Today I thought it would be interesting to look at the timeline for the modern stairs we put in at our modern project that is wrapping up. There are a bunch of posts that I am thinking about putting together but the stairs have got to come first since I haven’t featured them at the at all during the entire construction process.
I should have started off by saying that I hate and love stairs all at once. They are deceivingly complicated items – governed by all sorts of regulations – most of which exist so that some kid doesn’t try to stick their heads through the components. Normally I’d say that natural selection exists for a reason … but that wouldn’t be very nice of me would it?
No. No it wouldn’t, so I’m not going to say it, you know … that thing that I said before I said I wouldn’t say it. (Clearly, natural selection didn’t work on me … or you for that matter since you’re reading this post).
This is just one of the construction drawings I put together on this stair design. I know – it looks pretty simple, doesn’t it? At least I hope it does because that is almost always the goal – make it look simple. But it never is, I mean NEVER. Rather than subject you to a bunch of text, I thought I would go back through the project record photography and put together a photo post showing the start to finish process of this stair.
The metal framework for the stair was one of the very first things to get built.
The house is dried in and gypsum wall board has gone up. The stairs are in a very raw state – one that will remain almost throughout the entire construction process. These stairs will get some serious abuse over the next 18 months, something we knew would happen and as a result was considered in the finished design.
A close up look at the metal base of the stairs. All the metalwork that is in place was built by the same steel fabricator that erected the structural steel for the building – and is not the same vendor who will install the finish stainless steel handrail – which will require a bit more finesse.
Those wood 2×4’s will serve as temporary handrails for over a year.
Finally, the stainless steel handrails start to get installed. They will remain covered in blue painters tape until after the owners have moved in – all to protect the finished product.
This is a look at the on-site welding. The entire handrail will get fabricated on site and in place. I know it doesn’t look very finished but those welds will get ground down and polished … in the end, you won’t even notice them.
The entire handrail is made from solid sections of stainless steel – most of it flat plate. Even the corner newels are flat plate on two sides rather than being a single square section.
The small square sections in the picture above are glazing stops (they hold the glass in place). You can see three square sections are in place – those are permanent and are welded to the flat plate. There is a 4th square section that is missing here because it will screw into place after the glass is set.
These are the actual stair treads – precast colored concrete. Each stair tread was individually cast into a plywood form that has plastic laminate on the inside face so that the concrete comes out smooth with no patterning from the plywood.
This is a look at the dry fit of the precast concrete tread into the structural steel base. You can’t tell (and I don’t have good enough pictures to adequately tell the story) but the bottom of the steel base is bent from the months of heavy usage and as a result, we can’t just simply drop the concrete tread in place and be done with it.
What we did to correct the bowing that happens from welding 1/2″ thick steel plate together and from months and months of heavy usage is we thicken all the edges of the steel plate up with MDF (medium density fiberboard) and bondo the entire thing so that all the edges are square and true.
In the picture above, this is what the tread looks like after the edges have been prepared. The small strip of wood you see on the bottom is there because that is how we created our reveal joint.
The entire stair frame gets painted black …
… and here is a finished (although not yet cleaned up) look at the tread with the precast concrete tread insert.
One of the little details that came together really nicely was at the intermediate stair landings. The individual landings were too large to get a single precast concrete pad up there so we had to make it into two pieces. The picture above shows how the two panels came together where the handrail touches the floor.
A look at all the individual pieces and how they come together.
A look at one of the intermediate landings … ignore all the little pieces of blue tape – those are there to “communicate” a message to the painting contractor.
This stairwell services three floors and will ultimately have some large format art pieces hanging on the walls. It is a tough space to light consistently from floor to floor because the space is so wide open – there wasn’t anywhere to hide conduits and light fixtures. We ended up casting conduit into the concrete landings so we could place wall washing light fixtures under the stair landings. It looks very clean – you can’t see anything except the fixture and even then, they are pretty well hidden.
So here is the last picture I have of the stairs before the owners took possession of the house. From this picture (and you might disagree) the stairs look very simple, at least they look simple to me – and that was the point. Despite all the complicated codes and regulations associated with stairs, despite all the moving parts that went into creating this stairwell, when you look a the finished product, you don’t see any of that.
And that’s a good thing.