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  • Catherine Holliss

Stairs As Sculpture

Updated: Apr 26

At Sander Architects we are in love with stairs. We like to treat them as sculpture in the space and as an opportunity to make a something unique for each of our projects.

They have become one of our design signatures.

We try not to repeat ourselves. There are so many materials and methods, so many ways to connect one level with another that every project can have its own statement “sculpture.”

Yes, a set of stairs—or steps as they are often referred to when outside—are a way of moving between levels. Yes, stairs and their railings are mostly about providing a safe way of making that transition. Yes, they are subject to many codes and requirements. Still, they give the designer and homeowner a dramatic way to create a focal point in a project.

Top residential architects in Los Angeles have been guilty of overlooking this humble means of moving between floors. Not us: we love stairs.


When designing his own house, architect Whitney Sander used the same steel company to fabricate his stairs that were doing the steel for Disney Hall downtown. He likes to joke that it was their smallest project that year. We like to think that the project might be small but still beautiful—and they carve a dramatic diagonal across the otherwise minimalist wall.


In the hands of an uninspired developer, the double staircase of this condominium might have been built from plywood and carpeted. Instead, with a simple change of materials between bamboo flooring and raw steel stairs, this flight becomes one of poetry rather than simple pragmatics.


Just because the flight is short, it does not need to be boring. The stairs in this Palm Springs project become part of a dramatic entry sequence with the addition of a water feature and a line of fire. Truthfully, the site required a level change — and that challenge became an opportunity that literally defines this space.


The entrance to this house in Santa Rosa was carefully choreographed so that, on entering, the visitor would first see the virtuosic ceramic sculptures of the artist who lived there, and admire the two-story curved steel wall on one side of the narrow vertical space. To reach the upper floor, a climb up curved stairs would take the visitor past narrow windows that gave small glimpses of the soon-to-be magnificent view from the great room. These stairs were designed to create an experience.


A set of stark white stairs that float up the back wall of the all-white kitchen with one twist: the fifth tread becomes a counter top. This arrived as a flash of inspiration for architect Whitney Sander and remains one of his favorite design moves in his career.

There are so many more that we could share with you but we hope that this small cross-section illustrates how much creativity can come into play when thinking about the common stair as a piece of sculpture that can define an entire space.

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