Step up: Practical ideas for installing a beautiful staircase


Photographs: Francois Oberholster and Ed O’Riley • Styling: Simone Borcherding and Misi Overturf

Adding an extra floor to your home? Or would you like to connect your cellar to the rest of your house?

Whether you want to go up or down, thorough planning is required when installing a staircase in your home. It has to be designed and approved by an engineer, even when you’re using the services of an architect. Your builder should approach an engineer to ensure that the stairs are constructed according to SABS standards – some of the most important considerations of the SABS 0400 regulation include:

• The head space in any given area while on the stairs should never be less than 2.1m.

• The width of the staircase cannot be less than 750mm – but industry experts recommend 1200mm so two people are able to pass each other comfortably.

• A door may not be opened onto a staircase, unless there is an ample overflow area.

Left: Use the space under a staircase for a guest toilet or build a handy bookshelf against the wall. If the staircase is close to the front door, this space is ideal for a little bench or a small console and shelf for your keys. Right: Instead of a straight prop, this homeowner installed a pipe at an angle to fit into the cramped 2.5 x 2.5m space. The steel stairs are 2.4m high. Types of staircases


These staircases are not particularly popular as they’re considerably more expensive to install than other types of stairs and can also be a bit cramped, thus affecting user mobility. They do, however, create a striking focal point and work well in rooms with limited space. Antique wrought iron stairs in this style make a dramatic statement.

This spiral steel staircase boasts a decorative trim.

Single level

Also known as straight staircases, single level stairs are often used in houses with double volume and can be installed with or without hand railings. These stairs directly connect one floor with another without a horizontal platform or landing.

Multi level

Dual purpose or multiple stairs are ideal if space is limited as they can connect levels from different directions and incorporate a landing or slightly broader stairs. They also work well as a focal point in a room and you can hang a beautiful painting on the landing or add a small console table in the pause area. Built-in stairs use the least space and can be covered with a carpet, tiles or wood.


Freestanding stairs require a lot of imagination on the designer’s part, as well as enough space for the design to come into its own.

Floating stairs

These trendy stairs extend from the wall without any visible support structures and are particularly suited to modern homes with plenty of natural light, cement and steel. Built into the wall and supported from one side only while the other side hangs free, this type of staircase can make a stunning focal point, but is unsuitable for homes with small children as there are no hand railings.

Cement is a good option for floating stairs such as this set from Stucco Italiano.

The homeowner stole this clever idea from Moyo restaurant in Johannesburg and had slits cut into the wood with lights mounted into the stairwell – no dark staircase for this house!

Material matters

Staircases can be made from various materials – wood, cement and steel are the most common choices, but it depends on individual taste.


Cement stairs remain the cheapest option, mostly because a builder can easily construct and plaster them without the assistance of a specialist. And the surface finish – carpet, tiles or screed – can simply be incorporated into the overall look of the floor. If structural cement is used, an engineer will need to certify that the steps are strong enough.


As steel staircases are usually custom made, they’re generally one of the most expensive options. This is not a project a DIYer should tackle – even the most experienced builder will consult with a specialist. At the coast it’s wise to have steel staircases galvanised and powder-coated as salt air affects the finish, even in interiors.

Wrought iron

Wrought iron stairs are very expensive as they’re custom made – there’s no part of a wrought iron staircase that’s machine-manufactured. Take a look around scrapyards or secondhand shops for staircases that have been reclaimed from demolition sites, but bear in mind that you will pay per kilogram – and iron is heavy!


When it comes to wood, forget about the cheapest options, says Peter Rottcher from Timber Trends. ‘The desired finish and durability is by far more important,’ he explains. Consider the density of the wood – softer wood shows holes and dents more easily – and remember that it has to be sealed or it can easily be damaged. Artisans specialising in staircases are quite rare – and expensive – so many homeowners tend to go for less complicated options, although many builders would be able to recommend a carpenter offering more affordable, simple wood staircases. Another alternative is to build cement stairs with a wood-like finish.

Stucco plaster Another popular finish is stucco plaster – a screed of coloured plaster or paint with a cement base that can fit in easily with any colour scheme. Stucco Italiano make and install polished staircases with non-slip surfaces as well as more expensive cast cement stairs.

Left: This cement staircase was installed by Stucco Italiano. Right. Floating stairs

Tiled staircases

Tiles remain popular because they’re a practical and affordable option. Jasmin Kraneveldt from Bathroom Bizarre offers the following guidelines:

• Before a staircase can be tiled, you have to make sure the stairs are strong enough and that each step is level and waterproof.

• Cement stairs are the best option for tiles because they’re strong and can’t move. Most specialists discourage people from laying tiles over wood stairs because they’re simply not strong enough to carry the weight, wood moves and the tiles can shift and crack.

• Always tile from the top step to the bottom – this way the tiler won’t have to step on the tiles that have already been laid.

• Not all tiles are suitable for staircases as you can easily slip on them when wet. Ask your local tile supplier to advise you on a rougher finish.

Whitewashed wooden stairs add a serene feel to a space.

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April 2023

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