Sophie told me she wanted to write tonight. She is here on the floor, one foot tucked under her in a sphinx-like pose.She is doing her best to stare down my keyboard, or maybe it is the peanut butter sandwich sitting beside the keyboard.

Today has been a stair day. I had no idea how many varieties and nuances there were to building stairs. My computer program for architectural drawing has a nifty little wizard for it. Click on the stairs icon, drag the mouse which has a cute little stair rather than a pointer, and viola! Stairs. Well, not exactly. It took me hours to figure out what not exactly means.

The stair formula wizard has variables for length, width, tread depth, number of treads, bottom height, top height, riser height and winders. Honestly, I have to confess  have been busy learning about riser height and tread depth. If winders are critical to having stairs, mine are going to fall down. They will have a lovely tread depth and the riser height will be precisely the same from the first stair on the first floor to the last stair on the top floor. Well, that is, if without winders my stairs stay standing long enough to get to the top floor.

One of my criteria for everything we are doing with the house is safety. Being blessed with relatives who have been able to be independent well into their 80s and 90s, we think about these things. Over the years I have logged a lot of time with catalogs and with hammers and screwdrivers trying to identify and understand and install adaptive equipment. It is a whole world we did not think about when we were young but now consider fascinating because we are not so young. When you are 60 stepping badly off the bottom step of a 3 stair ladder is very different than doing it when you are 20.

I have learned that this stepping off stairs thing is important and I should pay attention. I did figure out what winders were and we are not going to have any. We are too old. Others who might not want any because they are too young. From my reckoning they are only good from about age 12 to 53 1/2 years of age and 53 may be pushing it. Any way you count it, a winder looks like a disaster waiting to happen. They do not meet my ultimate criteria for stairs….equal tread depth. I hate treading into the murky waters of “how deep is this stair.” We all know that monsters inhabit stairs. Treading can be quite dangerous.

A winder is like a path that meanders from here to there except that it winds rather than meanders. It is like Jack’s beanstalk. It climbs and curves its way ever higher. The (896 page) user guide to the program describes winders as “steps located where a staircase turns and are narrower on the inside of the turn than they are on the outside.” I get it. It sounds bad. The part about it turning sounds bad. “Curved stair sections are typically used to create winders, although straight stairs can also be used.” Stairs should be square or rectangles. They should not be round. Round sounds like a ball. Balls on stairs are bad. Ask Sophie. She will tell you that you cannot catch a ball if it gets rolling downstairs.

“A staircase defined as a winder expands to fill in any gaps between the side of the stairs and nearby walls.” OK. No question. Winders are bad. Anything that expands to fill gaps is bad. What if the monsters get on the wrong side of the gap? Worse yet, what if they are half in and half out when it starts to expand. If the business end of a monster is trapped half in and half out of my expanding stairs that is bad, I know it is bad. If I use my stairs something is going to bite me, I am sure of it. If I am on a winder it is going to be even harder to avoid them.

Our old house had what are called stacked stairs. Stacked stairs sit one on top of each other in a neat patten. They save space and are quite tidy. They can also be a bit claustrophobic because the ceiling for one set is the floor for the set above. One stack of out of the stack were open stairs. You could see through them. That helped with the claustrophobic feeling. Since they were open if you walked up your stack the same time someone was walking up their stack it was really confusing. No matter what you felt like things were moving in the wrong direction. If you could get far enough back from the stairs you could see that they were running two parallel lines separated by about the standard 109 5/8ths inch distance from one floor to the next. How you can measure 5/8th of an inch when you are building 109 inches of stair height is fodder for another day. I shall leave that thought for you to do with as you please.

But the stairs. Yes. Why do we have stairs? It would make a lot more sense to sleep on the same floor as you do everything else but sometimes you need to build up not out. You could plant a tree and climb up it.We have thought to install a tire swing or a zip line in this crazy huge three story house we are renting while we wait for our house to be rebuilt. The zip line is out. The drop is too steep. If you were carrying a cup of coffee the outcome could be very bad. Ah, stairs are a good idea after all.

This huge temporary house has two three floors, a main floor, a lower floor and a loft floor. The stairs are stacked. They are stacked for four stacks, two stacks of 9 plus a landing per level. The riser height is not the same from one stack to the next. The tread depth is not even. Three of the treads between the main floor and the loft tip ever so slightly backwards so that your toe is elevated a tiny bit above your heal. If you catch it just right you start to topple over. One of the stair treads on the first stack up from the main level to the loft level is about 1/2 less deep than those around it. If you don’t know it is coming, you can literally feel like you missed the tread when you took your step.

I know all of this stuff because I have examined the steps up and down over and over. I have slithered along from stair to stair tape measure in hand trying to find just the right combination of depth, rise and width. In this older house the years have added character to the wood and age has shaped the shag carpet wrapped around each stair tread. The stairs have limitless possible options. Sometimes I want to yank out a tread depth from stair 4 and match it with the riser from stair 8 and see how they go together. I am hesitant to do it because I don’t want to wake up a monster. So, I just have to imagine how they might go together.

That is the way our house is right now. I just have to imagine it since it is only exists on paper or in 3-D renderings on my computer. I make little pictures of parts of the model and decorate my desk with them. I examine the stairs and their risers and try to imagine which ones are perfect. I imagine that they are like your family. You learn to be with them no matter what. It is the monsters you have to keep an eye out for.


computer generated model of a 2 story room with stairs that do not make it to the 2 nd floor.

Stair can be tricky. They can fool you, and the computer program. The set of stairs in this rendering did not get the proverbial whistle blown on them. As I examined the thing I had drawn I figured what’s a few feet when you forgot to put a floor on the room you are trying to reach.