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Straight Stairs, U-Shaped Stairs, L-Shaped Stairs and Circular Stairs: Which Are Right For Your Project?

Straight Stairs, U-Shaped Stairs, L-Shaped Stairs and Circular Stairs: Which Are Right For Your Project?

By Kara Parlin


If you’re embarking on a home renovation project that requires adding or modifying stairs, you have many options to choose from. Different stair types can influence your home’s overall style, provide a focal point or blend unobtrusively into your existing design. Here are some pros and cons of the most common types of stairs to help you get started.

Straight stairs

Straight stairs are the most common type you’ll see in many homes. They descend in a straight line from one floor to the next, with 16 or fewer steps.

Pros: Because straight stairs are the most common, they have several advantages. They’re easy to install, require no middle supporting structure, are easy to ascend and descend and lend themselves to a simple railing design and fit.

Cons: Straight stairs require a hefty amount of linear space compared to other styles and offer less privacy between floors.

L-shaped stairs

Quarter-turn, or L-shaped, stairs are similar to straight stairs but have a landing and a 90-degree bend. The transition point often occurs near the middle of the stairway length but can be placed at other points along the staircase.

Pros: L-shaped stairs provide a bit more visual interest than straight stairs and can help provide a visual barrier between floors.

Cons: Unlike straight stairs, these usually require support under the landing. They are a bit more difficult to build and require more complex handrail construction.

U-shaped stairs

U-shaped stairs — also referred to as switchback stairs — are essentially two parallel flights of stairs connected by a landing that results in a 180-degree turn.

Pros: This style of stairs uses your space more efficiently and can fit more easily into your renovation plan.

Cons: While the design can provide architectural interest, it doesn’t offer the ‘grand’ view and entrance as you descend. Though easier than other types, U-shaped stairs can be more difficult to build than straight or L-shaped stairs.

Circular stairs

Circular stairs are similar to L- and U-shaped stairs but without any landings. The angle on this type of stairs is achieved using wedge-shaped or triangular steps. Circular stairs are also called winder stairs.

Pros: Circular stairs can offer the highest degree of visual interest and occupy less space.

Cons: Navigating circular stairs poses the biggest challenge, since the stair steps can vary in size and shape and there is no landing to rest on. You may also have a harder time adding handrails to this type of design.

Among the wide variety of stair styles to choose from, these four are the most common. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages that you’ll need to weigh as you plan your renovation. Look for inspiration on Emprove to plan and budget your project.

Kara Parlin is a writer with more than 15 years of experience. She has served as magazine editor for home and business technology publications and brand copywriter in the consumer packaged goods industry. Parlin holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the Boston University College of Communication.

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