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Alternate Ideas for Stairway Wall?

by Chad Ludeman on October 6, 2008 · 22 comments

in Design,inspiration

I love the look of the white stairway wall designed by ISA. It is clean, simple and modern without using expensive materials. At the same time, I struggle at times with the concept. I think the main thing is that I worry it will block too much of the light coming in from the windows placed above the door. It also seems a bit too sleek for our aesthetic and may take a bit away from the openness of the ground floor.

This could just be me though. I have been known to have design issues for no good reason. Lastly, for practical reasons, this drywall wall ending right at foot traffic level is most likely going to get beat up very quickly and could reflect poorly on our choices as a developer.

preferred-double level from party wall corner

Over the weekend, I scoured the net and our past diagrams for some possible alternatives. We may end up just going with the design shown above, but I’d at least like to throw a few other options out there to see if anything strikes someone else’s fancy as well.

Arguably my favorite option is the use of an industrial cargo safety net by Lode Architects via Materialicious. I love the simplicity of this unique application with an industrial material. I could see a large net stretching from the ground floor all the way to the top of the ceiling on the second floor, running the entire length of the stair. This would eliminate a lot of material and labor in both the stair wall and the upstairs plywood and drywall clad railing. It should also pass code with no mods also which is convenient.

Safety Cargo Net Stair Wall

A similar approach would be to use wire mesh like we will be using on the green wall in the back of the homes.  If we were really clever, we could train some vines to climb their way up such a wall to create an interior green wall. This makes me a bit nevous for both cost and indoor humidity reasons though.

Let’s also not forget ISA’s original concept that had a unique plywood wall following the stair all the way up and seamlessly integrating with the railing on the second floor. Very nice, but possibly more expensive than the drywall idea with some of the same light blocking issues as we have now.

Original 100K Plywood Stair Wall

Lastly, we could always eliminate the wall altogether. This has obvious code violations as well as safety threats to people like my wife, Courtney, who can tear it up with the best of them on the dance floor, but sometimes struggle with the simpler things like stairs and the ground in general. This also does not solve our railing issues on the second floor.

Straight stair with railing on wall

Use the comments. Let us know what you think.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John October 6, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I vote for a rope with knots and a fireman’s pole!

2 Janis D. October 6, 2008 at 7:53 pm

I agree that the wall is a little obtrusive in the space that is otherwise very open. At the same time, I think the house should not only be about what is cool, but also what works with other things that you are planning to have. So, personally, I do not see how the cargo net would fit in (this is not a cabin – unlike the images in Materialicious). The metal mesh seems to work well with your idea of the clothes hangers (industrial piping) and what you want to put outside. Aesthetically, however, I do not see how it could be seen as a part of this white, pristine interior that has wood accents (the same goes for your idea about the pipe hangers, btw.).

My suggestion would be to consider a simple and modern handrail. Warm wood with metal posts. Or, perhaps, a glass fixture. The glass might be cost prohibitive, but I feel that one of these two would work a little better than the metal mesh or a cargo net.

Naturally, these are just very subjective reflections about what I would like to have in my white modern house that has wood-accented kitchen, exposed wood ceiling beams, and wooden stair steps.

3 chad October 6, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Love the firepole idea. I think we had that in one of our initial sketches. :)

Janis makes some good points. The more I think of it, the original ISA plywood idea may be the best option. If we opened up the slots a bit more to mimic the windows it would look money and let a lot more light through…

Let’s keep this discussion going. I like it.

4 Todd October 6, 2008 at 9:01 pm

What about this? Could be expensive, but maybe not too bad.

Found here.

5 Janis D. October 6, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Hey hey..
I thought about it and it seems to be that there are some nice cable railing systems.

I tried to post some links earlier, but the system did not let me and I did not notice any reason why. Perhaps it is because I was trying to do it immediately following my previous post. Anyways, here is the second attempt.

6 Janis D. October 6, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Hey hey..
I thought about it and it seems to be that there are some nice cable railing systems.

I tried to post some links earlier, but the system did not let me and I did not notice any reason why. Perhaps it is because I was trying to do it immediately following my previous post. Anyways, here is the second attempt. And, now I tried the second time and the same thing happened, so now I am posting only one link…

7 chad October 6, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Janis – If there are too many links then it treats it as spam. I just adjusted the threshold up a bit.

Todd – Great example from a very cool project. This is the house that the owners gave all the windows to the architect and said, “build us a house using all these windows.” Are those coat hooks integrated into it? We could achieve a very similar look with the plywood I think.

8 Brandon October 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm

I like the look and feel of the 1/3 wall on the second floor. As for the wall that “encases” the stair well on the first floor I don’t like it at all. Everything about the entire space is open and here is this enclosed, boxed in staircase. It just feels confining and out of place to me.

I love the cargo net stair case in the picture, but I don’t think it’ll work for your application. I think it should be an open staircase similar to the last picture you posted above. I realize the danger that poses so if safety is a major concern I would use a cable rail system like Janis suggested. Cable railings look simple and industrial at the same time and will also let in a ton of light which seems to be a concern. They can get expensive though so consider how many posts you’ll use and how many cable runs you’ll need.

