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How to Choose the Right Staircase Style to Fit Your Home's Architecture

Updated: Jun 6

Carpenter’s Corner: Understanding Staircase Design Terminology

We understand that navigating the ins-and-outs of renovations, replacements,repairs, and even when starting on new construction can be very overwhelming to homeowners. It’s our goal with our Carpenter’s Corner series to leave our readers enlightened and empowered!  Here at Pinto Carpentry, we strive for total customer satisfaction, and that includes making sure everyone is on the same page and understands the materials, plans, and design before going forward.  We want you to understand the terms and lingo used by industry professionals to ensure that you can get the precise project you want and the look you desire. Today, you'll learn how to choose the right staircase style to fit your home's architecture and building plan.

father and son going up a staircase

Today, we’re going to talk about different styles of stairs and their purposes and aesthetics!  By the end of our helpful guide, you’ll be able to differentiate what type of stair is appropriate for your space and specific project. Let’s get started:

Important Terms to Know When Referencing Stair Design Builds

modern horizontal railing on staircase

Straight Stairs  - This is the most common type of stair in both residential and commercial builds.  They are stairs without any changes in direction, although they may occasionally be broken up by central landings if floor heights are above 10-12 feet.  They’re the easiest to go up and down, work well with most house designs, are usually more straightforward to construct, and are much easier to fit with handrail systems.

all wooden railing, modern with clean lines

L-Shaped Stairs - These are a variant of the straight stair, but feature a transitional landing where the stair bends most generally at 90 degrees. These may also be referred to as a “quarter turn stair” if the landing is closer to either the top or the bottom.  They are a great choice for stairs located in a corner, and do also provide visual interest due to their shape. A variant of this style are Winder Stairs, which feature a triangular or “pie” shaped step at the corner transition instead of a full landing.

elegant traditional all wooden railing on double staircase and balcony

U-Shaped Stairs - This stair design features two parallel flights of stairs, joined by a wide landing with a 180-degree turn in the walking path.  They’re a bit more difficult to build than straight stairs or L-shaped stairs, but offer a lot of visual interest and are convenient to fit into many build plans and styles.

modern horizontal railing

Freestanding Stair - This type of staircase does not have a wall on either side. This style stair is most frequently used in large, open rooms or entry ways, intended to keep the spacious feel of the area, and can be used for straight or curved stairs. This type of stair really makes a statement, and is a great place to use decorative panels and carved elements for a striking look.

custom double wooden staircase and platform

Bifurcated Stairs - These are also known as split stairs, as they feature one sweeping set of larger, wide stairs that split off at an ample sized landing into two smaller flights in opposite directions generally leading to the same floor.  These are very commonly used in historic estates and luxury buildings like large offices or hotels.

curved wooden staircase being built in a shop

Circular Staircase - A circular staircase is crafted in a rounded fashion utilizing the circumference of a given area; they have a large radius, usually turning more than 90 degrees. A stunning option for grand entryways, and a perfect opportunity to add stylish elements like natural wood and eye-catching balusters or decorative panels. They make a very elegant first impression to visitors.

birds eye view of curved wooden staircase

Curved Staircase - This type of stair does not generally make a full circle, and turns 90 degrees or less. It’s a great option for a sweeping turn visual in smaller spaces, and makes a wonderful focal point if you have a large entryway.

Spiral Staircase - This type of compact stair is generally found in small, narrow spaces without room for the typical stair. It features a center column which supports the treads as they wind around the central axis from floor to landing. It is important to note that while this is a very attractive design, most spaces cannot accommodate this as an addition or renovation, as it requires specific architectural plans.  They are also not the most practical or accessible staircase due to their steepness and angle, only one person can go up or down at a time, and it is very difficult to move large pieces of furniture or artwork up and down.

Helical Staircase  - This is similar to a spiral stair in look, but it features no central column and is instead supported by two stringers.

traditional wooden staircase and railings

Closed String - Also known as a routed, housed, box or side stringer. This type is positioned outside the treads and risers, so that the stairs are contained between the stringers.  The edge of the stair tread will not be visible, since the stair treads and risers are inserted into notches along the string.

custom tread floating staircase

Cantilever stairs - These stairs create a stunning, eye catching illusion that the stair treads are floating in the air with no support, adding to the airiness and spaciousness of a room. The stringer is usually located to one side or hidden, and the tread supports require great care to ensure they can handle the weight. They require precise care and an experienced builder who is able to evaluate the stress and load bearing measurements. Types of this style include a Hidden Cantilever Stair Stringer, Exposed Stair Stringer with Cantilevered Landing, Partial Cantilever Stair.

custom floating wooden stairs

Cut or Open String - This refers to a stair where the upper edge portion of the string has been cut, leaving the profile of the staircase visible from the sides, or may even overhang the string slightly.

Landing - the area at the top or middle section of a staircase that leads to rooms, hallways, or a second set of stairs; a landing is required for every 12’ of vertical stairway rise, and it should be at least as wide as the stairway that connects to it

Curtail Step - This refers to the step or steps at the end of a light of stairs, which may be widened at one or both ends specifically to fit scroll curves of the handrail; it’s one of the most intricate steps to craft.

family sitting on coauch with staircase in the background with modern metal horizontal rails

Here at Pinto Carpentry, we have more than 20 years of industry experience in both residential and commercial projects. Our master stair builders and installers would love to work with you to create a custom design that suits your home, office, or other commercial location. Give us a call at 908-922-1778 and we can get you scheduled for a consultation and custom quote.  Let us tailor your stair build to be both eye-catching and functional!  View our full portfolio of work on our website or our social media like Instagram and Facebook, and be sure to check out our Case Studies page for more detailed examples.

couple sitting on staircase

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