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Staircase Design: Expert Guide to Getting It Right

staircase design
(Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

Staircase design should be based on a number of factors:  practicality, style and safety. 

Whether you are renovating an existing staircase or building a new one as part of a new build, you will need to carefully consider the size, configuration and material of your staircase design, as well as ensuring that it meets the current requirements of the Building Regulations.

Our complete guide to staircase design will not only highlight the relevant regulations you need to pay attention to, but will also advise you on the best size, location and layout for your staircase, as well as the various materials you might like to consider. 

We’ve also included a handy staircase diagram to help you decipher technical  staircase jargon.  

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

Staircase Building Regulations UK

Staircases have the potential to be safety hazards if not designed properly. Make sure you are aware of Building Regulations requirements for staircases when thinking about your design.

  • Staircases should have a maximum rise of 220mm and a minimum going of 220mm
  • They should have a maximum pitch of 42°
  • Flights should have a handrail on at least one side if they are less than one metre wide and on both sides if they are wider than this
  • Handrails on stairs and landings should have a minimum height of 900mm
  • No openings of any balustrading should allow the passage of a 100mm sphere
  • A minimum of 2,000mm of clear headroom is required above the pitch line
  • For further Regulations see Approved Document K (available to buy from planningportal.co.uk)

Anatomy of a Staircase

Anatomy of a staircase diagram

1. Handrail; 2. Newel; 3. Baluster; 4. String capping; 5. Nosing; 6. Closed string; 7. Cut string; 8. Carriage; 9. Tread; 10. Riser (Image credit: Homebuilding & Renovating)

Factoring Size into Your Staircase Design

Begin by working out what size your staircase needs to be. 

Measuring the total rise. This is the measurement from the finished floor below to the finished floor level above.

You can then calculate the number of risers required. To stay within Building Regulations, a domestic staircase needs a rise of between 190mm and 220mm. Standard risers are around 200mm, so aim for this.

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

staircase design

This staircase in a contemporary self build features open treads and glass balustrade to ensure light can flow freely between storeys.  (Image credit: Nigel Rigden)

The average rise is 2,600mm, which divides easily into 13 200mm risers, or steps. Next,  calculate the number of treads. In general you will need one less tread than the total number of risers. Next, work out the ‘going’. This is the measurement from the face of one riser to the next.

To comply with the Regulations, the minimum going should be 220mm, whilst the pitch of the staircase should not exceed 42°.

Anatomy of a stair

(Image credit: Homebuilding & Renovating)

There are no restrictions when it comes to width, but standard flights measure 860mm, and for a main staircase it is agreed that a width of between 800mm and 900mm works best. For secondary staircases a minimum width of 600mm is recommended.

Where Should I Position my Staircase?

In general, the best place for the base of a staircase is viewed as being somewhere  near to the front door and that, if possible, you should not have to cross another room to reach the stairs from the front door. 

This is vital if there is a third storey to the house, as the stairs will have to act as a fire escape route.

Which Configuration is Best for my Staircase Design?

Very often, a straight staircase won’t fit in the house, or simply won’t work with the interior design scheme.

In these cases, you will need to incorporate one or two, or a series of turns.

Staircase terminology

Incorporating turns into your staircase design. 1. Half landing; 2. Quarter landing; 3. Quarter landing with winder; 4. Straight flight (Image credit: Homebuilding & Renovating)

When turns are required in a staircase, the simplest option is to split the flight in two and connect them with a 90° quarter turn landing. If you were to use a 180° turn it would be known as a half landing.

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

Full height spindle staircase

This staircase design by Granit Architects features a half landing and a hand-formed, full-height wrought iron balustrade (Image credit: Granit Architects)

Steps that turn corners whilst climbing are called ‘winders’ and are often used to navigate 90° turns. A turn consisting of three winders is known as a ‘kite winder’. These are often used at the top and bottom of flights to get round corners.

Spiral staircases are not the most practical feature, making it hard to take furniture up and down and often being more expensive than standard flights. However, they can look fantastic and are useful where space is limited.

staircase design

This grand helical staircase from Haddonstone really makes a design impact. Spiral staircases are a great way to make the most of the space available.  (Image credit: Haddonstone)

Editor’s note: Homebuilding.co.uk partners with the UK's best staircase design specialists to match your requirements with their products and services. 

