Winkelman Architecture

Modern Handcrafted Stair

Southern Maine

Architect: Will Winkelman, Winkelman Architecture

Scope: Custom spiral stair

Builder: Nate Holyoke Builders

Photographer: Jeff Roberts

Photography note: Reproduction of photography prohibited

This was an unusual undertaking: a commission for a unique, artful and thoughtfully crafted spiral stair.

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The stair is for access to a sleeping loft in a small, multi-purpose, rustic, but refined barn. A delightful inspirational image was provided by the client of a hand-crafted spiral stair by a early-to-mid century modernist furniture maker named Wharton Esherick, from Pennsylvania. 

The builder, or craftsmen I should say, was Nate Holyoke, a builder with whom we have a history of collaboration and trust. Nate has a crew of gifted craftsmen who feed on the funky and unusual.  This design is the outcome of searching for the right compositional fit to this space where a stereotypical spiral stair assembly with a vertical center post didn’t feel right. Instead, the space felt like it wanted a horizontal composition, fit and flow. From that decision evolved the stacked assembly of horizontal parts. Spinal analogies are fitting, with the stair made of organically formed vertebral parts, morphing as they ascended, building on a center, twisting spine.

The builders made a one-half full size model from pine timbers to study the relationship of the parts to each other, and to test their methodology of shaping and finishing each tread. The treads are made from glued up salvaged white oak timbers, then shaped with chainsaws, grinders, and scrappers. The guardrail, a clean and simple insertion of glass (frameless, cantilevered from a concealed steel shoe), is fully inset into the timbers, minimizing visual competition with the wooden composition. The handrail follows the natural path of travel, and is wrapped with hand-stitched leather. The leather was formed around heat shaped PVC pipe that has been filled with epoxy. Leather rings separate each tread, or vertebra. This was a true collaboration of the trades: pen and paper with chainsaw and wood.