The truth is that although older homes are beautiful and charming, they aren’t as accommodating to today’s lifestyle. We do more work from home. We have man caves, media rooms, home gyms, project rooms, and generally want our homes to be our own little versions of paradise. If we want the charming old bungalow we are going to have to adapt it, bend the house, and make it the home we need it to be. We love the old telephone cubby, the thick paneled pocket doors, the old wobbly doorknobs, the vintage light fixtures, craftsman built-ins, fir wood floors, etc., but dammit! Give us our walk-in closets and air conditioning too.
To view a video of this gardrail being reinstalled visit this link, delivr.com/1gh4t_qr.
It is in this vein that I arrived at an older Portland home to look at a staircase for a client. This type of home is fairly typical for the Portland area; it’s an older Craftsman-style bungalow with stairs going all the way up to the attic. The family needed additional living space and wanted to convert the attic into a bedroom. The problem was that some time ago, they had taken down the guardrail and handrail in order to move some furniture up and now were loathe to put it back because inevitably, the rails would have to come down again if they were going to move any furniture in or out of the attic. Eventually, the handrails and guardrails would have to be replaced from the damage suffered by the repeated dismantling and re-installation. This particular client had spoken with other contractors but wasn’t getting offered any practical solutions.
After pondering this problem, I came up with the bright idea to make the guard rail and handrail removable so that they could easily be lifted out and put back into place as needed. In addition to being an esthetic fit to the style of the home, it had to meet safety standards (built to code), and it had to be easy, quick, and convenient to remove and put back into place.
If the system is inconvenient or cumbersome, there’s greater the chance that it won’t be used. The system would need to be durable, too, to stand up to years of use. I also decided that one shouldn’t be able to tell that the whole system was removable.
I set about devising a system that fit all of the above criteria. Basically, the solution was simple; we would use a few screws to attach a base plate to the floor and one on the railing that would be attached to the wall. In some instances we placed a removable wooden plug to cover the screw. In other instances we used a decorative screw, for example, a slotted brass or chrome screw. When a newel post was required, we used a nut and bolt system. The goal was to easily remove the guardrail and put it back in place with little effort.
After I built and installed the system for my client, I demonstrated how it worked and then I had the client dismantle it to test it. He was quite pleased and wished he had done this ten years ago. Afterwards he sent me an email thanking me and informed me that he had dispatched the twin bed in favor of a king-sized bed, and his friends wonder how he ever got it up there.
Tip: If you take this project on and build it yourself do the following: Build the system, but do not install it until you paint it. Remove the unit, and paint/stain it separately. It will be much easier to paint or stain uninstalled. By painting it first, you will be able to remove it later without breaking any paint lines or chipping the paint.
I have installed several of these systems since, and every time it is a custom job. The concept remains the same, but every staircase and home is unique and requires a tailor-made solution. You can have the charm, beauty, and craftsmanship of an old bungalow and adapt it to fit with the amenities desired if you (or the professional you hire) know how.
Shane Kenney is the owner of Portland Stair Company, known in Portland as “The Stair Guys.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-893-9906. For more information and to view their portfolio visit www.portlandstaircompany.com.