Simply answer a few questions on what you need from your staircase and we’ll put you in touch with a suitable partner.

Staircase Design Features: What are the Options?

Put the space under your staircase to good use — who doesn't need more home office space these days. This design, from Neville Johnson, makes the most of every inch available. 

Put the space under your staircase to good use — who doesn't need more home office space these days. This design, from Neville Johnson, makes the most of every inch available.  (Image credit: Neville Johnson)

If you are adding a new staircase, why not consider incorporating a couple of design features that could not only enhance the look of the staircase, but also provide a practical purpose.

Integrated storage or glass balustrades to increase the flow of natural light around the house,  along with integrated stair lights, extra width or even a 'staircase pod' are all options.

Staircase Storage

Staircases with storage are a great way to make the most of available space. Definitely one up from the understairs cupboard, this bespoke staircase by Bisca incorporates a run of cupboards made from solid wood, combined with a toughened low-iron glass balustrade and stainless steel rails.

Staircase with incorporated storage

Bespoke staircase from Bisca (Image credit: Bisca)

Extra-wide Staircase Design

The owners of this house, designed by Granit Architects, wanted a staircase with wow factor so the existing staircase was replaced with an oversized stone and timber design. Italian limestone has been teamed with dark stained oak, with the lower treads extended to full width in order to create space for displaying artwork and books. It could even be used as a seating area.

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

Extra wide staircase design by Granit Architects

(Image credit: Granit Architects)

Staircase Pod

This staircase pod was a design response to both budget restrictions and the large open plan spaces in this barn conversion.The ‘pod’ has been created using OSB, with the staircase within leading to a mezzanine level — slot ‘windows’ ensure the space is not dark.

OSB pod-style staircase design

(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

For a speedy and inexpensive transformation, consider stair stickers or paint.  If you plan on painting your stairs, make sure you use a product designed for that purpose.

staircase design

These boldly-coloured stair stickers from Purlfrost cost £12.25 per step and are easily applied, yet have a huge impact on the appearance of the staircase (Image credit: Purlfrost)

Incorporating Natural and Artificial Light in a Staircase Design

Dark, gloomy staircases are a definite no-no. Yet this is a common problem with many staircases as they tend to be located in the centre of the house away from main windows.

Good ways to draw natural light through to your staircase include:

  • Fanlights above doors, both internal and external, to bring light into the base of the staircase
  • A rooflight or lantern located directly above the stairwell
  • A lightpipe — a useful way to bring light to staircases in terraced homes or where space is tight.
  • A full-height or large window located on a half-landing or at the top of the staircase

staircase design

Use LEDs to highlight the staircase design to full effect. This lighting scheme uses products from John Cullen Lighting(Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

Artificial lighting should also be a part of your staircase design. Not only is it necessary on a practical leave, but it can also be used to highlight its design. Including lighting at the top and bottom of the staircase – controlled by a two-way switch. You should also consider using LED lights set into the string, handrail or even the stairs themselves — a fantastic way of showing off your new flight.

Uplighters and wall-washers will also really bring the flight to life. 

(MOREClever Lighting Design Ideas for Your Home)

staircase design

Using both glass balustrades as well as placing a large full-height window at the top of the staircases, ensures the whole flight is flooded with natural light.  (Image credit: Nigel Rigden)

Good Timber Choices for Your Staircase Design

Wood is a versatile material that is a brilliant choice when it comes to staircase design. 

Wooden staircases for traditional homes tend to be characterised by their substantial nature, rounded stair nosing, turned balusters and carved newel posts. However, timber can also be used in contemporary staircase design where it is often seen in the form of  chunky wooden treads that cantilever out from a wall.

Wood combines well with glass too. 

Glass box staircase design from Bisca

This Bisca design features American walnut and glass – materials which are reflected in the adjacent kitchen. The staircase is supported by two glass walls and also features a glass ‘dog gate’ (Image credit: Bisca)

Pros: Wood is strong, versatile, easy to work with and has a timeless look.


Cons: Very few, hence it being such a popular material. Though dark and heavy wood can, in some cases, be overbearing when used for such a central feature.