Fazio’s Construction is a great place to get the steel from, it’s also just an awesome place to spend an hour or two walking around exploring. I’d recommend buying some pre-swagged cables from a manufacturer online. Or you could always make some with some cable purchased at Home Depot if pre-swagged isn’t in the budget.

The best thing about the cable railing is that it is extremely easy to make yourself. Aside from a few basic welds (which you may need a professional for) it’s just some cuts and holes that need to be drilled. It’s a great project and you’ll appreciate it every time your hand touches it.

9 Brandon October 6, 2008 at 9:39 pm

That link from Todd is gorgeous and also functional with the coat hooks. Very very nice.

10 chad October 6, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for the tips Brandon. How about a different spin on the cable railing. Ax the railing completely and just string the cable from the stairs to the ceiling every 4″ to meet code. Buy a reel of cable from a place like Fazio’s and keep the hardware to a minimum to keep costs down. A 500′ of 1/4″ galvanized cable is only about $100.

Vines could grow up this also if desired.

11 Brandon October 6, 2008 at 11:04 pm

(A different Brandon, BTW)

Before you get too attached to the cable idea, you should note that cables with sufficient tension to function as a safety barrier will put a lot of load on the stairs and the ceiling to which they’re mounted. We used one of those Ikea cable systems to hang curtains at our old house, and getting enough tension so that the curtains didn’t sag in the middle meant that the cable actually started pulling the window jamb away from the wall!

12 Brandon October 7, 2008 at 12:53 am

I like the idea of using the cables only as the railing system but as the other Brandon pointed out it will require a lot of tension to make it safe, especially at that length.

To give an idea of the cost of the handrail I built in my house here is a list of materials I used, price and specs. The rail is approximately 8′ long and approx 3′ high. It has 3 posts, 1 at each end and 1 in the middle. The posts are 2″x2″ square tubing. There is a top and bottom beam connecting the posts. The beams are 1.5″x1″. I bought 5, 1/4″ pre-swagged cables from a retailer online whom I can’t remember the name of right now. There is also a 1.5″x.5″ piece of Cherry that runs the length of the top beam to give it a warm feel. The total cost of materials was approximately $205 and it required myself and a friend about 6 hours worth of work to finish and install. The steel cost roughly $100, the cables were also roughly $100, and the wood was roughly $5.

If you do the work yourself you can easily build a beautiful cable handrail for around $200-$300…which is probably close to the cost of building the wall in the renderings.

13 Jarsh October 7, 2008 at 11:44 am

It isn’t Courtney’s fault, she has weak ankles!

Seriously though, I didn’t like the cargo net for your applications since the first tweet. I think a simple wood and wire set up would look good and keep with the openness of the design. Also remember that kids might be visiting(namely mine)/living in(Chad Jr.?) this house when making your final decision. Keep up the good work!

14 Rob October 7, 2008 at 1:41 pm

While the cargo netting does seem interesting, in this instance I think that the ISA plywood box is the best option. For me, it fits the best into the scheme of the house. Also think prefabricated stair, set in place with the same equipment that sets the SIP’s.

And Manor Hill must love you, trying to change things after the project has already been started. :)

Oh and I love Todd’s sugestion above, like a modern Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Probably doesn’t fit here though.

15 kirby grimes October 7, 2008 at 5:11 pm

stair in last photo doesn’t meet
IRC O7 pgs 44-45

16 Larry Harris October 7, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I’d do the plywood, but instead of the random rectangular cut-outs, cut a pattern of circular holes. Use the same drill bit that you use for cutting a deadbolt hole in a door, about 2″ dia. Either pattern the holes in a grid or stagger them. Would be a bit time-consuming, though.

17 chad October 7, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Why cut by hand when you have friends with a CNC Machine. Check out this railing by Erector Sets Inc, which is right next door to Pappajohn Woodworking.

18 Brandon October 7, 2008 at 9:10 pm

I really like that CNC machine cut railing. Screw the cable rail, go with that!

19 Rous October 9, 2008 at 5:29 am

I like the holey plywood wall and the cables running from floor to ceiling, but I’d also think about using wood studs 24″ OC sheathed with Polygal (in white). They would let light through, but be durable and easy to clean.

20 Josh October 10, 2008 at 1:51 am

Another thought along the lines of the vertical cable rail idea is to use 1/2″ electrical conduit. You don’t need nearly the tension to make it stay at 4″ and it is cheap and good looking. I just used it in my house in a more tedious installation, but everyone who has seen it likes the look. You would just need to run it from the tread to the top and thread a nut onto it and tighten. The cables in a vertical placement require 300lbs of tension to stay rigid, multiply that by 3 per foot and you are getting some serious loading onto whatever you are anchoring it to.

21 Janis D. October 22, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Hello.. Just found this online and it made me think of your stairs. This is in a House Tower in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo by Atelier Bow-Wow… Thought you guys might find it interesting… Cheers, Janis

22 Dana June 16, 2009 at 5:29 am

I was searching for how green colored walls look coz a friend of mine wanted some green colored walls. The green color used in this picture is not exactly what she wanted but i guess it might give her the idea.

Liked these pictures.

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