Friday, January 20, 2012


I grew up in the fifties and like any other upstanding, respectable family of the era when buying or building a new house it was to be a long, sleek low, ranging 'ranch style' house. That is just what my father did when he built our house in 1957.  It is a beautiful house and everyone in my family adored it, except for one thing, my sisters and brothers and I always longed for a two-story house with a staircase complete with banister kids could slide down when called for dinner.  All my life I've wondered at beautiful staircases, straight, curved or spiraled.  I don't know what it is, that allure.  Is it the mystery of what lies above, the beauty and style of a slow, subtle curve, or the interest of intricate detailing?  Maybe it was just the joyous bounce in a person's gait that always seemed to go with every ascent or descent.  What ever it is, I find most staircases beautiful, prepossessing and gracious.  Since I have such a great, unwavering love for this architectural marvel I've gathered a few to share; one straight, one curved, one spiraled and one that's just beautiful.
This is clearly not a staircase in a home with kids but its cantilevered beauty is undeniable. Steel planks seem to float out from a poured concrete wall. A metal railing follows the stairs encouraging its ascenders and decenders to keep to the safety of the wall. Practicality might have flown out the window but a simple strength of design floats to the top like cream in milk.
There are dangerous curves, hairpin curves, seductive curves, subtle curves that you can trace with your finger along the edge of a lover's face and curves that take your breath away traveling on a narrow road through the Alps.  In this staircase by Ficarra Design the curves are nothing but regal. This double curve staircase exemplifies the height of elegance. The articulation of the ironwork, the perfect spacing of the rungs, and the traditional symmetry of the stairs all contribute to a showcase for the perfect entry. Let the cotillion begin.
Like the spine of a prehistoric reptile this mid-century spiral staircase snakes its way up from floor to floor. Each wooden step is formed like a vertebra from that long distinct monster, but like Beauty and the Beast that grotesque creature found love from the architect Patrick Jouin and transformed into this beautiful staircase.
Then there are stairs that can only be described as beautiful. San Francisco based Lindberg Design has created this spectacular staircase in a Pacific Heights residence. The sensual swipe of this simple form transforms functional form to art. Nothing else need exist in this space because nothing could compete with the sheer beauty of this form and the way it fractures space.

When the Science Museum of Minnesota built their new building they found a way to let people make music through a staircase that sings tunes composed from people stepping on the notes under foot. Each tread is a separate note and by walking up or down the stairs a new anthem arises and fades.

The entry to a home generally says something about its inhabitants. When we began renovating our 1860's Victorian craftsman we found a local woodworker who using nothing but a set of planes could strip down the staircase to its original finish. We papered the walls with a William Morris wallpaper, found an old circular metal vent with the word Andes cut out in its center, had it installed and then filled the walls with pansy paintings. You can tell us what you think our entry said.
When you put one vertical plane up against a horizontal plane and then add light a dramatic contrast ensues where one plane falls into shadow and the other becomes bathed in light. Repeat the vertical and horizontal planes and eventually you have a staircase, steps that both rise and descend simultaneously. This juxtaposition of planes has been a prime subject for photographers since the inception of the art. There's a seductive quality to the brilliant compositions created by this intersection of two perpendicular planes.
At the turn of the century Jaques-Henri Lartigue displayed the curiosity and humor of a young man through the lens of his camera. He never considered himself anything more than an amateur photographer chronicling the life of his family and friends in France and making reams of photo albums. It wasn't until later in his life that he acquired the praise of the photographic world for his documentary artistry and his immense sense of humor. Here he flies his perfectly attired cousin off a set of stairs floating her through space as if everyone walked on air.
Repetition is one of the fundamental tools of good design. That's why staircases are so frequently seen in the art of photography. In Philip Trager's image of West 122nd Street taken in 1979 it's not only the repetition of shade and light with the stairs but the vertical repetition of the windows as well. Then there's that one sensually curved railing that winds down the middle of the image breaking the severity of the all those vertical and horizontal lines like the sweet curve of a reclining female form.
Andre Kertsz infuses emotion into his inanimate stairs in Chez Mondrian, Paris, 1926. It's only a peek at set of stairs leading to an unknown room, but there is so much one can read into those three steps, a lover's rendezvous hiding behind a wall lit by the joy of a single flower where her lover has left his hat and coat.
Fashion has constantly resorted to the photogenic beauty of a staircase. Here Rodney Smith uses the patterns made by this elaborate cast iron staircase to contrast with the simplicity of the perennial black dress. The ornate quality of the stairs with its perforated risers and intricate railing panels becomes so intense your eye can do nothing but be drawn to the model and her dress.
From the top of an entry staircase in Hyeres, France in 1932, Henri Cartier-Bresson snapped a picture of a bicyclist riding down a cobbled street. The speed of the bike left the cyclist in a blur but the staircase remained in complete clarity. Some will see the bicyclist and contemplate where he is going or where he might have been. I want to know where that staircase leads.

Sometimes a staircase photograph may only be attributed to anonymous, its one known quality being its beauty

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