Open Stairway Redux

Category: Dining Room

Earlier this month, we talked about how (someday) we might want to open up the stairway off of the dining room and leading to the second floor.

This led to my favorite part of having this blog...hearing about the great ideas, different advantages and disadvantages, technical and practical considerations of pursuing this idea.

They might be on a break from renovating, but they aren't on a break from design! Heather and Dave from 1912 Bungalow weighed in with some beautiful graphics from a vintage Universal Design catalog of bungalow stairway ideas (like the one above).

Some of the important points that were made in the comments (can't post 'em all here...these are some of the highlights):

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.

Posted by: Gary at March 4, 2005 12:07 PM

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.

Posted by: Dan at March 4, 2005 01:23 PM

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.

Posted by: Nathan at March 7, 2005 08:25 AM

Could you ask for a better reason to have a houseblog than THIS??? I couldn't.

Even though there is still some time before we have to make decisions about this or tackle it, it is good to be doing the research and paying attention to these issues now. Because other decisions in adjoining rooms will affect and be affected by the possibilities.

Nathan's point about the dining room being about sedentary activity is well taken. My family lived in a farmhouse in Ohio where the dining room was entirely separate and we only used it for formal dinners. We ate in the kitchen everyday.

In three out of four of my last living spaces--old apartments, condos and now this house--the dining room has been more central to the space. Because of that, we used those past dining rooms as a social hub. Meals, tea and conversation, grad school homework, regular work, bill paying...everything happened at that dining room table. That is why I would like the dining room to be a place to linger...right now the design is so disjointed, it doesn't even feel comfortable to eat a meal there for very long.

But it wasn't until lately (after almost two years of living here), that I realized how we were interacting with the design of the a researcher and ex-ethnographer, that is fascinating to me. We'll see how it plays out.

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Glad to see you posting again, jm. As for open stairway, they are a great focal point and while this should not make up your mind about it, a great place to put really fun Christmas decorations.

i like the last photo the best. when we use our dining room its about an extra ordinary activity. its about 4 times a week. the room is always clean and ready to receive any activity: cards art projects semi formal dinner but usually guests. it and the bathroom are the only 2 rooms with no tv.
I am in the process of turning our porch into living space. computer nook/play room. has to be done before i can install our tacky vinal siding wich is in the van. but then the current computer nook will become bathroom, i cant wait but its 4 months away as the siding includes windows(new sizes) insulation blown in and the porchy room.

Pam and i found a curdenza at st. vinnies that will be our vanity. its thomasville about 50yrs old for 125bux. it was 250 but after an item is there 1 month it goes half off. we were there every thurs when the tag color changed and snyped it last thurs 1 pm. we got a stoneware basin to be the basin and pam will probably spend the next 6 months finding the matching urn. I also suspect the faucet will cost as much as the vanity basin and mirror combined.

The last pic is very much like what I was talking about.
If you WANT the dining room to be a place where everything happens, then putting it in the middle of all that traffic is probably a pretty good idea, and it just becomes about making the space more appealing in itself. Geez, there's never a pat answer~ it's all in how you mediate the vying elements. Is there an elevated landing at the bottom of your stairs or do they go straight don to the floor? Looking at the pics, I love the landing. Since your upstairs was originally meant to be more of an attic (like mine), the stairs might be very steep (like mine). If so, you could put in a landing and rebuild the stairs at a less suicidal angle. Or, you could pull your hair out screaming at the mere thought of ANOTHER project of such scale. Man, I dig those landings, though.

(first comment to your blog, but I enjoy reading it very much). In our house hunting saga, we went to see a 1916 prairie style home that we loved and took some photos of. They had a great open staircase with slats going up in a design that matched 1/2 pillars in the dining room (very prairie style). I'll post the photo on my blog if you are interested in checking it out - just another idea with the many great ones you have.


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