon their dream balustrade and find something to work on the concrete.

The first option doubled their budget as it included removal of the concrete stair. The second option was a serious compromise on design – and one which they reluctantly took.

Engage a Staircase Specialist as early as possible in your project

At the outset our clients HAD budgeted to get what they wanted using a stair specialist. Instead, their QS took them down the “perceived” cost effective route. He split out elements of the staircase between suppliers because it looked good on paper. QS will always find a cost down option but without consideration for final finish.

A QS can add value to some elements of a build, but the staircase is not one of them. You should consider your staircase as part of the fabric of the building. A far superior quality in design and finish is possible if Bisca are engaged during the design of the house.

The synergy between an architect and a specialist working together is of greater value to the client than either one working alone. The working partnership between Bisca and architects has resulted in many fantastic commissions. An architect may work 5 staircases a year, whilst Bisca, as staircase specialists design 50+. Anything other than a standard staircase needs a staircase specialist.

Every bespoke staircase design involves a significant amount of Design work. Design resolves interfaces, aesthetics, materials, specifications, loadings and head heights. This MUST happen before purchase of materials and before a build begins.

When planning, and budgeting for a staircase you should think of the space as a whole from start to finish. Only 60% of a design is about the staircase, 40% is about how it interfaces with, and integrates into, the property.

Design is an intangible aspect of a project that many clients and particularly their QS may not see the value in until the build starts. Once the build starts the process of working with good design becomes more tangible to everyone.

Top tips for getting the perfect staircase for your budget:-

1. Engage a specialist for design cost options before allocating budget for your staircase.

2. Engage the specialist at the beginning of the project. It’s much easier to move walls and doors on paper than when built.

3. Treat the staircase and balustrade as a single unit. Do not divorce for budget, design or build purposes. The relationship between a stair and balustrade introduced for the first time at installation will always be uneasy.

4. Understand the implications of including the staircase in the remit of your QS

5. Understand the limitations of concrete stairs if this is what you are considering

6. When obtaining quotations ensure you are comparing like for like.

7. Understand the differences in stairs offered by “bespoke staircase manufacturers”. For example 100% bespoke companies such as Bisca, those offering modular stairs (often wrongly sold as bespoke) and products made by fabricators who pay scant attention to any design aspects and quality of finish.