I do love old staircases. I’ve been using salvaged ones for several decades now.
The quality of the craftsmanship and materials found in them cannot be replicated today.
It’s seems that each one I find is a one-of-a-kind, unlike newly built ones which can be identical whether they are found in small homes or monstrous manors… from one side of the country to the other.
I do love the old hand-tooled marks. and the wear patterns that come about through much use… treads that have been worn by a century or more of climbing, railings worn smooth by hands of both young and old alike. I wonder about those who might have slid down those railings laughing all the way, or the children that might have sneaked down the stairs to see what Santa might have brought, or perhaps a young daughter on her way to her first date as her father anxiously looks on.
Some of my clients love the squeaks that seem to come with and old staircase. I do my best to get rid of them during the install, but it seems no matter what I do at least one will reappear. I had a kind client thank me deeply for “creating that lovely squeak”. I accepted the compliment, not wanting to confess how much effort I had put into removing it, and had failed.
I have spent over 30 years reusing salvaged materials in newer homes. Of all of the materials that I find available staircases are quite often the most numerous, and often the greatest bargain. Part of the reason for the abundance, and the low price, is because of a staircases massive size… they are huge and tough to manage, and struggle to put into place. Another reason is because they were often built for a very particular location, every staircase needs to start at a certain exact point and end at one as well. Another issue, and this is a big one, Building Codes often specify that a each rise height can vary no more than a very small amount… the risers on some old staircases vary a good bit… it’s smart to measure each one before buying. And keep in mind that the distance from the top of the first floor to the top of the second floor needs to match the height of the staircase exactly… you can’t have half a step left over at the top!!!
With all of the above kept in mind. When I build a new home and I know that I want to use an old salvaged staircase, I often start by finding and procuring the staircase first and then designing and building the home with those dimensions in mind.
I did rebuild an old house once that had a precious staircase in it that I knew it would not pass code due to varying dimensions in the risers. I went ahead with it hoping that somehow I could get it to pass. The building inspector did notice it, but had a talk with the owners of the home, pointing out the “imperfection” but then passing it on their acceptance. We were all tickled.