Costs: The cheapest option is engineered pine or plywood — ideal for a fully carpeted staircase and painted balustrading. These can be bought from around £500. Next up is parana pine, readily available and fairly cost-effective. This is often combined with hemlock, a good choice for balustrading due to its stability. Hardwoods, such as beech, ash and oak, are more expensive, varying from two times the cost of softwood up to five times the cost.

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

Glass and Acrylic Staircases

Not only do glass staircases allow light to flow easily both between rooms and levels in a house, but they also add a touch of contemporary glamour.

Aalco Glass Step transparent glass stairway system

(Image credit: Aalco)

Pros: It’s strong, being made up of two or three layers laminated together. Perfect for contemporary interiors.


Cons: Acrylic can be prone to surface scratches and as a flammable material cannot be used for staircases that will be fire escape routes.


Costs: They rarely come cheap, particularly if buying from specialists. The key to a low-cost yet striking staircase is to combine materials and be clever when choosing your supplier. Having a local glassworks make panels for your balustrading before combining them with a softwood staircase made by a joiner, for example, will work out to be cheaper than going to a specialist.

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

Metal Staircase Design

Metal staircases have now made the transition from being seen as purely industrial features, to the home. They are less heavy in their appearance than timber.

Steel staircase

Steel staircases can be really impactful in uber-contemporary spaces (Image credit: getty images)

Pros: Perfect for spiral or straight flights, they look great paired with glass balustrades or even wire mesh or tension wires


Cons: Badly designed metal staircases can look overly industrial


Costs: Components can now be bought off the shelf, with full timber and metal staircases coming to as little as £500-600

Stone and Concrete Staircases

Stone staircases, or those made from concrete, can be traditional – think grand sweeping stone flights – or contemporary in the form of industrial-style simplicity. Concrete stairs are usually supplied precast in sections to be assembled on site.

Pros: The perfect way to create a sense of solidity


Cons: Expensive. May have to wait a while for them to be made


Costs: Variable. They can be expensive, starting at around £10,000. An alternative is to clad existing stairs with stone panels

How to Buy a Staircase

Unfortunately, buying a staircase is not a simple case of walking into a staircase shop and pointing to the one you want.

It is often the case that the striking staircases that grace the pages of magazines have been custom-made rather than bought off the shelf, designed by the house designer or architect, or sometimes by the owners themselves. However, there are specialist staircase companies out there who will also design and make a staircase.

Those aiming to stick to a budget are well advised to ask a local joiner – or the joiner already working on their project – to help them with a design.

Once you have a design it is entirely possible to buy a staircase from a DIY warehouse or timber merchant – assuming the sizes you require are fairly standard – and then customise it yourself with the addition of a decorative handrail, stair paint or even a distinctive runner.

(MORE: Get a quote for your new staircase)

Staircase Glossary

staircase design

Timber and glass make a great pairing when it comes to staircase design, combining classic and contemporary. They look particularly stylish in this oak frame self-build by Oakwrights(Image credit: Oakwrights Copyright Richard Keily)
Editor's Note

H&R often gets asked how some homeowners seemingly get away without having balustrades. The simple answer is, we might occasionally photograph a house before it gets a completion certificate. We emphasise that staircases are one area where you should never compromise on safety.

Going The horizontal distance between one step and the next, measured from the nosing to the nosing. Building Regs specify a minimum distance of 220mm to a maximum of 300mm.

Nosing The edge of the tread which projects beyond the riser.

Rise The vertical distance from the top of the tread to the top of the next one. Building Regs specify a minimum distance of 150mm to a maximum of 220mm. The total rise is the vertical distance from the floor to the floor of the level above.

Riser The board that forms the face of the step.

Tread The top section of an individual step on which you walk.

Balustrading Describes the combination of the spindles, handrail and newel posts on a staircase. Often it is these elements which give the staircase its character — they can transform an off-the-shelf flight into something special. Timber, glass, metal and even stud walls can all form balustrading.

Get a Quote for Your New Staircase

Homebuilding.co.uk partners with the UK's best staircase design specialists to match your requirements with their products and services. 

Simply answer a few questions on what you need from your staircase and we’ll put you in touch with a suitable partner.

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