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How glass can open up your staircase

Far from simply being a practical structure in the home, the staircase can actually become a design feature in itself. One of the best ways to make an impact with your staircase is to replace traditional wooden spindles with glass panels. Not only does glass create the illusion of more space, it also allows you to have fun with the design of the surrounding area.

To gather inspiration for maximising the appeal of a glass staircase, we spoke to four experts from the field of interior design: Rebecca Dupere from Dupere Interior Design, Steph Briggs from La Di Da Interiors, Elaine Penhaul from Lemon and Lime Interiors and Emile Azan from Chameleon Designs.

Here’s what they had to say:

What type of hallway is best suited to a glass-panelled staircase?

Rebecca: Larger hallways in contemporary homes, converted barns and offices generally suit glass-panelled staircases best. 

Steph: Most hallways can take a glass-panelled staircase but it’s in contemporary spaces that it adds the "wow" factor.

Elaine: A glass-panelled staircase looks great in a modern property or a barn conversion. The glass lets the light flood through, creating the feeling of openness. A modern staircase like this would also really update a period house brilliantly. We are currently looking at fitting a glass staircase into a bungalow which we are remodelling, it would work well as the access to the dormer.

Emile: One where the view would be blocked, including areas below or above. Wood could be used for the handrail to give a softer, less stark style.

What are the benefits of glass panels as opposed to wooden balustrades?

Rebecca: Glass panels look a lot less cluttered and cleaner than wooden balustrades. They allow you to actually see the staircase properly and create a feeling of space. Glass wears better and lasts longer than wooden balustrades; however, to keep looking their best they do need more maintenance in the way of cleaning.

Steph: Glass-panelled staircases give a feeling of space and opulence that is not possible with traditional balustrades. Light is allowed to move through the space, and the hallway can become a statement feature far more easily. 

Elaine: Using glass balustrades creates a contemporary look while bringing in more light and making it feel less closed in. There are lots of options to choose from when it comes to hand rails, from chrome to oak to having nothing on top. Depending on your décor there are different styles to suit.

Emile: Glass maintains the visibility and flow of light, especially where you wish to display artwork or a feature wall. It can also introduce a wonderful pattern of light and shade. Depending on the space and the design it can barely intrude on the space.

As glass panels allow more of the stairs and wall to be clearly seen, what tips would you give for styling these areas?

Rebecca: As glass panels are great for highlighting specially designed stone or wooden staircases it is therefore important to make sure the treads are kept clean and clutter free. To make them a feature, avoid having too much going on around the staircase, so keep furniture and paintings to a minimum.  Hanging a modern light or chandelier above the staircase will help draw attention to it.

Steph: I love using bold colour and texture. By using glass panels, features can be well lit and highlighted as opposed to covered with the fussy detail of traditional wooden panels or balustrade.  

Elaine: The glass would show off different types of unusual wood or funky carpet. Even concrete would look fantastic. Another option would be to have glass treads which would create more light on the staircase. Lighting is also important — little side lights in all sorts of colour schemes can be added.

Emile: The staircase needs to be considered as part of the whole space, and the decoration and furniture needs to be carefully chosen. Lighting will also play a major role and different layers of light will be required. The staircase needs to flow to the rest of the rooms and not just serve as an access point to the upper floors. 

What décor is best suited to glass panels?

Rebecca: Staircase runners look good but avoid fully carpeting the stairs. Use light colours for the walls and if you decide to use wallpaper avoid small, fussy designs as that would detract from the appeal and look of the glass.

Steph: Clean lines running throughout a scheme make for a sharp contemporary look, glass panels really add to this aesthetic. 

Elaine: Glass panels will allow anything. They look great with a strong wall colour behind, so you can be adventurous with your décor. In a smaller hallway keeping it light and bright is key, so the glass panels will help with this. I would also suggest using big pieces of art. If light is an issue then use very big mirrors with frames which echo the glass panels.

Emile: A lot depends on the house it is situated in. Each will be different. It could be used to create a divide between a seating and dining area, for instance, where the flow of the two spaces is more open plan. In an older building it could bring a contemporary twist where the rest of the decoration and furniture is more traditional. Wood treads for instance could be used to offer a softer, less stark and yet still modern appearance. Or the design could be all glass to open up the space and allow you to be more contemporary with the rest of the decoration. 

What advice would you give for combining modern glass panels with a traditional hallway?

Rebecca: Keep hallway furniture to a minimum and blend with the glass panels by using the same material as their surround. Ensure the hallway is well lit and use light colours to decorate the walls.  A mirror always helps to make a small, narrow space seem larger and if you use a contemporary frame, like the furniture, it will blend well with the glass panels. Often the stairs in traditional hallways are dark so the easiest solution is paint them, and to add interest you can always add a runner, either plain or with some stripes.

Steph: Use the simplicity of the glass as a texture, combined with a muted palette alongside other tactile materials such as wood, fabrics and solid paint colours. 

Elaine: There is a great juxtaposition to be made between very modern and a much more traditional look but it is important to get the other furniture and accessories right. Try to use similar types of wood, or if you are going for a metal finish on the stairs then echo that with mirror surrounds.

Emile: If the client wishes to add a contemporary twist then glass panels would be a great way to accomplish this. It could, for instance, allow light into the centre of the house especially in period properties where this can be an issue. They can also be used where you may want to display antique furniture underneath or to the side, and this will give a straight through sight line. There really are no rules, and all rules are there to be broken. It depends on the client and the situation. The only area where this may be difficult is on a listed building. 

How could you maximise the appeal of glass?

Rebecca: We would advise making the glass and stairway a feature by not having much else going on around them. Good lighting will also help.

Steph: Glass offers a fabulous base from which to work, the colour scheme and feel of a hallway can be changed quickly and easily if you have glass panels without worrying about hours of painting woodwork. If you like to update your interiors on a regular basis then I'd recommend a glass-panelled staircase as part of the fabric of the building.

Elaine: Definitely keeping it sparkling clean will help the appeal. Smears or finger prints do not look great when the light is shining through a hallway. The staircase acts as a statement piece which should look great at all times.

Emile: It has to be considered safe and if an easy clean option was available it would be used more. 

What kind of house layout do you think works best with a glass-panelled staircase?

Rebecca: A more contemporary, open plan house works best as there is more space to create a feature of the staircase. Modern buildings often incorporate a bespoke staircase at the design stage and use larger windows which make the living area a lot lighter and airier than older, traditional houses. Converted barns and other buildings that have spacious, open-plan living accommodation can also lend themselves to using glass-panelled staircases.

Steph: Open plan works well, one of the best uses of glass-panelled staircases I've seen is in a Holland Park Mews House, they lead down to the bedroom and add much needed light and feel of luxury and modernism in a historic building.

Elaine: I think a glass-panelled staircase can be made to work with any space. It depends on how it fits with the look of the house. The right furniture and accessories will bring it all together.

Emile: One where you want to have the staircase as an open part of the space, especially where sight lines are important either to upper or lower floors. They also work well if you want to create feature walls—maybe with alternative materials—and accentuate the height within a space.