Residential Architecture: 10 Staircase Design Ideas We Love

Fred Wilson, AIA

Fred Wilson, AIA
Founding Partner at Award Winning Chicago Architects, Morgante Wilson

Mar 23, 2021 - 5 min read

Residential Architecture: 10 Staircase Design Ideas We Love

Staircases are among the most exciting elements of a house for the residential architects and interior designers at MWA to create. Why? Think about it: you’re standing at the front door of a home you’ve never been to before. You ring the bell, the door swings open wide to greet you, and you’re given your first glimpse of the delights inside. That usually includes a look at the main staircase, which is a surefire way to announce the thrill of all that’s still to come. Here are ten of our favorite residential staircase designs, along with some good ideas to borrow if you’re designing one of your own:

1. Keep it simple

We designed a purposefully simple, yet elegant, staircase for an active young family by keeping purity of style in mind from start to finish. An open, airy conduit between floors, its all-white envelope is accented by ebony stained floors with a handrail to match. The stair runner leaves the dark wood risers exposed on either side, which gives the feel of a custom trimmed carpet. Notice the thin dark outlines of the light fixtures? Taken together this is a study in thoughtful restraint that gives a big visual punch.

2. Mix it up

There’s so much to talk about here! First, the horizontal, painted steel rails enclosing the stairs – this is a contemporary twist on traditional balusters, and adds just one more element to the many style moves happening in this space. Then there’s the contrast between the light hue of the handrail and the dark tone of the stair risers. Add a stone wall and a rounded-top door alongside and you have an exciting visual mix of shapes, colors, textures, and materials.

3. Think twice

This photo proves I’m a better architect than I am photographer – but I wanted to include this shot I took at our St. John project in the Virgin Islands because it does a great job of demonstrating the power of repetition. This staircase splits, in a cool rendition of a traditional “bridal” staircase. We did this not only to make a big deal of the entry, but also, to frame the incredible view of the bay outside. This is drama at its best, yet there’s nothing about it that feels stiff or formal. If you’ve got the space for a trick like this, it’s truly a showstopper.

4. Hide it

I love this staircase. And not just because of how cool its horizontal bands of stained wood are. What’s truly special about it is hard to see – and that’s exactly the point. Look closely on the right side of this photo, and about midway up you’ll notice a small piece of hardware. Its purpose? To open the blind door that conceals the storage built right into the wall. By using the same materials in the same way on both the staircase and the walls enclosing it, the door is virtually undetectable. Smart!

5. Shape it

This stunning staircase demonstrates the way design creativity can transform something that’s essentially utilitarian into something that’s actually pretty awe-inspiring. Gracious, elegant, artistic – I could go on and on. A clean-lined, elliptically-shaped riff on its more traditionally rounded cousin, this staircase graces every floor of this modern Georgian-style home with truly special beauty.

6. Spiral it

Spiral staircases have their place – and that’s anyplace where square footage is at a premium. Or, anyplace where a touch of whimsy and romance are welcome, such as this den in a French chateau-inspired home we designed. Descending these stairs makes you feel you’ve entered into a hidden, magical world, just like in a fairytale castle’s turret. And that was the intent!

7. Install windows

This staircase – an inspired take on mid-century style – is notable for several reasons. The balusters that extend from floor to ceiling are one. The windows that climb along with the stairs – illuminating them and turning the simple act of going up and down into an experience – are another. The windows not only bring natural light into the staircase, they offer a glimpse of the outdoors at the same time. That’s a lot to pack into some stairs, don’t you think?

8. Celebrate it

As residential architects, we often talk about “celebrating” aspects of a home’s design. This staircase does exactly that. A sensuous curve of smooth, unadorned plaster, it feels organic. But as you can imagine, it was painstakingly detailed, engineered, and built. We love it for its sculptural sense of simplicity. Note the dark ribbon of handrail that serves a practical purpose, AND outlines the staircase’s shape.

9. Forge it

Here’s another elliptically curved staircase we consider one of our faves. This time, the wood is left bare to showcase its grain and to communicate an earthier, less formal side. But what’s really special here are the wrought iron balusters, individually custom crafted to mimic the same elliptical shape of the staircase itself . This is the kind of thing residential architects are so good at thinking about. They’re the small but critically important details that really elevate a home’s design – no pun intended!

10. Support It

This house is in the mountains, where we looked for every possible opportunity to maximize the scenery outside – including providing gorgeous views to anyone going up or down the stairs. If that doesn’t make this staircase interesting enough, there’s also the stair treads themselves, which almost seem to float. Supported by steel risers on just their right sides, they demonstrate yet another way you can make the act of climbing a stair into an exciting experience.

Looking for more staircase design ideas? Check us out on Instagram, facebook – or visit to our website. That’s where you’ll find plenty of inspiration for staircases and a whole lot more!

Morgante Wilson Architects provides architectural and interior design services in Chicago, Deerfield, Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Northfield, Ravinia, Wilmette and Winnetka – along with Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Fred Wilson, AIA

Fred Wilson, AIA

Founding Partner at Award Winning Chicago Architects, Morgante Wilson