Stairs aren't given much thought these days. However, I would argue that they are more relevant today than ever! In a time where land is at a premium and space efficiency is king, the best way to add space is up! As a designer, I find this to be the most critical aspect of my floor plan design - both for drama and efficiency.
When designing a two-story home, stair placement can make or break a floor plan. I find where the stair lands on the second floor to be the most crucial. The goal is to land as close as possible to the middle of the second floor, otherwise you end up with too much circulation.
Once you've traversed the stairs, your arrival should be something special. Arriving to a bright and open space is always preferred over arriving at a blank wall or laundry room door. This applies to the second floor as well as the basement! Be sure to keep in mind large furniture pieces making the trip up and down. Is there room at the top of the stairs to rotate a king-sized mattress or sleeper sofa?
Stairs are Sculptural
Even the simplest staircase is sculptural and visually interesting - especially when open hand rails are used as opposed a low wall. Of course, there are ample opportunities for personalization and customization when it comes to stair rail design. I like to locate the start of the staircase where it can make a visual impact and bring openness to the adjacent spaces.
Basement stairs present more of a challenge in bringing openness to the main floor. If you can, incorporate a two-story stairwell to experience the visual impact of the stairs from the main floor. Landing facing towards light is really important with basement stairs since light is typically at a premium. Even for unfinished basements, having a door at the bottom of the stairs instead of the top will make the main floor feel larger.
Under the Stairs
Don't forget to utilize space under the stairs! Ever since Harry Potter's famous cupboard under the stairs, builders and designers alike have been finding creative storage solutions for this great space. Most often, it is used for storing suitcases but it also makes for a charming Pet Palace!
Size and Shape
The code minimum is 3' clear, but I find stairs that are 3'4" to 3'6" much easier to navigate for people and furniture. Straight-run stairs are the most efficient in terms of footprint but are often the least desired - particularly for seniors who find looking up or down a straight-run stair intimidating. Tripping and falling on stairs is the number one reason for emergency room trips in this age group. Bottom line: Straight-run stairs are best avoided.
Curved staircases always make a statement. What woman hasn't dreamed of descending down the stairs in an elegant dress? As delightful as that may be, curved staircases are often too costly. One way to affordably capture some of the drama is to add a slight curve to the bottom of the stairs.
Okay, so perhaps stairs aren't truly magical - unless you're a floor plan geek like us designers. However, since no one wants to build or buy wasted square footage - an optimized stair configuration in the right place is absolutely critical for two story homes!