Stepping up and stepping down

floating or suspended stepsThe floating or suspended steps with no visible support structure are a common feature in modern interior architecture where a lighter look is desirable. I can’t recall seeing them used in a garden before and, to be honest, I am not sure they add a great deal to this particular scene. But I did photograph it in a place with a large budget where the owners and designer could clearly afford such attention to detail.

Wide steps, beautifully constructed, link two different levels of the same garden (Mount St John in Yorkshire). It is the generous width of the steps and the gradient which make this look more graceful than the inset photograph from Scampston. The gradient is sufficiently gradual to enable the use of a lawnmower alongside and to avoid the need for the decidedly utility hand rails which detract from the other steps.
003These are the classic steps which are attributed to the great architect Edwin Lutyens during the time of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of last century. A central circle has inwardly curved steps on the upper side and outwardly curved steps leading downwards. Good design does not date. Good construction also lasts the distance.
???????????????????????????????These steps have the outward curve only, but I chose them because they are an example of dry climate steps. The narrow strips on the treads are actually terracotta tiles placed on their sides. The look is detailed and attractive although I imagine it would be expensive to do here Both clay brick and terracotta will become moss-covered and very slippery in damper climates like ours. Note the care and precision in construction.
???????????????????????????????Not every set of steps is going to be a precisely engineered work. These were clearly DIY, although access to flat slabs of stone for the treads gives the impression of permanent quality. Look at the risers – some are local round stones held together with cement. In the absence of suitable stone slabs, check out the modern concrete pavers on offer. These can be cut to size and the finish can be good enough to deceive most eyes.
???????????????????????????????No matter what material you choose to construct your steps, there are well established guidelines for measurements. For comfort, the gradient is less than internal house stairs. Step risers should not be more than 15cm high and the corresponding step tread around 30cm from front to back. There is plenty of information on proportions that work best. Generously wide steps usually look more gracious than tight, narrow steps where space allows.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.