The Carved Staircase

If you haven't already looked at the Esherick staircase, I suggest you do so now. I have seen a number of cantilevered staircases like this, and I doubt if Esherick's was the first, but it did provide the inspiration for me. I wasn't going to do anything that required the split level feature that he used, and in the interests of practicality, it couldn't be the main staircase that I would use several times a day (no it's not up to code. Don't ask.), but I knew I wanted a cozy space for reading, and this could be the connection to that.

So the house was built without a staircase to the cozy space, and I was left to cast around for some wood from which to build it. This is not as easy as it might sound! No one wants to deal with a tyro woodworker who wants one or two logs, especially if you are looking for something a little off-beat. I decided that there was no way I would try for the triangular helix that Esherick did, so I wanted a nice clear log with some character, and a little twist that would approximate the helix. Several false starts and even more years later, I found what I wanted at a yard in Kamas, Utah; about a 7 hour drive from my house in Boise. It wasn't cheap, either - about $2.00/BF for a green log - the guy who sold it to me claimed it was black walnut, but it couldn't be; the heartwood was the same color as the sapwood, which you can see is quite light. It must be ash or bay laurel, or maybe sycamore. At the same yard I got the pinion pine that was used for the steps.

I had already engaged Jack Christensen for the job. He had an impressive resume that included a lot of oddball staircases, but none quite so odd as this. I had a reprint of an article that included a detail of the joinery of the Esherick staircase which I gave to Jack, and he followed it faithfully after acquiring some schedua for the mortice caps. It took a few months to let the wood dry out, and then a few more to get it done and installed, but finally it was finished, and Jack finished off the room above it by building a guard rail out of some applewood he got from an orchard near his house that was doing some culling. He also redid the bench I built and added a little folding table (great for a laptop).

Of course, nothing is perfect. My dog refuses to navigate the steps (my previous one would have done it - she had several canine first ascents in the Pioneers and Sawtooths) so I can't use the room unless I have been home for a while and he feels secure by himself. And it can get hot up there in the summer (though it is delightful in the winter), and the windows are hard to clean. The elk antler (no elk were harmed for this; all the antler was from spring scavenging) only looks like a guard rail - it wouldn't break your fall if you really lost your balance. All in all, though, I think the combination of the staircase and the cozy room makes for a very nice feature.