From basic straight stairs to elaborate spiral designs, the types of staircases you can choose from include dozens of options.
Choosing a new type of staircase is a big decision. Not only does your staircase impact the overall look of your home, but it affects the function and square footage in your space, depending on the design.
Parts of a Staircase
Before choosing a type, it’s important to know the different parts of a staircase. When you understand the components that make up a staircase, you can better customize your design.
Staircase styles look different, but the names of the parts are all the same.
When your foot hits the stair, the part you step on is called a tread. This horizontal board goes from the front edge to the riser at the back. Each region has its own residential building codes. However, in most cases, the tread must be a minimum of 11 inches deep.
The vertical part of the stair between each step is called the riser. Staircases with risers are called closed-tread stairs.
In contemporary and modern construction, staircases may not have risers – this style is called the open riser variety. Residential codes usually require that risers be no more than 7 inches high and no less than 4 inches high. For open riser stairs, the gap where the riser would go cannot be more than 4 inches.
The zig-zag support that goes up each side of the stairs is called the stair stringer. This piece holds the treads and risers in place. One of the stringers is against the wall and the other is on the open side of the staircase.
Sometimes called a banister, the handrail is what you hold while climbing the stairs. The handrail is fixed to vertical posts (balusters) or a wall up one or both sides of the staircase.
The guardrail is the barrier that protects the open side of the stairs. Its main purpose is to keep people from falling.
Also known as a spindle, balusters are vertical poles connecting the handrail to the treads, acting as the guardrail.
Collectively, all the spindles — or balusters — are called the balustrade. The balustrade is the full, open, and decorative side of the staircase.
The newel post is a large, heavy post that sits at each end of the handrail. If the staircase has a turn, the turning point may also have a newel post. These posts give the balustrade stability.
At the base of the guardrail, a board runs atop the stringer but under the balusters. This is called the base rail. The newel post supports it at each end.
Fascia is a decorative board on the outer side of the stairs. It often covers the side of the risers, but it can also cover a gap between the floor of a balcony and the ceiling underneath.
The landing is a resting spot at each end of the stairs and is the entryway to the room beyond. Stairs that turn will also have a landing at the turning point.
The bullnose is an extra strip of wood attached to the edge of the tread. Generally, residential stairs will have a bullnose, and in some locations, building codes require it. These make the individual steps safer and more visible.
Often, at the bottom of the staircase, a larger step called a curtail extends around the newel post. This decorative feature is on the side of the stairs that are not against a wall.
Winders are pie-shaped steps that eliminate the need for a landing and create a turn in the staircase. You may know these best from spiral staircases, which have lots of them.
When a staircase makes a turn, one handrail will be higher than the other. The gooseneck is the piece that joins one section of the balustrade with the other.
The volute is the fancy part of the handrail at the bottom of the staircase. Sometimes called a monkey’s tail, this is the spiral that ends the handrail and is typically used with a curtail.
Small Space Stairs Design
If you have a small space, get creative with your staircase design. For example, a slim staircase with storage, such as in this tiny house on wheels, is the best way to maximize space.
While enclosed cupboards under the stairs are most common, some tight spaces need a ladder-like stair. In this case, the extra-deep treads offer shelving in the dead space behind the steps.
Modern Staircase Design
Modern staircases range widely in terms of style and materials. While this modern staircase design is a fresh take on a traditional staircase, you’ll find all kinds of options.
From floating and cantilevered treads to glass panels replacing traditional balustrades, the choices are unique. You can also find a variety of materials in modern staircase design, ranging from metal, wire, glass, concrete, bamboo, and custom wood creations.
Modern Spiral Staircase
Besides being a major design feature, a modern spiral staircase is a real space saver. In fact, spiral staircases were invented specifically to save space.
The amount of square footage these types of staircases require is a fraction of what a straight staircase needs. In a spiral design, the upper end is simply an opening to the second floor.
A modern spiral staircase can feature a custom spiral around the central pole and full-size treads.
Modern Farmhouse Staircase
With farmhouse décor still popular, it’s no wonder that modern farmhouse staircase design evolved so much.
