Open Stairway

Category: Dining Room

This is the beautiful open staircase in my in-law's Tudor Revival bungalow.

In our bungalow, the stairway is separated from the rest of the first floor by a door. The stairway is relatively dark and this darkness makes it seem more narrow than it actually is.

(These pictures are a bit older...from when we first cleaned up the first floor about a year ago.)

The door closing off the stairway has helped in important ways during the work on the second floor. It has kept the work upstairs separate from the "living" downstairs.

Back when the house was older and there was little insulation in the attic, I'm sure that the door kept heat on the first floor from escaping to the second floor...especially since the second floor was meant to be more of an attic or storage space.

Now we have insulation, a cooling system and we have expanded the living space to the second floor. And, we have to move a bed up there :) A king sized bed for a VERY tall guy.

So, someday, we would like to open up our stairway. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. This is a point we haven't completely agreed upon this entire time.

jm has been a fan of preserving the symmetry of the two doors at the end of the dining room and the ability to close off the second floor from the first floor. But the door would have to be kept open most of the time for light to get into the stairway and (in the summer) to take advantage of the cold air return for the cooling system.

Aaron has been advocating for opening up the space to more light, improving the flow between the first and second floor, and creating visual interest that is outside of the "box" of the dining room's shape.

After almost two years of living here, we are leaning towards opening up this space creatively, with a Craftsman railing design that makes the stairway itself delightful to look at. Lose the symmetry but create something special that pulls you into this room. Currently, its boxy shape and many doors (4!) makes it interesting as a pass through room, but doesn't inspire you to linger or use it very much.

Because bungalows should combine the best of design and the use of every space, we need to reclaim the dining room AND the stairway.

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Open it up! But move the big items upstairs before you install the rail. I wanted to rip the wall out from my staircase too, but I've since made peace with it.

I'm rooting for an open stairway. I think it will add a lot of character.

I vote for the open staircase. We have one, and it is one of my favorite features of the house.

Photos here:

We have a similiar stairway in our house, with a door at the bottom, wouldn't pass todays building codes that's for sure. I've thought of opening it up, we have kids though, and it's so nice to be able to close off the upstairs

I hope that isn't a load bearing wall! If it is you could always do cutouts between the joists and put in some tall, thin stained glass windows.
If you need to, you could put the door at the top of the stairs.

We ripped out the door at the bottom of our stairway and opened it up a bit. It looks nicer, but in the winters, it gets very warm on the second floor, and stays pretty cold on the first floor. We have radiator heat, not forced air. The heat just rushes up the open stairs.

You may want to leave the door constantly open for the rest of this winter and see what effect that has on the temperatures on the two floors before you rip it out for good.

My vote would be to open it up, but think through all of the details first. We are getting close to painting our stairwell after many months of renovation. We tore it completely apart, stripped sanded and put it back together, only to realize it would have been better to start with the walls, then move to the stairwell. I didn't realize how huge a project this would be, but am so happy with the outcome. Hopefully by the end of next weekend we'll have our final pictures on our site.
Good luck!

You COULD split the difference~ Take down the wall, but replace it with an open wooden screen or slats. By working this around the doorway, you could preserve the symmetry and add interest (and more visual space) to the dining room while keeing the staircase a little bit seperate. this could be detailed in truly classic craftsman fashion. Also, while I'm generally in favor of open staircases for all the reasons people have mentioned, dining rooms are all about sedentary activity. Moreso than any other room in the house (perhaps aside from the "facilities", you go into the dining room, sit down to do your business, and leave. You'll rarely see a staircase open to the dining room in new design. Having such an obvious marker of movement might be more of a disjuncture than you want. Maybe that very thing is why you say "Currently, its boxy shape and many doors (4!) makes it interesting as a pass through room, but doesn't inspire you to linger or use it very much." Of course, such an interesting articulation of space might give that room a needed focal point.

Our staircase is open so should be yours!

I think Kasmira might agree with me that there is a certain boxy symmetry connection between craftsman architecture and traditional Japanese furniture. If I had a craftsman style bungalow and a staircase I'd love to have a kaidan tansu (or dansu) chest by my stairs - especially if the stairs gave onto an open room instead of a hallway.



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Started years ago as a scrapbook, this collection of photos serves as inspiration as we restore our own bungalow. We hope you find it either useful or entertaining as well.

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