Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finishing The Stairs

(Editor's note: I've authored a related post called Staircases in ADUs on

I'm authoring this post a year after we completed building and moving into the ADU. Dare I say, this is the last substantial construction project for my ADU.

Over the last year, Deb and I have slowly tackled various projects which I've described previous blog posts (the artistic sound barrier, the artistic handrail, landscaping and more). But, as any homeowner knows, it seems as though the work is never done. Once we moved in, it was easy to let the final stair riser tiling project slip off our immediate calendar.

With the ADU being on the upcoming Build It Green tour on Saturday, September 22nd, we motivated ourselves to put the finishing touch on the stair case (the end of this post includes several ADU related announcements which may be of interest to readers).

The finished stair tile risers.

From the outset, the stairs have posed an intriguing design problem. Complying with stair codes is sometime difficult in small and stout houses, such as ADUs. Portland's code requires that an ADU roof must be no taller than 18ft at its mid-point, so fitting a stair with adequate head room (6' 8") on the top stair landing, can prove to be a tricky design challenge.

There are two common design solutions. One can position a straight, simple staircase in the middle of the house, which can interfere with the spatial layout of the main floor. Or, one can position the stairs along the side of the house, and turn the top of stairs toward the center of the house before you reach the 2nd floor landing to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling.

My architect worked through many sketches before finally figuring out a functional, compliant, attractive, and space-efficient staircase design, consisting entirely of "winders". The final stair design consisted of 14 "winders": stairs which are not rectilinear, but have an angled curve as they rise upwards.

This is the architectural drawing of the winding stairs from above

The master framer would built this stairs claimed to have build over 2,000 stair cases and said that he had never built a staircase in which every step was a winder. It was a wonderous feat to watch how he constructed the framing for them.  

In addition to the unique bend of the staircase, we added a few other design elements to the staircase. When staining the stairs, we stained the nose of each tread a lighter color so that it would be easier to see each tread in lower light. Additionally, we added an LED rope light under the nose of the treads, to create an attractive perimeter/safety light solution for climbing the stairs in low light.

The LED rope lighting under each tread accents the stair below it. The nose of each tread is stained a light color in contrast to the rest of the tread, which makes each tread "pop" nicely in any kind of light, such as the low light as shown above.

Then, we added the amazing salvaged steel handrail, part of which is shown below.

Last but not least, we finished the stair risers with tiles this week. We acquired these tiles in New Mexico last year, knowing that we wanted to eventually finish the stair risers with Talavera tile. Here are some pictures of the process and finished product.

Here's a video of the finished product.

Some other ADU announcements:
  • The next ADU Class for Homeowners will be on Saturday, November 5th. This course is filling up so I'll likely offer another full day class shortly thereafter.
  • For the first time, I'm also able to offer CE credits to Oregon's real estate professionals who attend this class, thanks to the Earth Advantage Institute. The class will equip them with substantial knowledge about ADUs, enabling them to help more of residential clients identify suitable properties for ADUs, and provide information on how a residential client can proceed through the ADU financing,designing, and building process.  Please tell Portland realtor acquaintances about the class.
  • There will be a one day ADU-focused conference in Portland, Oregon, on Friday, October 26th, held in conjunction with the Portland EcoDistricts conference. I'll be helping lead one session on ADU financing, and there will many fantastic sessions there. 
  • Lastly, my ADU was featured in a great blog called Small House Bliss which I'd commend to readers who are seeking inspiration on modern, small house design. 


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  3. Would LOVE to see at least one picture of the entire staircase. We are renovating an ADU and were thinking about doing a spiral staircase. The primary unit was built in 1925 and the ADU is at least 70 yrs old that we are sure of. We've contemplated doing the other options you mention on your website. Is there a place where you have posted more pics of these beautiful stairs?

    1. Thanks! Glad that you like this. This post is the only post where I have images of this whole staircase. Watching the video around minute 2, you can get an idea of how they look.

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