A staircase is rarely just a staircase. As you climb or descend you are taken somewhere new or, on rare occasions, somewhere extremely old.
The Etches Collection: Museum of Jurassic Marine Life sits in the Dorset village of Kimmeridge, along England’s Jurassic Coast. It is home to a unique collection of some 2,500 fossil specimens, lovingly curated over 30 years by local expert Steve Etches. With his ever-growing collection steadily taking over his house, Etches began seeking a permanent home for these ancient treasures and in 2016 that dream became a reality.
At one end of the museum, Etches’ workshop, which provides access to his office from a small mezzanine, is visible to the public through a glazed screen. From the point of planning, Janie Price, of Kennedy O’Callaghan Architects, knew they needed to find a spiral staircase solution that both worked practically in the small space and fitted with the contemporary design of the rest of the museum. Janie explained: “I looked on the internet for something suitable. We needed a very small diameter spiral staircase and I liked the image of the British Spirals & Castings Scandinavian staircase as it was modern and simple and had timber treads to suit our interior, which is exposed CLT.”
The balustrade continues around the mezzanine and, with its prominent visibility, it was important that the appearance be consistent with the surrounding space. In particular, Janie was keen that it matched that of the main staircase, which is in-situ concrete with a white steel balustrade and beech handrail. In keeping with this simple, clean-cut feel, the workshop staircase is a cast aluminium spiral staircase with plain metal balusters, powder coated white, and with Birch Faced Ply treads.
The main challenge was the size and setting of the staircase. “[It] had to be as small as possible,” Janie explained, “and it had to be set out carefully to avoid the danger of walking into the area of low headroom.” To this end, the staircase has a compact 1194mm diameter and the appearance has been kept minimalistic, omitting the central newel in favour of continuous balusters. In order to achieve this, the size of the balusters was increased to 32mm with a 40mm newel, making it barely noticeable. The architects also wanted a continuous handrail, without a projecting newel mid-span, and Janie was pleased to find that British Spirals & Castings were more than happy to adapt the original proposal.
Size and setting weren’t the only challenges to contend with on this project: “Building Control would not accept an open-riser staircase in a public building because the fossil collector, Steve Etches, is able to invite the public into his workshop.” To overcome this particular problem, a standard 10mm riser bar was included and a sign was made to indicate that the staircase was only for private use.
The final result is a staircase of modern design and organic shape, which beautifully reflects the natural patterns of the ammonite fossils so carefully housed and preserved amongst the collection in Etches’ workshop and the museum beyond. Following the curve of the stair takes you not just into the heart of the museum but back into deep time and England’s Jurassic past.
Commenting on the fully-installed staircase, Janie Price said:
“British Spirals & Castings were helpful in developing the design and details to suit our requirements. The staircase sits comfortably in its setting.”
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