Staircase Design: 8 types of lighting 

All architects and designers face, at some point of their professional careers, to design staircases for their project.  But only a few consider how to properly illuminate them.

Before entering right into the matter of staircase lighting it is necessary to first understand the criteria that confer (by their measurements) comfort to the users.

Staircase design with treads illumination to make them look luxurious


There’s a simple formula to check if the staircase design is comfortable. 

This theory was developed by François Blondel and says the following:

Staircase dimensions should be: 

2 TREADS + 1 RISER = 65cm~67cm.

However, as every rule, this one also has exceptions. All interior staircase design require in-depth analysis in order to develop properly in the design.

Going into matter of staircase lighting design, there are many types of staircases and designing lighting for each one of them need special and individual attention.

Staircase designs & types are as many as our imagination allows us to create.

However, we can classify them in:

1.- IMPERIAL STAIRCASE DESIGN: one sweeping set of steps that splits off into two smaller flights going in opposite directions.

2.- BACK AND FORTH or SCISSORS STAIRCASE DESIGN: The bend is taken even further to form a full U shape, and a landing separates the two parallel flights. 

3.- MULTI-DIRECTIONAL STAIRCASE DESIGN: 2, 3 or more sections in different directions. They can be inscribed in an “L” a “U” a triangle or any polygonal form in plant.

4.- COMPENSATED STAIRCASE DESIGN: When straight sections are combined with curved sections.

5.- SPIRAL STAIRCASE DESIGN: Center around a single pole.

Staircase Design with embed light onto the wall it's a very delicate and unique lighting design

Now, how should we design the lighting of these stairscases?

When starting to pencil out your first ideas on a project think about the following considerations and premises:

1.- Every staircase tread is important. But usually the first tread and landing should be more visible. 

Look at this piece to illuminate the first tread

2.- Treads on curved staircases need more light on the widest side.

3.- Railings and handrails are not decorative. Light there can never be blinding.

4.- The nosing cannot become a reflector. This means that you must be careful when choosing the placement of the light with the materials of the staircase.

5.- In a space the staircase must be perceived from every point of view.

6.- In a multilevel staircase is very different to light up FROM the following rise of the tread than light up the rise TO USE IT as a reflector

7.- Landings are that, a space to rest, but they’re still part of the ladder. They have the same treatment as any step

Creativity is the mainstay of design and the above considerations will guide you to integrate light into a staircase by combining some of the following effects:

1.- Staircase Floor light

The light serves to illuminate the tread from a side and the same applies to the riser. You can use short angle embed lights.

Look at ultra thin LED strips

Look at LED aluminum channels ideal for treads and risers. 

escaleras interiores con iluminación puntual circular

2.- Step light for staircases

This lighting type illuminates the elevation changes.   It is usually concealed at the angle between the tread and the riser to illuminate both vertically (riser) and horizontally (tread).  

Usually are used ultra thin led strips embedded in very thin LED Channels.

Look at this rigid strip to illuminate treads

escaleras interiores con iluminación de huellas

3.- Handrail light for staircase

Staircase banister light actually serves to illuminate the steps of the staircase.

Light has to be carefully placed to ensure that it’s emitted strictly towards the steps, avoiding the subject.   

This effect should pay attention to the subject’s view from the first tread. A “sine qua non” condition is that the emitter from the handrail must not be seen. 

For this use profiles of handrails specialized in short emission angle

escaleras interiores con iluminación embutida en pasamanos

4.- Periphery light for staircases.

Use this resource to illuminate staircases confined by hard elements (wall, railing). 

Usually the light is integrated into the perimeter element. 

It is used to illuminate from the bottom (treads or risers) or integrated at the height of the handrail.  

When integrated, slots can be used in any direction.

5.- General screen light for staircases.

It is used to illuminate the entire staircase route continuous with linear systems or punctual lighting  

Low intensity LED strips are always installed with LED aluminium channels. Low-light embed punctual luminaires can also be used.

escalera interior iluminación en planta

6.- Suspension light for staircases.

It is used to illuminate structural elements on permeable stairs. It serves to increase the effect of floating staircase. 

For this purpose medium intensity luminaires are used always bouncing away from the subject’s visual.

7.- Contour light for staircases.

It serves to illuminate staircases from the near outer the staircase

It is ideal to emphasize the effect of monumentality,  

Wide cone diffuse light luminaires and are used.

8.- Indirect light for staircases.

Serves to illuminate the staircase from the inclined surface using it as a reflector. 

On stairs of more than 1 level, the inclined surface can be used as a light bouncer to generate diffuse light on its path.  

Short-angle light emitters are used from the bottom up to bounce off the inclined surface.

Finally, it’s necessary to remember that in a vertical path the subject move across to reach the upper floor but the staircase obviously don’t move.   Consequently the light shouldn’t do so either.

In domed spaces, staircase automatic lighting intensity changes are never included and much less light position changes.  

Finally, do not use any dimmer for the ladder. 

Here you can find reasons why light regulators are not always your best option.

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