Homeowners Are Embracing Spiral Staircases, but With a Twist

Earthy, ‘organic’ materials are popping up in modern homes, while new, helical shapes are helping rethink the classic design

Try not to get dizzy: Spiral staircases aren’t just for Victorian libraries anymore. One-of-a-kind twisting staircases in stone, wood and plaster have become sculptural statement pieces in New York City penthouses and Bel-Air estates. But their unconventional shapes might change your idea of what constitutes a spiral.

Things to know:

1. Modern spiral staircases tend to use organic-looking materials like earthy plaster and light oak.

2. Strictly defined, spiral staircases are circular. But people also use the term to describe helical staircases that twist in imperfect, loose coils, or those that are just curved.

3. Do-it-yourself spiral-staircase kits usually start at around $1,000, but custom staircases often cost $25,000 to $150,000.

This cement staircase is from the Australian firm Durbach Block Jaggers Architects. PHOTO: ROSS HONEYSETT

White, bright and plaster

Tightly wound, iron spiral staircases are still popular in luxury homes, but these days a different iteration is stealing the spotlight.

“Organic modern” spiral staircases have become increasingly popular since the pandemic, evoking a sense of wellness using natural materials and neutral color palettes, said Canadian architect Heather Dubbeldam. Many are earthy white plaster and light white oak, she said. Katie McPherson, of the interior-design firm Meyer Davis in New York City, said she goes a step further to emphasize materials’ authenticity, having wooden steps and rails custom-carved to give them a hand-hewn quality.

Advertisement

“It feels like antiquity,” she said. “You have to take the time to do this properly and carve it out and do it by hand, which I think adds to the beauty and appeal.”

Dubbeldam Inc. Architecture + Design in Canada designed this helical staircase with oak steps. PHOTO: RILEY SNELLING

Is that even a spiral staircase?

Many of the new, helical staircases are sculptural with gentle curves, pushing the boundary of what might even be called a spiral, said Bethany Gale of Stonehill Taylor, an architecture and design firm in New York City. The traditional spiral staircase makes at least one full rotation around a center point in a perfect circle, like a coiled spring. But a helical staircase may have a base larger than its top, a shape similar to a garland spiraling down a Christmas tree. They may ascend in a diagonal direction rather than a vertical one, or simply twist rather than making a full 360-degree turn, said Jason White of the railings-and-stairs manufacturer Keuka Studios outside Rochester, N.Y.

“You’re seeing the boundaries pushed of what that spiral staircase can be exactly,’ ” according to Gale, who said architects are asking themselves, “ ‘How can we push that a little bit further? Rather than your standard spiral, can we open it up? Or flare it up at the top? Or squeeze and compress it?’ “

Advertisement

Drew Mandel Architects added this four-story staircase to a client’s 1924 Toronto home. PHOTO: DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY

In the last 20 years, wider access to advanced computing has made free-standing, sculptural spiral staircases possible for the first time, said James Campbell, co-author of the book “Staircases: History, Repair and Conservation.” Before these advances, free-standing spiral staircases generally needed to be attached to a central column, like the cast-iron versions often seen in loft apartments and Victorian libraries. Otherwise, spiral staircases usually needed to wind around the interior walls of a structure, a design often used within columns and obelisks like the Washington Monument, said Campbell.

Light it like it’s Michaelangelo’s ‘David’

Because spiral staircases are designed to grab attention, like sculptures, it’s important that their lighting complements them at all times of day and from all perspectives, said Gale.

“Lighting is incredibly important,” said Gale. “If you’re going to make this investment, make sure that it really stands out as a piece of art.”

This staircase in a Manhattan Beach, Calif. home, is by the Los Angeles-based architecture firm Laney LA. PHOTO: ERIC STAUDENMAIER

Lights can be discreetly integrated along the base of the staircase, under the handrails or within the treads, said McPherson. A skylight can bring light down from the ceiling, or a dangling light fixture can illuminate the center of the spiral, said McPherson.

$50,000

Starting price for helical staircases

Costs

The popular helical staircases typically cost between $50,000 and $150,000 depending on the design, material and finishes, said White, but they can cost over $1 million, according to Los Angeles real-estate agent Tomer Fridman of Compass. They usually require more customization than spiral staircases, which typically cost about $25,000 to $50,000, said White. Prefabricated, do-it-yourself spiral-staircase kits start at around $1,000 at most hardware stores.

Value

Spiral staircases can take up less space at their base than traditional staircases, freeing up square footage, said L.A. real-estate agent Tim Durkovic of Douglas Elliman. A closet with tall ceilings can become two stories, or a top floor without enough room for a large staircase can open up to a rooftop terrace, said Durkovic. In 2016, he renovated and sold an L.A. home for about 50% more than he paid for it after adding a number of improvements, including a spiral staircase that unlocked access to a rooftop terrace, he said.

A steel spiral staircase by CplusC Architects + Builders has lighted steps. PHOTO: MURRAY FREDERICKS

Adding square footage to a project can add thousands or even millions of dollars in value, he said. Sculptural spiral staircases also have an emotional appeal for buyers, which can translate into monetary value, especially on the high end, said Fridman.

Buyers today want homes with not just functionality, but architectural pedigree, said Fridman. “You have to have an element that really makes the home stand alone,” he said. “I think staircases are not used enough to provide that depth of design.”

On the market

New York, N.Y.

$49 Million

4 bedrooms | 5 bathrooms

6,500 sq. ft.

Photos: Nicole Franzen

This duplex penthouse at condo tower 111 West 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan, built in 2023, overlooks Central Park. It has an oval staircase with Macauba stone treads, which connects the first floor to the bedrooms on the second floor. Corcoran has the listing.

Los Angeles, Calif.

$58 Million

9 bedrooms | 13 bathrooms

1.39 acres | 20,000 sq. ft.

Photos: Mike Kelly

This Bel-Air home, built in 2023, has a roughly $1.5 million three-story, twisting spiral staircase with an open well in the middle, featuring a dangling chandelier. Tomer Fridman of Compass has the listing with AKG Christie’s International Real Estate, Carolwood Estates and Coldwell Banker Realty.

Photos: Long & Foster Real Estate/Forbes Global Properties

This home about 15 miles west of Washington, D.C., was completed this year. It has a three-story circular staircase with white-oak treads and a chandelier in its central open well. Fouad Talout of Long & Foster Real Estate has the listing with colleagues Pascale Karam and Jack Spahr.

Via The Wall Street Journal

Joyce Rey
Connect
With Me
Whether it's buying your dream home or selling your current one, Joyce Rey is here to help.