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  • Pinto Carpentry

The Impressive, Minimalist Chic Floating Stair: What are Cantilevered Stairs and How Do They Work?

Updated: Jun 17

If you frequent any home interior design blogs, or perhaps have an addiction to HGTV, you will have undoubtedly seen the impressive floating stair. Also known as the cantilever stair, these impressive staircases are designed to make the treads appear as if they are floating in the air.  While it may appear to look as though they’re made of magic, these stairs have actually been designed and engineered with utmost precision and perfected by years of expertise.

custom wooden "block" tread staircase

Cantilever or Floating Stairs generally have a hidden steel structure contained within or just below the stair treads for support. This steel support structure and the stringer may be concealed in the wall, or exposed, depending on design preference.  The staircase itself can be constructed of materials such as wood, stone, or stainless steel.

custom open tread staircase with custom stainless steel accents

What Are Cantilever Stairs and How Do They Work?

These minimalistic floating stairs may appear to defy physics, but they’re actually a cleverly engineered structure and aesthetic illusion.  That seamless floating illusion needs a very rigorous and dependable support system.  In order to create this cantilevered stair design, an experienced stair builder and installer will visit the site and take vital measurements. This helps them better understand the structure of your home or building, and allows them to evaluate load bearing walls and beams.  Your stair builder will also check if the wall is self-supporting or not, and the design will be based accordingly.  Depending on your home or building’s construction, the project may need additional supports built, or at the very least they may have to fortify the existing structure.  Your stair builder will also take into consideration your choice in materials for the stairs and the style of railings you desire, and map out the build with precision.

There are several possibilities for cantilevered stairs. Your stair builder will help you decide which one is correct for your project, and what can be safely installed to architectural safety standards.  

floating tread staircase

Floating staircases with a concealed support element can be built against and hidden into the self-supporting or load bearing wall.  This floating element will be the main support for the treads and railing system.  Common options for these types of stairs include natural wood such as beech, oak, or walnut, but may occasionally be concrete or a special resin material. Your stair builder will be able to advise you on what materials are available for your region, safety requirements, and budgetary constraints.

For floating staircases located along a non-load bearing wall, an alternative solution must be created. The cantilevered element cannot be affixed to this type of wall, so generally a strong steel cantilever element will be fixed to the ceiling and the floor with special posts.  This is a more structured steel frame which can then be covered by sheetrock to conceal it.  Some floating stairs may also feature a visible wall stringer, which is not a true floating stair, but if the structure is painted or finished to blend in with the wall, it will still keep the same illusion; this method is much easier and is possible to complete with open or closed risers, and can be completed in most materials.  Your stair builder will help you assess if these options are correct for your build, or if you need to chat about other alternatives.

floating tread stairs with stainless steel bars

Popular indoor handrails which coordinate with this more industrial, modern style include horizontal steel bars, glass panels, and vertical bars from floor to ceiling. You should consult with your railing installer as to the safest option available for your needs as well as most affordable within your budget.  Depending on availability, code requirements, safety issues, and budget parameters, unique designs such as stainless steel hangers, stainless cable wire, glass wall panels, and other unique design spins on the traditional railings may be possible.  Your interior designer, stair builder, and railing installer will be able to help you find the best fit suited to your desired finished look that works best in your space.

open stringer staircase

This video from Home Design Tutorials has some great visual aids to explain the engineering, design, and structure of cantilevered staircase designs.

** Please note: This is an informational blog post only. Materials, design options, and supply chain availability will dictate what is available in your area. Additionally, some options may not be feasible or suitable for all buildings and homes, or may not be a safe choice for those with children, pets, or the elderly, as well as may not be ADA compliant with accessibility laws.   Having a beautiful and safe home is the key!  There may be additional options or configurations available to you depending on architecture. Here at Pinto Carpentry, we pride ourselves on finding the safest and most stylish options for our clients, and remind our readers to be flexible and open minded when selecting designs and options.

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