Hanging Dovetailed Staircase
Architects Michaelis Boyd were appointed to design a full basement extension and refurbishment of the lower level of a Victorian terrace house in Holland Park and completed works. For the project, the client’s emphasis was on creating daylight filled spaces and a purity in materials for their family home, which encouraged Michaelis Boyd to design visual connections between spaces and introduce a calm textural palette.
As part of the project, a new staircase was installed connecting the three lowest levels, crafted from delicate tapering oak spindles hanging from the floor above and dovetailed into cantilevering solid oak treads.
The new lightweight stairs draw light into the lower levels of the property. 67 hand-routed shouldered dovetail joints culminate in the lowest flight floating above a ground bearing joinery unit. Moving away from a traditional staircase posed its own risks and uncertainties, particularly regarding excessive bound and creaking. However, the dovetail joints mean that when the stair is loaded it becomes more rigid and resistant to movement.
Materials and design techniques were selected to promote lightness and calmness across the scheme. Profiled wall finishes have been selected to capture natural light from skylights and a bespoke light well grille, its spaces are divided with large-pane steel windows, departing from more traditional denser formats; and pocket sliding and frameless pivot doors have been introduced to visually simplify spaces.
Playing a crucial role alongside Michaelis Boyd was Fowler & Co. Ben Fowler and his master cabinetmaker Matt Williams helped develop the initial concept into a workable feature. One of the main technical challenges that had to be overcome was that the joints needed to be individually set out and cut using a hand router and a jig.
The hanging spindles were also interesting to make because in order to get them into position they had to come in cut lengths. However, the team wanted to have the appearance of long continuous pieces of timber. Ultimately, these were all scarf jointed together at the landings so that they carried the weight of the staircase through the well.
The hanging dovetailed staircase is currently shortlisted in the 2019 Wood Awards in the ‘Buildings’ category. The buildings judging panel is led by three-time Gold Award winner Stephen Corbett of Green Oak Carpentry. The panel include Andrew Lawrence, Arup; Adam Richards, Adam Richards Architects; Kirsten Haggart, Waugh Thistleton Architects; Nathan Wheatley, engenuiti; David Morley, David Morley Architects; Jim Greaves, Hopkins; and architectural journalist Ruth Slavid. The buildings panel will visit all of the shortlisted projects, upholding the rigorous nature of the Awards.
The Wood Awards is the UK’s premier competition for excellence in architecture and product design in the world’s only naturally sustainable material. The awards aim to recognise, encourage and promote outstanding design, craftsmanship and installation using wood.
The competition began in 1971 as the Carpenter’s Awards and was rebranded in 2003 as The Wood Awards. The Awards have had an impact on the architectural and design landscape, becoming a ‘mark of excellence’ in wood with past Mears Group Gold Award Winners including Foster+Partners for Maggie’s at the Robert Parfett Building, 6a architects for Coastal House Devon and most recently MUMA for Storey’s Field Centre & Edrington Nursery.
The winners of the 2019 Wood Awards will be announced at a ceremony on 19th November 2019.