Week of October 23, 2009

  • BradW


    Further to the stair conversation, here is a good example of a stair by Andrew Berman Architect. It is superbly crafted, it has volume and drama, it has a small landing to admire the view, it has natural and artifical light and it has an integrated handrail. In plan, the stair is placed on the side of the building.

  • Paul C

    Couple of other thoughts for consideration:
    • Whenever possible increase the depth of tread over code minimum or regional norm. It is much easier to accommodate the additional nominal space required at a concept level and the provision will be a blessing for years to come.
    • Specific to “skinny” floor plans, in my opinion I would consider locating the stairs in a manner that is different from the typical straight run on a side wall. The corresponding hallway/traffic corridor can have a significant impact on how the remaining space is utilized.

    And lastly a link to a vast array of images just for fun. Some of these stairs are not for the faint of heart. Note the “ships ladder” type when pressed for space. (A lengthy code discussion would be required on that one.)


    Have a nice weekend everyone.

  • Paul C

    Sorry, should have been more specific, the ships ladder stair is in the XXS House in Slovenia, by architect Dekleva Gregoric.

    Some of these stairs are getting Escher like ;-)

  • Steve


    This beautifully rendered stair is by Webster Wilson in a house that was part of Portland’s 11 x Design tour last winter. This narrow house incorporates two interior stairs and two exterior — the plans are also beautifully done.

  • Steve
  • BradW

    PaulC – the ironworkers first step is a long one :), a stunning collection of stairs – the spiral up the brick silo looks particularly frightening…

    Steve – nice house, great view

  • Frank


    Here are plans and images for some townhouses for sale near Seattle, Wa. I am not sure who the designer or architect is. The stairs demonstrate a variety of the issues raised in John’s discussions over the last two weeks.

    In addition, the plans provide a good demonstration of how a garage can be moved to the back of the residence.

    Here is a link to more plans in the same complex. http://www.1750lakewa.com/floorplans/

  • Doug Roberts


    Here is a slightly different approach to incorporating stairs into a 21′ wide narrow lot house. The placement of the stairs is similar to the WWWTH exercise at the beginning of this week, but in this context I think it works quite well for both the main and second floors. One big difference is the large 2-storey window across the front of the stairwell.

  • Terri

    Brad, Love the landing with a view and all the natural wood.

    Paul, Wow! I was actually tired after contemplating all those staircases. Have to say I like the Battersea enclosed one best–someone said that only people over 40 would be afraid of many of those floating staircases…well, that’s me (especially after a recent knee injury!).

    Frank, It seems almost like this project was the source for John’s example, doesn’t it? Beautiful open staircase yet with a handrail. The image bank for this complex was interesting. I have to say I was drawn most to that study window looking at the trees. Of course the lake view from the living room and master suite are pretty fantastic too. (Too bad they spoiled that LR fireplace wall by hanging a flat screen TV over the firebox.)

  • BradW


    Doug – stairs good, angles bad

  • Terri

    Doug, Caught your post after posting. I’m not sure I feel this staircase works so well in terms of usage. It’s not very central to the living space way at the front like that when the LR and kitchen are in the middle and back of the main floor.

    I’ve seen a narrow house with a similar staircase plan, but it was staggered back from the front so that it deposited everyone closer to the “action.” Its windows would have looked out to the side yard, though I seem to recall a small window on the first run which looked out at an entry porch. (There was a front room with master suite above.)

  • Terri

    Brad, Nice fix on those angles.

  • Doug Roberts

    Brad — I agree that the angles are bad. The placement of the fireplace in the master bedroom seems to be what is causing the problem, and removing it like you have is an easy way to make the angles go away (and to get a proper tub in the master bathroom).

    Terri — Almost all of the narrow lot infills that I have seen here in Calgary put the stairs in the middle as you describe, typically opposite the kitchen, but I see several advantages to putting the stairs at the front. For example:
    1) when you come downstairs in the morning and want to grab the newspaper, you are already at the front door;
    2) when you come in the door from work and want to go upstairs to change, you are already at the foot of the stairs;
    3) when you are trying to sleep and someone is banging around in the kitchen or watching a loud movie, the noise has much farther to travel to reach the master bedroom;
    4) when you are lying awake in bed tempted by that last piece of chocolate cake in the fridge, knowing that it is such a long walk to the kitchen will help you stick to your diet;

  • Doug Roberts

    Brad — I just noticed that you also removed the angled fireplace in the living room. Although I generally agree that angled fireplaces are bad, in this case I don’t think it really causes a problem as it is separated from the sitting area by circulation space, and therefore does not force you to arrange the living room furniture at an angle to make the room work.

  • Paul C

    Very nice project and finishes. I particularly like how a few of the windows have been positioned. The corner window in the kitchen (image 16) and especially the window just above the desk (image 29).

    Great example of what I was eluding to with respect to skinny homes and stair locations. Earlier this week Louis provided another great example with the Donald Chong’s Galley House. Another approach beyond simply relocating the entire stair to the front or rear is to spread them out over the floor plan.