Following the main palette, most modern farmhouse staircases are black, white, and natural wood tones. Other features include metal balustrades and railing and natural wood treads.
Horizontal balusters are popular in this style too.
Modern Glass Staircase
Thanks to the desire for a more open feeling, the modern glass staircase design is taking off.
Homeowners like these types of staircases because they create a wide-open view with no obstructions. A modern glass staircase also lets light travel, making a space feel larger.
Today’s tempered glass is durable and doesn’t crack or break. It’s also pet- and kid-friendly because there are no gaps to slip through or get stuck in.
What Type of Glass for Staircases
Staircase glass is tempered or laminated, making it safe, strong, and durable.
Generally, there are two types of glass to choose from:
- Tempered glass is manufactured with thermal and chemical techniques, making it about six times stronger than regular glass. In case of breakage, tempered glass will break into small blunt-edged pieces, which is why it’s also called safety glass.
- Laminated glass is separate layers of glass bonded together with polyvinyl butyral resin (PVB). It’s a popular type of glass for staircases, especially when combined with tempered glass. In case of breakage, it cracks in a web pattern like a car windshield does.
Alternating Tread Staircase
Somewhere between a loft ladder and a regular staircase, you’ll find the alternating tread staircase. This type of staircase design has room for one foot on a step at a time.
You can climb alternating tread stairs just like regular stairs, but they are half the width. Homeowners often combine these stairs with shelving or cabinets to make the most of a small space staircase.
Before planning to incorporate this modern staircase design into your home, check local building codes to see if they are permitted.
What are the different types of staircases?
Here we run down the different types of staircases and the considerations for each one.
- Sculptural floating
- Bent metal
- Spiral staircase made of metal
- Spiral staircase with landing
- Stairs and bookshelves
- Graphical iron
- Two-tone spiral
The straight-line design doesn’t require special structural support – it only needs to attach at the top and the bottom. This type of staircase also allows for easier installation of railings and handrails.
Of course, there are variations of straight stairs. These include open risers, modern materials, and metal cable railings that alter the basic look.
While a straight staircase may be the most common, it does have a few drawbacks, namely that it takes up a greater amount of linear space, which can affect your design.
Straight Stairs with a Central Landing
If you have a tall, high-ceilinged room and are considering a straight staircase that needs to be more than 12 feet high, it will require a central landing. The same is true if your planned staircase has more than the standard number of risers, which is 16.
The main drawback of straight stairs with a central landing is the increased amount of space they require, which usually leads designers to choose another style. This type of staircase is most common in commercial buildings, not private homes.
L-shaped types of staircase
L-shaped stairs are a type of straight staircase with a half-turn, either in the middle or near one end. Some find the L-shaped stair more visually appealing than a straight stair.
In addition, they take up less space, and contractors can build them in the corner of a room. For some people, they are also easier to navigate because of the wider flat landing that breaks up the flight of stairs.
These types of staircases are more complex to build and consequently more expensive. L-shaped staircases also require support for the landing and the turn.
U-Shaped Types of Stairs
U-shaped staircases consist of two flights of stairs that go in opposite directions with a landing at the switchback.
These stairs provide more visual interest than a straight staircase. Moreover, they take up less linear floor space and work in corner designs. The main drawback of a U-shaped staircase is the turn that makes it more difficult to move larger pieces of furniture up the stairs.
Winder Types of Staircases
Winder stairs are a lot like an L-shaped staircase, except there is no landing. Instead, the stairs are continuous, taking on a wedge shape as they turn. Winder stairs are typical of older residences. Rarely were they the primary staircase – they were often a secondary staircase in the home.
The winder type of staircase is seeing a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the trends that favor smaller and more sustainable homes.
While perfect for tighter spaces, spiral staircases are a novelty style.
True spiral stairs have one central post. All the radiating steps attach to the post as they spiral upward through a space in the floor. Because of their compact nature, you can find spiral steps in beach houses and compact city dwellings, thanks to the small amount of space they require.
