Enter an impressive home and you’re likely to find a well-appointed kitchen, an amazing master bath, perhaps a home theater, and maybe even a spectacular and inviting outdoor living space. But add to any home a remarkable custom staircase, and you can instantly turn what may have been a beautiful home into a majestic showstopper.
Fortunately for builders and homeowners, Charlotte is home to a number of remarkable stair builders. These companies specialize in the creation of central architectural features that not only carry occupants to second stories and beyond, but also provide a stunning view along the way.
Consider Zepsa Industries Inc., the architectural woodworking firm that makes high quality staircases and more from its Charlotte-based 80,000-square-foot shop. Past clients have included Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, and the family of cosmetics company founder Estee Lauder.
Through craftsmanship and creativity, there are myriad ways of getting people from one floor to another, says Brian Zepsa, who handles marketing for the firm. “A stair is a functioning piece of the home to get you from one place to the next, but we think of it as a piece of furniture for the home and treat it that way,” he says.Zepsa, son of founder Ed Zepsa, says the company begins each staircase project with raw materials to shape into a functional piece of art. The staff includes woodworking experts recruited from around the world. As a result, staircases can include some pretty amazing flourishes.
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“When you get into the high-end houses, you get into beautiful wood panels and hand-carved motifs. You might have clients selecting exotic woods. You might have a staircase that’s 6 feet wide. It might even start out straight and then curve or split partway up the stairs.”
Trend settersStairway shapes and designs are often influenced by the times, notes Peter Leeke, president of Kingswood Custom Homes, Inc.
Through his 30-plus years of building homes in Charlotte, Charleston and the UK, Leeke has seen a wide array of stairs installed in homes. While the basic structural elements of the stairs he has put into homes have remained the same over the years, the specifics of materials and ornamental touches selected by his clients have changed somewhat over the years.
“Stairs have evolved around trends in architecture. So, as we go through the decades, through different eras of architecture, such as Georgian, English manor, Regency - - for example – you’ll find that staircases are generally a direct reflection of current architectural trends. In building a home, it’s also really important to take features from the outside of the house and apply them, as design elements, inside the home. That’s how the different styles of stairways have taken on elements of different trends.” Leeke explains how the process of creating a custom staircase often begins: “Typically the shape of the stair is driven by the architect. For example, if we’re building a Georgian or French style house, the architect may opt for a circular stair.”
From there, he says, the details of the stairs begin to take shape. “The railing is driven by the interior designer, so you may have something like a continuous iron railing or steel pickets on the stair for certain kinds of architecture. Or you might have a Georgian style house that is traditional home that might have wooden pickets and railings. Some of the more elaborate homes will have a steel handrail or combo of the two. Very custom designed, in other words. Every one is different.”
Stairs with a twistArtistic stairway statements aren’t limited to luxury homes. Commercial buildings, even yachts, play home to unique stair projects.
Fred Watson, founder and owner of Watson Stairs, Inc., in Huntersville, has done his fair share of traditional residential work in the last 25 years – and has also had some unique commercial projects, too. “We’re actually matching an existing staircase in one of the buildings at Winthrop University.”
Even certain residential projects can take a different twist.
“The most unusual stair project we did was one in which the only support was a center stringer,” Watson says. “The treads, the part of the stairs you actually step on, were cantilevered off each side of that center support. It was a very contemporary piece without risers.”
Projects can range in price from $25,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars for custom work that includes relief carvings, balusters and finials, even lavish stonework on risers. Staircases command attention during the building process, and continue to do so after the completion of a home, serving as stately reflections of trends and tastes. Creating and building staircases captures the attention and imagination of those who choose to make it their livelihood.
“I love building stairs,” says Watson. “I love seeing it when we get done and knowing it went from being a rough piece of lumber and knowing it’s now a gorgeous finished stairway.”