It’s surprising how quickly you can get used to living in less than desirable conditions during a self-build. Like, for example, living in a two-storey house with no staircase. After two years of building, I’m pretty adept at shimmying up and down ladders but the experience of actually living in The Orchard, and still relying on ladders to get around, tested my patience.
Cue Jonathan Rowlandson, Designer, Metal Worker and Staircase Maker extraordinaire. We’ve worked with Jonnie before, so we know he is capable of truly wonderful works of sculptural architecture in metal. The staircase was an obvious commission, but it took a long time to get everything else in place before he could begin.
A staircase is an obvious opportunity to let your hair down, design-wise. Yet, for reasons financial or otherwise, so many staircases are treated as purely functional objects with no life of their own. We took the opposite approach and have made the staircase the centrepiece of our house. This is only possible because we have limited the house to two storeys. As soon as you reach three storeys, you have to hide the staircase behind fire doors to protect the fire escape.
Metal is a tough, strong material, so it is possible to build a staircase with it that looks remarkably light and weightless. This is what we have done, installing a curved, semicircular staircase that only just touches the wall that it rises beside. The balustrades are rippling, organic and delicate. The treads are made from 200 year-old reclaimed oak from a French barn – the only way I could obtain single unjointed boards that were wide enough at their outer edge.
It was a challenge installing the staircase: first the two stringers, then the metal tread platforms, then the balustrades and finally the oak treads. It all took a lot of 'heave-ho' and quick welding. However, the final result is a wonder to behold. When the light comes through our stained glass window first thing in the morning, the staircase is lit up with colour and walking up it feels like climbing a rainbow.