Many city and municipal building codes require that a spiral stair be a secondary route of egress from the higher floor. In fact, that is one of the main drawbacks of spiral stairs: Only one person at a time can use the stairs, and footing requires caution since the inner portion of each step is narrow. It’s also much harder to move larger items up and down a spiral staircase.
A circular staircase is more similar to a traditional staircase than a spiral one — think of the kind you might find in a medieval castle. While the stairs taper, the curve is more relaxed, and the steps are easier to navigate.
Sometimes called helixed stairs, this curved staircase is more graceful and less compact, which helps to create an architectural focal point. Of course, circular stairs require more open space and are costlier to build.
Most common in or near an entryway, a curved staircase is a design statement. They do not form a circle as spiral or circular staircases do.
Easy to traverse, the curve in these stairs is gentle and elegant This type of staircase is said to be the most difficult to construct and, consequently, curved staircases are one of the most expensive.
Great for tight spaces and small residences, ladder staircases are one of the most space-efficient. Of course, it’s a good idea to check building codes because often, these types of stairs are prohibited from being the primary staircase.
Ladder stairs come in a variety of styles, from a literal ladder style, as in this photo, to more stylized versions. In any case, ladder stairs typically have taller steps and are more difficult to climb, especially when coming down the staircase.
A ladder type of stair design is handy for other uses, such as reaching the upper shelves of extensive bookcases or extra-tight spaces.
A split staircase — originally called bifurcated stairs– is the grande dame of all staircases. Typically used in the entryway of a very grand and spacious home, the staircase starts with a wider flight at the bottom.
Part of the way up, there is a generous landing with two parallel flights on either side of the bottom section, one going left and the other going right. Expansive and expensive, these types of staircases make a grand entrance — and a big impression.
While circular staircases and ladder styles are good for compact homes, there is a wide variety of other styles to make the most of square footage.
Steep-pitched steps, ribbon-style stairs, and narrower, alternating steps are all ways to incorporate a staircase in a home with minimal space. As long as the choice meets building codes, the style is up to you.
Usually a variation on a straight staircase, a floating staircase consists of treads with no risers. Instead, the treads attach to the wall, giving the illusion that the steps are floating. Other times, glass or plexiglass risers can achieve a floating appearance.
The material in floating stairs can include wood, metal, glass, or stone. Floating staircases are a contemporary look that often foregoes handrails, although you can opt for glass safety without sacrificing the open feeling. Again, any floating style must meet local building codes.
Large or small, almost any home can use more storage. The often-overlooked area underneath the stairs is a prime spot for stashing necessities. The most common way to add storage is by building cabinets underneath the risers instead of walling off space.
A second way is to turn each riser into a drawer, which is the best option when you can’t make full use of the void underneath the staircase.
Sculptural Floating Stairs
This private home by Studio Olev places a lot of emphasis on the ambiance in each of the rooms, which includes a custom staircase with lighting.
The floating straight-flight stairs have a minimal and sculptural aesthetic. Rather than leaning against a solid wall, they span a glass divider. Since these steps don’t take up a lot of square footage, they’re ideal for small to mid-sized rooms.
Bent Metal Staircase
RUST architects designed this curved staircase featuring a mix of materials. The slight curve at the bottom of the steps draws the eye, while the mix of metal and wood creates a modern, clean aesthetic.
The balusters are metal rather than typical wood, giving the stairs an industrial look. Use this type of steps to make the most of corners. You can customize the materials and balusters to go with your interior decor.
Standalone Floating Stairs
The typical floating staircase features steps that connect and form a continuous structure. But you can also opt for freestanding steps like in this modern design.
The handrail attached to the wall provides a safety measure to counteract the empty side wall and lack of balustrades. The light-up feature is ideal for preventing family members from falling down the steps at night. This is part of a house in Shanghai designed by Wutopia Lab.
Spiral Stairs Made of Metal
Metal is the go-to material for modern industrial design.
Depaolidefranceschibaldan architects turned the staircase into the focal point of this minimal home. Rather than typical silver or black, they chose a dark blue metal. To mimic a staircase like this, you’ll need a lot of open space. You could also adapt the design for a smaller space staircase.
