Friday, May 4, 2012

The Long and Winding Stair, Part 1: Flipping the Stairs

Looking up the narrow stairway 

Our old house was converted to a duplex in the late 1940s.  As part of the conversion, the main stairs were walled off.  Worse, the stairs began immediately at the front door with no breathing space at all. When we first bought the house, the font door opened onto a tiny vestibule with one door leading to the main floor apartment and directly to the left, the stairs, narrow and airless, leading to another door to the second floor apartment.

Looking left from the front door
The initial vestibule walls and the doors are long gone, but several years ago we hatched a plan to open up the stairs and flip their orientation to give us a much more open front entry hall.  Last summer, we began to execute our plan.

Looking down the narrow stairway
As we have with all of our house renovation projects, first we drew.  Some careful site measurements led us to the realization that if we wanted to flip our stairs within the same footprint, we would need to make use of two split landings to get the necessary height under the stair at the front door.  Here's the new floorplan:
The new "flipped" stair plan
Pages of freehand sketching (not shown), were magically transformed into SketchUp drawings by N.

The new stair plan in SketchUp

The main floor view from the front of the house

The second floor landing

The side view (note the split landings)
Then we visited many stair builders to find someone who could build what we wanted (which was a saga in itself) and gathered bids. And then, on a scorching hot day in July, came the point of no return:
Demolition day 1
Many more demolition days followed, and most looked very similar. I'll spare you the mess.  The problem with a stair demolition is that we still required the stairs.  So at the end of each day of tearing out the stairs, we rebuilt the stairs and climbed, exhausted, up to bed.  We enacted this daily Penelopean feat (only in reverse, and with more machismo), over the course of several weeks.  Here's just one shot of some of the strange geometry of both having and demolishing the stairs simultaneously:

Escheresque. Old stringer and new, temporary stringer, side by side
Bit by bit, we tore out the old walls, framed new walls, and one day, everything was made new and bright with a deep coating of pale pink spray foam insulation.

Pink foam insulation and framing for a possible future window in the stairwell
And then, just one day later, a day that had us contemplating an elevator instead of stairs, the new stairs appeared!

The new, reversed stair

It would be several months before the railing installation could begin.  In that time, we installed a glamourous temporary railing of clamps and 2 x 4s, had the room drywalled and taped, framed the under stair closet, and painted the room. 

Next: The Long and Winding Stair, Part 2, The Railing

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