Cover A view of the staircase in the Carve House by Ming Architects. Photography: Studio Periphery

Spiral staircases provide a sense of drama in a home. We glean some tips from architects on how to design beautiful yet functional spiral staircases

Functionally, the role of staircases is to link separate levels but by way of their being single elements within a larger space lends them great creative potential. It’s all the more so for spiral staircases, with their organic lines and curvilinear sense of movement. 

Here, we speak to the architects who have designed some of the most beautiful spiral staircases for houses in Singapore—they share the details to note if you’re thinking of having these beautiful sculptural steps in your home too.

Don’t Miss: 10 Statement Staircases That are the Centrepieces of These Homes

1. Make it the focal point

“A spiral staircase can be designed to be fully visible in its entirety in an open space such as a courtyard or double-volume living room,” says Tan Cher Ming of Ming Architects. “For a statement piece, I feel the beauty of a spiral staircase comes from its curving forms and the way it casts shadows when daylight hits its surfaces.”   

Read More: Home Tour: How A Curved Staircase Became The Focal Point Of This Minimalist House

Agrees Lim Cheng Kooi, founder of AR43 Architects, “A staircase is one of the most important elements within the house that to position it strategically is to achieve a sense of procession and drama.” For Perforated House, a recent project in Singapore, he designed a black spiral outdoor staircase to rise within the landscape like an enigmatic black sculpture.   

2. Choose the right materials

The material choice affects the perception as well as practicality of the spiral staircase. Lim’s use of galvanised metal sheets for the rail and threads of the Perforated House’s outdoor staircase makes it less costly, fast to build, and structurally lightweight yet strong. “As the staircase is outdoors, the material used should be easily maintained and lasting,” he comments.

3. Play with transparency

It is also important to consider the design of a spiral staircase in relation to its larger environment. “Sometimes we want it to be transparent. Other times, the idea is for it to be a sculpture within a room,” says Maria Arango, who founded ArMo Design Studio last year with her partner Diego Molino after working at Ong & Ong for over 20 years.

She cites the example of the spiral staircase in 55BR House that was designed while the duo was at Ong & Ong. “The design intention was to have a wall-less and open design. The spiral staircase revolved in itself with limited impact in the space, allowing a complete see-through experience. Yet, it appears to be levitating on the ground floor as it is as permeable as possible,” she describes on the mild steel plate structure with stainless steel rod balustrades.

Upstairs, it is surrounded by a cylindrical glass-and-stainless steel mesh partition that has curved sliding doors connecting it to the master bedroom’s level. “On the second floor, the staircase and its screen act as a space divider between the master bedroom and study, and the walk-in wardrobe and bathroom,” shares Arango on the staircases’ altered permeability and role.  

In Case You Missed It: Home Tour: An Eco-Conscious House In Singapore With A Stunning Spiral Staircase

4. Light it right

Compared to normal straight or dogleg staircases, the smaller footprint of spiral staircases means it can be a space-saving device. In the Courtyard House, Lim of AR43 Architects has a creative way of using the spiral staircase, offsetting it slightly into a double-volume void to enable more space for the family room next to the staircase.

A skylight at the top of a spiral staircase also allows natural light to filter all the way down to the bottom levels and their adjacent spaces. “There are many ways a spiral staircase can be designed, but it is important that the design enhances the overall visual impact and the spatial experience of the house. We are always mindful not to just make it decorative and purposeless,” says Lim.

Adds Tan of Ming Architects: “We generally try to incorporate lighting within our stairs for added depth and function. In both Carve House and Cove House, we integrated concealed lighting within the recessed handrail of the spiral staircases to create a different mood in the evenings.”  

5. Some practical drawbacks

Despite all the advantages of a spiral staircase, it has its limitations. “It is more difficult to move large pieces of furniture due to the limited width unless it is a very large staircase. In addition, we generally do not insert landings mid-way so for the elderly, it would be more physically tiring than a typical straight staircase with mid-landings,” Tan highlights.

Extra precaution needs to be taken when it comes to safety, especially with regard to the provision of handrails and staircase widths, says Arango, who advocate designing riser heights to be lower than the standard height of 175mm so that it is easier to climb up as well as walk down.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.