Curved Stairs with a Flat Landing
Some staircases have eclectic designs, combining elements from two or more styles. If you’re going for a custom build, mixing styles will help you make the most of your space. These curved stairs are by Depaolidefranceschibaldan Architects.
Stairs and Bookshelves
Floating staircases take on many looks – from modern to warm such as in this example. The floating staircase blends into this wall of bookshelves for a cohesive look. The aesthetic is minimal without being cold and stark, ideal for Scandinavian interior design.
As you can see, the shelves also continue upward, taking advantage of all vertical space. Studio Esrawe designed this staircase.
Concrete is a trademark of industrial decor but also works for modern and contemporary spaces.
If you want to use an unexpected material in your home, a concrete staircase is worth considering. Concrete can look stark when paired with minimal decor and bright white walls or warm when combined with soft, natural tones. Kristina Lastauskaitė-Pundė designed this space.
This curved type of staircase has an organic, flowing design and makes use of natural wood, giving it a warm look.
While an organic staircase won’t fit small spaces, you can utilize them in large open floor plans and commercial buildings. Designed by Paul Cocksedge Studio™, this staircase features nooks for reading, drawing, relaxing, and drinking tea, thus becoming a social hub.
Graphical Iron Stairs
Looking like it’s popping out of the pages of a graphic novel, this wrought iron staircase features an outline-like design. It’s a small staircase fit for tiny living rooms. But even though it takes up limited square footage, this set of stairs is an attention grabber.
Wrought iron stairs match most types of interior design, so choose something like this if you want a versatile set of stairs that can grow with you as your style changes. Gosplan architects designed this space.
Two-tone Spiral Staircase
Designed by Taller Estilo Arquitectura S de RL de CV, these types of staircases have a sinuous, spiraling shape. The materials in the home and on the staircase work together for an organic look.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What are the different types of stairs?
In general, these are the different types of stairs:
Which type of staircase is best?
Determining which type of staircase is best will depend on the style and arrangement of your home. Some types of stairs take up more room than others. Also, various types are more family- and budget-friendly. You’ll have to take into consideration your home, your family and your lifestyle in order to figure out which type of stairs are best for you.
What is the cheapest type of staircase?
Hands down, straight stairs are the simplest and cheapest type of staircase. Stairs that run in a straight line are affordable and easy for builders to install. Tailings and handrails attach easily too. The main drawback to straight stairs is that they take up a lot of linear space.
How to decorate a staircase wall
Most staircases — especially straight, curved and floating — will have a wall that you can decorate. The most common wall decor for a staircase is photographs and artwork. But that’s not all you can do. You could create a display of wall-mounted items like baskets, use statement wallpaper or decorative paneling, or hang mirrors. Other options include adding a textural wall or highlighting an architectural feature that is present.
How to measure stairs for carpet
To measure your stairs for carpet, start by measuring the rise and surface of each step. Next, multiply that by the number of stairs you have. Then, divide the total by 12 to get the number of feet.
You’ll also need to measure the width of the stars and round up to the nearest foot. Finally, multiply your width measurement by the length measurement that you first calculated. At the end, add any landings you need to cover as well.
What are standard stair dimensions?
Code regulations govern stair dimensions, so there are minimum sizes for safety and ease of use. In the United States, the general rule requires the height of a step to be no more than 7.75 inches. Also, the tread cannot be less than 10 inches deep. Of course, codes vary, so be sure to check local requirements.
What is the average width of a stair step?
In the US, the minimum stair width is about 36″ for most building codes. This accommodates the space taken up by a railing, which can be as much as five inches each. With a railing on both sides, you lose 10 inches of stair width. This explains why there’s a 36-inch minimum to start.
What are the recommended dimensions for a spiral staircase?
The dimensions of your spiral staircase will again depend on local codes. In fact, some do not allow for spiral stairs to be the primary staircase in a home. There is a National Building Code that requires a minimum of a 60″ diameter spiral. It also calls for with 30-degree treads and a 4″ on-center maximum spacing for balusters. Don’t purchase any spiral stairs before checking with your local building inspector.