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posted: 7/5/2014 12:01 AM

Spiral staircase a step to save floor space

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  • Spiral staircases became popular in England in the 1870s.

    Spiral staircases became popular in England in the 1870s.
    Courtesy of The Iron Shop

By Christine Brun

Your house might have extra room you have never seen before. In fact, you might be sitting under the solution to your space problem right now.

If your home features unused attic space or an exceptionally generous ceiling height, then you might be able to turn that space into a loft room. I was able to do just that.

My home is about 40 years old and was built in an era when tall, slanted living-room ceilings were popular. The rest of the house has typical 8-foot ceilings, making the living room quite dramatic by contrast.

In order to achieve that height in one room, the entire roof was constructed about 19 feet aboveground. However, extra space above the hallway, bedrooms and bathroom was concealed because of the 8-foot ceiling in the rest of the house.

We might never have considered that space to be available had it not been for the original owner. He was an assistant district attorney who at one time was involved in a dangerous case. To ease his fears of a home invasion, he created a secret space where his family could hide, what today we would call a safe room, or panic room.

The room was accessed by pulling down a ship's ladder and climbing hand over hand up to the hidden attic room. Over the years, I slipped many times on the ladder's highly lacquered wooden steps.

About five years ago, I decided to get rid of that dangerous ladder so I could claim that space for a guest room and writing studio. The first thing I studied was a spiral staircase like the one in the photo.

Popular in England around the 1870s, ornate spiral staircases provided access to lofts, balconies, attics and outdoor spaces. Spiral staircases are available commercially in kits of varying diameters, typically from 4-feet wide to 5-feet wide. The stairs are cantilevered to the sides of a steel center pole that is anchored into the floor and ceiling.

The kits come in metal or hardwoods such as oak, maple, mahogany and cherry, and range in styles from simple and modern to fussy Victorian or ornamental-metal designs. Be sure to check local building codes to make sure a staircase is installed correctly.

If you are seeking a unique look, research custom designs by master woodworkers. You can expect to pay more for an individual design, however.

There is one negative that must be weighed when considering a spiral staircase: moving furniture. While it might be possible to hoist furniture into the room before completing the installation of a spiral staircase, items such as mattresses or case goods can be awkward or impossible to move up or down the staircase once it is in place.

Ultimately, I settled on a conventional staircase so I could achieve maximum flexibility regarding the furnishings of my upstairs room. As with every small-space solution, you must weigh the positive aspects against the negative in order to achieve a fair analysis.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

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