Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Refurbish & Upgrade Your Home’s Stairs

Wondering how to completely transform your home’s interior with a staircase renovation? Lindsay Blair takes a look at the different practical, stylish and budget-friendly upgrades to consider when renovating your staircase, alongside the key Building Regs and costs to note
by Lindsay Blair
22nd February 2024

A staircase renovation has the power to transform a regular flight into a brand-new centrepiece, adding wow factor and charm to your property. Staircases are often one of the first things to be seen when entering a home, and, not only do they serve an integral functional purpose, but also an important visual one.

While updating old or poor performing stairs may be necessary for safety and your household needs, it’s worth considering how the style could reinvigorate your hallway.

Firstly, it’s important to assess your existing stairs in relation to your home. Is your property listed? If so, seek advice from your local planning authority before you do anything else. If not, look closely at the staircase’s condition and check for any damage or weak spots. It’s useful to have an idea of what you’d like to do, too, and question whether the current stairs will be able to take the level of renovation you want.

Period properties with wooden staircases can usually be given a new lease of life on a DIY basis, while you may also look to replace treads and the balustrade for something more modern, or a period replica. For a total overhaul, it’s important to engage a specialist early, weigh up the pros and cons of ripping out and starting again, and carefully consider the costs and your budget.

Does a Staircase Renovation Need Building Regs Approval?

No matter whether you’re restoring, making over or totally redesigning your staircase, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the legalities. If you’re renovating a staircase, it’s possible to replace parts like-for-like even if the design does not meet current rules, particularly in period or listed properties that were built well before regulations were in place.

However, when changing the fundamental design or shape of the flight as part of a staircase renovation, you’ll need to comply with Part K of Building Regulations. Check with your local authority for the most up-to-date rules in your area or if you’re in any doubt about what’s allowed.

Part K of the Building Regulations sets out the rules new or significantly altered stairs must meet:

  • A minimum tread depth of 220mm, measured horizontally between the vertical riser or nosing.
  • A maximum riser height of 220mm.
  • The nosing (the protruding part of the tread) should not project more than 25mm, plus treads must be level.
  • At least 2m of headroom (except for stairs leading to a loft conversion, where you can have a height of 1.8m).
  • Want open risers? Make sure that treads overlap by a minimum of 16mm and construct steps so a 100mm sphere cannot pass through the gap between steps.

Roberta Jervis, sales manager at Neville Johnson, says: “Consult with your local authority, a qualified architect or builder when replacing or installing stairs. They can provide guidance specific to your situation and location, as regulations may vary slightly between different parts of the UK.”

Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Upgrade Your Home's Staircase

This barn conversion, designed by Yard Architects, features a unique pink U-shaped staircase with vertical timber battens forming the balustrade. Photo: Tom Fallon Photography

Renovating an Existing Staircase

Signs of issues include a balustrade that moves when pressure is applied and creaking treads. “Movement in the balustrade can be caused by a damaged or loose structure,” says Meinolf Kloepping at Kloepping TSS. “Re-glueing and screwing can improve rigidity, but sometimes a new stringer can be added to the weak one, otherwise a replacement is required.”

Creaks are likely the result of the material or loose joints. “These can sometimes be glued and screwed, while poor stair material or decay requires replacement or overlay with timber,” Meinolf explains.

Traditional staircases can have newel posts that protrude up from the staircase, extend below the ceiling and down to the floor, taking up valuable floor space. “With a structurally sound staircase, it may be possible to cut down and slim these, retaining the structure’s integrity but reducing the visual impact,” says Richard McLane, design director and founder of Bisca.

Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Upgrade Your Home's Staircase

As part of this loft conversion to an Edwardian flat in North London, Paul Archer Design specified a timber staircase and balustrade leading up to the top storey, creating a seamless design feature. Photo: Andy Stagg

When undertaking your staircase renovation, you can update the style with paint, a new balustrade, carpet or a different tread design.

Exposing old wooden treads can make a great staircase renovation project. In cases where stairs have been carpeted, remove the material and check the condition of the wood underneath. Remove carpet grippers and use a heat gun to strip away paint. Check for lead paint before and take appropriate action if found (you can buy DIY lead testing kits).

If old stairs have been boarded, remove this and assess the work required. Painted mouldings may need attention to restore detail. Once stripped, sand the surface ready for a new paint or stain. Alternatively, seek advice on recladding the treads or work with a joiner or staircase renovation specialist.

More Ideas: 26 Staircase Ideas: How to Plan, Design & Choose Your Perfect Staircase

Should I Replace My Staircase Instead of Renovating it?

If stairs are in a poor condition, it’s often more cost effective to rebuild them rather than undertaking a staircase renovation project that’s likely going to need fixing up again later down the line. This is straightforward when the design is kept within the configuration, with a single flight of timber stairs taking around a day to remove. Factor in entry and exit and the cost of removal and disposal. If a staircase has been there for a long time, it may have taken on loadings from other parts of a building, so consult a structural engineer.

“Removing existing stairs and replacing them with new ones to the same configuration is a fairly simple process as the run, rise, and pitch can be replicated, knowing that the structural integrity and layout of the house remains unchanged,” explains Adam Rowland, southern technical sales manager at Zakuna.

Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Upgrade Your Home's Staircase

This rustic but modern staircase, designed by Bisca, featured treads made from oak that was reclaimed from vodka barrels. Hand-forged steel uprights capped by a solid oak handrail completes the look. Bisca’s bespoke stairs start from £35,000

It becomes more complex if you’re looking to change the shape, location or direction of the flight. “Stairs are a structural element, so the right precautions need to be made to support the weight of the flight within the house,” says Adam. “The structural opening and size available are key factors, as well as the wall typology, its structural integrity and an engineering perspective.”

