By Glacial Wood / June 20, 2016

Six Distinct staircase styles: An In-Depth Look

Every staircase begins with extensive engineering and design knowledge. Take into consideration the designation of the staircase – is it front or supporting? Intended usage? Form and function has a direct impact on convenience and functional usage of staircases, and it helps to remember the area of the house or building the staircase occupies is rendered non-usable space. That means you should design and build with intention, but know that you have options when it comes to design. Here are some of the most universal staircase designs, along with the good and bad of each, as highlighted in our blog, SIX DISTINCT TYPES OF STAIRCASES; AN INFOGRAPHIC. I’ll expound on that information to give you more insight – and appreciation – into the world of staircase design.


This group of staircases also includes the quarter landing and half landing stairs. General rule of thumb: the treads in one straight flight should not exceed 16. Although straight flights of stairs are basic and simple in design, you still have options. Modern straight, featuring glass panels or stainless steel, or classic?

Advantages to straight stairs: easiest to traverse, or as it’s called in the industry, ascend and descend. Easiest to build. You only need connections at top and bottom, without the need for intermediate support within the structure. The inherent simplicity and minimalist design work well with any home or space. No landing is required if risers are kept under 16, or overall height is 12 feet. Railings and handrails are easy to build to complement straight staircase designs.

Disadvantages to straight stairs: require a fair amount of linear space. Straight stairs do not offer privacy between levels. If 12 feet high or more, straight stairs require a landing. These types of stairs are seldom used in residential construction due to space constraint; and they are more prevalent in commercial buildings due to the scope of those building projects.


The quarter landing staircase is a variation of the straight staircase, with a bend in some portion of the stair. The bend is often achieved by adding a landing; it’s usually 90 degrees, but it doesn’t have to be within those parameters. And, the landing doesn’t have to dissect the staircase at the exact halfway point. If it’s closer to the top or bottom of the stairs it’s sometimes referred to as a long L-shaped stair.

Advantages to quarter landing stairs: visually, they are more interesting. They provide a visual barrier between floors, offering some privacy between floors. They can provide some sound transmission if contained within walls, and are great options when there just isn’t the space allowed that a straight staircase requires. Often perceived as safer than straight stairs; there’s less stairs to fall down in a given flight, for example. An L-shaped staircase can be encased in the corner of a room, if that option works better for the structure’s design and intended appeal.

Disadvantages to L-shaped stairs: they are a bit more difficult to build. Support is often required, but if the staircase is built into surrounding walls it can go unnoticed. Handrails require more skill in construction. If the home or building has two or more floors, the stairs are often “stacked” over each other for efficient use of space. This can mean difficulty in moving large items from floor to floor. Think of hauling a home gym or washer and dryer into a basement. 


U-shaped stairs are basically two parallel flights of stairs connected by a landing that requires an 180 degree turn when ascending or descending. Also called half-turn stairs or switchback stairs. The beauty of a half landing is that it can be more than a natural break in a bigger staircase; it can be an intentional space in the design of home. It can offer a space for a window seat, or shelving to feature beloved collections. A generous landing increases visual appeal and an unexpected appreciation for architecture and design.

Advantages to U-shaped stairs: they fit easier into most architectural plans or structural design, the U-shaped stair is more compact as it occupies a shorter, though wider floor area compared to a straight flight. They add appeal without being too out of the ordinary, and the landing can offer a place of rest. Half landing staircases are very convenient, functional, and safe.

Disadvantages to U-shaped stairs: this type of staircase is difficult to build.


Winder stairs are a variation of the quarter landing staircase, but instead of a flat landing, they have a pie or triangular-shaped at that corner transition. They have a turn of 90 (single winder) – 180 degrees (double winder), and feature a wedge-shaped tread. Winder staircases can be used when space prohibits the L-shape.


Advantages to winder stairs: the main advantage of winder stairs is that they require less space than most other types of stairs. A lot of older residential homes feature a winder staircase; especially in homes where aside from the grand staircase in the home’s entryway, there was a secondary set of stairs in the rear of the structure. Winder stairs have more visual appeal, and create an almost seamless transition, visually, as they meander around corners. Modern homes are resurging the winder staircase popularity, and the compactness also makes them appealing in sustainable home designs.

Disadvantages to winder stairs: they are harder to navigate than quarter landing stairs. Again, the handrail design and construction can be dicey. They also require a center support.


Elegant and graceful in appearance, this type of staircase is almost always located in the entry area where it makes the best first impression. They tend to be on a much larger radius and typically don’t make a full circle. Often used synonymously with a spiral staircase though the two variations are not the same. 

Advantages to arched stairs: the elegant and traditional design can equally be adapted to contemporary designs. The arched staircase is a timeless classic. Also, if the radius is large enough, they are easy stairs to ascend and descend.

Disadvantages to curved stairs: they are very difficult to construct because of the amount of detail. Even the handrail presents a challenge due to curvature. In fact, the arched staircase rather represents a crowning achievement for any stair builder; for this reason they are also the most costly to build.


A spiral staircase, which can be made very compactly, features treads that radiate around a center pole. They continue to gain popularity especially where space is at a premium – on decks, or in lofts or studios. So the question of – do spiral staircases offer more than that fun, and funky appeal? Is answered with a resounding yes.


Advantages to spiral stairs: space saver. They are beautiful art forms, and continue to evolve where design and materials are concerned. Since the center pole typically provides the structural support for the stairs, spiral staircases don’t need much in the way of extra support structures. Installation is easier than a lot of other staircase designs.

Disadvantages to arched stairs: difficult to navigate. Due to their compact size, some building codes don’t allow them to be considered the primary access to a complete second floor in a home. It’s difficult to both carry large items up or down spiral staircases and ascend or descend the same time as someone else.

Staircases – the great uniter. Endless opportunity to showcase class and style, combining function with fashion regardless of distinct design styles. As you build your next staircase, whether residential or commercial, remember to take time to appreciate the beauty of the style you choose on behalf of your clients. Make their spaces memorable, and do it boldly.  

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