    (Oh boy I am probably going to get it now)
    I don’t know folks, life is not right angles and sometimes whimsy is ok. I did not mind so much the obtuse angle upstairs, even with its dramatic effects on things around it. I would have to think more about that revision. I would swing the master bedroom door the other way though. Squaring up the fireplace however I am onside with that. I would not delete it.

  • BradW

    I would not necessarily delete the downstairs fireplace but I would install a long , low horizontal one. The upstairs fireplace has to go – sometimes less really is more – tacky unlike installing glass in a shower so you can watch someone bathe :)

  • Terri

    The house I was referring to had the kitchen further back from stairs (beyond a powder room on the same side as staircase) towards back of home. Anyway, you make a good point about noise from kitchen going upstairs if the kitchen is directly in front of the stairs–the other points seem a little minor (if you gotta have ice cream–and I’ve been there–nothing is gonna stop you!)

    I was looking at the plan again and noticed something kind of odd. It looks like the laundry upstairs is right above the dining room below. I guess there was some way to run the plumbing elsewhere? Also, where is the laundry room door? I can’t see it on my screen.

  • Leo

    Paul C

    I agree that not all angles and curves are bad. The obvious caveat is that you have to avoid the catastrophic effects on the rest of the plan. Too often in designs (both spec and custom) they feel tacked on and forced into a space, with an unpleasant ripple effect on the rest of the design.

  • Steve

    Thanks, Frank, for the lead on the Seattle townhouses. They were designed by Pb Elemental Architecture.

    + I like this plan, generally, and appreciate the materials and fine detailing.
    + The stair placement, however, requires a rather complicated route from front door to master bed — going up and up and down and up and up. How many steps is that?
    + The only difference between the inside units and those on either end — and even in the free-standing unit — is window placement. How can it be that the placement of windows north, south, neither, or both makes no difference to the plan?
    + With 32 pictures they still weren’t able to capture the speeding commuter train and rail crossing right across the street or the view of Renton’s working harbor and airport immediately to the south. (Sorry.)
    + But I do like the stairs to the master bedroom level — steel, wood, and glass, beautifully polished. Very glam mod!

  • Paul C


    Brad W,
    I like the long, low, horizontal fireplace idea. The image is a creative variation on fireplace theme, by Cecconi Simone.

    Could not agree more.
    What news on the renovation front? Inquiring minds wish to know :-)

  • Leo

    Hi Paul C

    I don’t wish to seem self-indulgent and use this site for a reno blog. That’s why I haven’t said much. Our plan is relatively set philosophically, although the devil is always in the details, and those have yet to be finished. We finalized the plans enough so that we could get them sent to the city for permits. Hopefully construction proper will start in 4 weeks. When the plans are a little more finalized, I’ll post them so people can see what we ended up with. Our designer is also a builder and he does like to improvise on the fly, so we’ll see what happens.

    If you want to see some of his work, it can be found at http://www.brucewilkin.ca.

  • Paul C

    If I were to speak on behalf of the group who participating in your interesting exercise, I think I would say sincerely, appreciate your modesty, respect your approach, look forward to seeing whatever updates you wish to post and wish you well on your reno journey. In addition, if you are ever in need of a design sounding board, you should know, you have one here.

    I would also suggest that the three attributes found on the linked website under Mr. Wilkin’s name (quality, authenticity, durability) are very much in line with the underlying current found here on John’s website. All the best.

  • Doug Roberts


    Terri — Sorry for the delay in responding to your last post. I am attaching an updated version of the floorplan, in which I have added the missing laundry room door (thanks for spotting that omission) and shifted the second and third bedrooms and laundry room further back a bit, as they were too far forward in the original floorplan. The laundry room is partly over the dining room and partly over the kitchen, and I believe that the plumbing for the laundry room is inside the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.

  • Terri

    Doug, Thanks for the clarification on your plan. I thought the door must be there. I’d wondered if laundry and main bath could be switched but the plumbing stack was the issue. Regarding that master bedroom, was it you that said the master bedroom door swing is backwards? It seems odd that we’d open the door to view the bath first and not the view beyond…

    Leo, Thanks for the link to your designer’s website. The name seemed familiar and I see why–he’s had a fair bit of local press over the last decade. I echo Paul’s wishes in a safe and satisfying reno journey!

  • BradW

    The first image on the Wilkins web site – a stone fireplace wall set on a 45 degree angle surrounded by gazing…I do not think you would see that as a signature image at Slowhome. Also changes are envitable in a reno but they need to be changeful considered and not “improvised on the fly”.

  • Doug Roberts

    Terri — It was Paul who suggested swinging the master bedroom door in the other direction. I suspect that the reason why it currently swings the way it does is that if it swung the other way the end of the open door would extend a bit beyond the end of the wall between the door and the ensuite. It looks like that could be fixed, though, if the entire doorframe was moved a few inches to the south.

  • Leo

    Hi Brad

    I won’t defend every choice a designer might make, but with respect to the “slowness” of a corner fireplace, it must be remembered that not all clients are “slow”.

    With respect to the idea of designing on the fly, I did not mean that there is a lack of planning. More, he just prefers to be in a space before final decisions are made, or previous decisions are altered. The major design points are worked out beforehand: ie all the major structural decisions.