Which Kind of Staircase Design is Best?

Spiral, helical, floating, cantilevered, freestanding… there are many options for both new flights and staircase renovation projects. Start by considering who will use the stairs. Does the pitch need to be shallow for children or elderly relatives, or will open risers be practical with little ones around? A detailed survey will reveal the dimensions and wall positions and set the parameters for the staircase.

The style of staircase will also affect requirements. “A cantilevered staircase will need considerations for the wall structure, a two-stage installation process and finishing,” explains Adam. “For a hung staircase or a self-supporting design, calculations to the fixing points and how the staircase will fit within the opening need to be considered.”

Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Upgrade Your Home's Staircase

DPE Architecture redesigned this family home to include a cloakroom below the stairs

Staircase renovation projects will often involve relocating or reconfiguring the flight, which can impact windows, doors, upper rooms and surrounding areas. A staircase renovation specialist will advise on the best plan and layout to make the most of the space and offer the best flow for the foot and head of the stairs within your home’s floor plan.

QUICK GUIDE How much does a staircase renovation cost?

The cost for the new staircase depends on the style and materials used. “Our solid hardwood staircases start from £6,500 + VAT for a completely factory finished staircase (incl installation),” says Meinolf from Kloepping TSS.

Always seek at least three quotes for any work required and ask for a full list of the work covered within the price. A simple DIY renovation will likely be the most cost-effective, but weigh up the price of tools and materials as well as waste disposal.

Learn More: Staircase Costs: How Much Should You Budget for a New Staircase?

Update Your Balustrade as Part of a Staircase Renovation

If you choose to renovate your staircase, it’s good to know that Building Regulations also apply to balustrades. “The handrail height should be 900mm minimum from the front nosing of the tread, gaps between spindles should not exceed 900mm and it must be fit for purpose – so easy to grip and stable under force,” explains Kenny Macfarlane, managing director of Handrail Creations.

If the stairs are less than one metre wide, provide a handrail on one or both sides, but where the width is more than one metre, a handrail on both sides is required, each at a pitch of 900mm to 1,000mm from the pitch line of the floor.

Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Upgrade Your Home's Staircase

As part of an urban loft conversion project, Yard Architects created a bespoke timber balustrade that contrasts directly with the period character of that below. Slender oak balusters draw on the proportions of the turned originals and the oak detailing provides a crisp addition to the interiors. Photo: Chris Snook

Before deciding on a new balustrade style – whether it be spindles, metal or glass – consider the interfaces and fixings. “If a staircase has a full string, it can lend itself well to replacing spindles with glass, if the spindles penetrate the treads, this can make it more complicated, especially if the existing treads are being retained,” says Richard.

Toughened glass is a sought-after option thanks to the material’s strength and capability to improve light flow between floors. Swapping spindles for glass when undertaking a staircase renovation can be a significant investment, so compare quotes and factor in the cost of how the glass joins the treads. For example, whether you go for visible clamps or a seamless inline design, plus whether the glass is clear, frosted or coloured.

How Can I Ensure My Staircase Renovation Suits My Home?

When renovating your staircase or replacing the whole thing, think about how your staircase will tie in with your decor and whether you want it to blend perfectly or become more of a stand-out feature (see more ideas below). For example, a powder-coated black stair coordinates with steel-framed glazing, while limed oak handrails work well with grey interiors.

“Try and match timber handrails to internal doors or joinery,” says Kenny. “The finish of the spindles should be subtle, similar to what you might see on a brushed brass door handle.” Adam agrees: “Your staircase can complement the other parts of your home, such as colour matching your stair treads with the doors or flooring.”

Essential Advice: Home Renovations: 10 Steps to Successfully Renovating a House

CLOSER LOOK Staircase renovation ideas

An often overlooked area, the space below the stairs can be utilised to create a practical addition to your home. Here are 5 amazing ways to transform this area into something useful:

1. Create a cloakroom

Consult a bathroom designer and plumber to see if it’s feasible to add a WC and basin, plus storage for a downstairs bathroom. Not only will this create a functional space in your home, it will add value to your property. Look for space-saving solutions such as compact, short-projection sanitaryware and sliding pocket doors.

2. Boost storage

Need space for coats and shoes? A made-to-measure solution can make the most of every inch of space so you’re not digging around in a large understair cupboard. Pull-out rails and drawers are easier to use and you’ll be able to locate your trainers or boots quickly and easily.

Staircase Renovation Ideas: How to Upgrade Your Home's Staircase

Above: Need space for coats and shoes? A made-to-measure solution can make the most of every inch of space so you’re not digging around in a large understair cupboard. This is the stair space double-shelf shoe storage in light grey from Hammonds

3. Display your drinks collection

Make a striking feature of your under stair space by creating a wine storage area – a great option if your stairs are located close to your kitchen or dining area. Highlight bottles with lighting for extra wow factor.

4. Turn it into a home office

Turn this space into a work zone. You can add a freestanding desk and shelving to the area or opt for a bespoke fitted design that meets your every need. You may also like to consider a sliding screen or pocket door that can conceal the office when you’re not working.

5. Blend it with your home’s architecture

Where space is plenty, why not create a feature of the stairs as part of the room design and use the space beneath for part of the kitchen?

Don’t overlook lighting when planning a staircase renovation. Lighting features can be installed within the treads, at a low level on the adjoining wall as well as overhead. “In most cases, lighting on staircases isn’t purely decorative, it also serves a very real function in terms of safety. Glare should be avoided and maintenance considered, whilst enhancing the form can add beauty and softness,” says Luke Thomas, design director of John Cullen Lighting.

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