colourful hallway ideas: mustard accent chair with sage green-painted stairs and accent runners

Ideas and inspiration for your loft conversion stairs

When planning a loft conversion, attention often falls to the design of the new space you’re creating – typically a bedroom and ensuite – but getting the stairs right can make or break the entire project.

And they can be difficult to plan successfully. Not only will their location play a part in how you use your newly converted space, but the stairs can also impact how the rest of the property flows. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that badly designed loft conversion stairs can be a common reason that loft conversions are failed by building inspectors. While most reputable loft conversion companies will have ample expertise in putting in stairs for a loft project, if you’re working with a general contractor or for those brave enough to DIY a conversion, the design of the stairs and whether they meet regulations is important to get right from the start.  

That’s because If issues aren’t discovered until later, your loft stairs may need some pretty major structural alterations, which can make a substantial dent in the budget.

From getting the design right to ensuring it complies with regulations, here’s everything you need to know about loft conversion stairs.

lobby of house with wooden staircase

Pay attention to regulations

According to Resi, loft conversion stairs have their own regulations to adhere to.

  • Width and height – While there’s no minimum on the width a staircase can be, you should bear in mind that you’ll need to be able to come and go freely, as well as carry furniture up them. Most local authorities will accept a reduced stair width of 600mm where it only gives access to one or two new bedrooms.
  • Interestingly, you also can’t have more than 16 stairs, though rarely do homeowners ever need to go over 14.
  • Each step on your staircase has to be the same height and length. The ‘rise’ (length of the step) can be a minimum of 150mm and a maximum of 220mm, while the ‘going’ (height of the step) a minimum of 223mm and a maximum of 320mm.
  • Head height – Must be at least 2m, unless located under a sloping roof. With a sloped roof, the head height should be 1.9m at the centre and 1.8m at the edges.
  • The pitch (slope of your stairs) for a domestic staircase cannot exceed 42°.
  • The handrail for your staircase needs to be between 900mm and 1000mm high.
  • You need to include a landing at both the top and bottom of the stairs, which will also need to be the same width as the stairs.
  • A retractable ladder is not a permitted means of access to a loft conversion. The three types that can be considered are: a standard staircase, a spiral staircase, an alternating tread (‘space saver’) staircase.

And there are some other regulations you need to be aware of when it comes to loft conversion stairs, including keeping them fire-safe.

“Adding a loft conversion to a traditional two-storey house means that the new room will be too high to escape safely via the windows in a fire so, in most cases, the new stairs will be the escape route,” explains James Garrett, policy and strategy advisor at Planning Portal, powered by TerraQuest.

“That means they need to be easy to use and offer sufficient protection from the fire.”

James says new fire-resisting doors and, in some cases, partitions will be needed to protect the stairway.

“Additionally, mains powered, interlinked smoke alarms will need fitting within the stairway at each level throughout the house to make sure the full escape route is protected.”

Beyond fire safety, building regulations also exist to protect the structural integrity of the building, the safety of its occupants, and the potential impacts on others.

“A loft conversion will require a traditional staircase, although ‘space-saving’ stairs can be used where needed, but will still need to compliant and safe to use,” James continues.

“This means including features such as handrails, and not making them too narrow or steep.”

Cutting through joists to create the opening for the new stairs will impact both the ceiling and, potentially, the integrity of the roof.

“Strengthening will be required around the opening, and joists may need upgrading to ensure that the new room’s floor is sufficiently sturdy,” James adds.

Take a look at this traditional Victorian rectory with fresh contemporary feel 3

Consider the location of your stairs

Traditionally loft conversion stairs are positioned above the existing stairs as this is the most space-efficient solution.

And of course this is the best way to ensure the loft conversion stairs look like they have always been there.

“Building your new stairs over the existing is likely to result in the least amount of space wasted throughout the property,” explains Oliver Burgess, architect and studio manager at Resi.

“Often with Victorian properties, if you have two rooms to the front of the first floor, this may result in one being a smaller box room. Consider using this space as a walk in wardrobe, office, play room.”

However, if putting one set of stairs above the other isn’t viable, it is possible to choose an alternative location.

It is worth spending the time with your designer or architect to explore whether there may be architecturally clever alternatives, but keep in mind the stairs may take up more of your precious loft space if you do opt for a different location.

loft stairs image

To blend or contrast?

Many interior design experts believe new loft conversion stairs generally work best when they’re designed to match the existing main stairs, often appearing indistinguishable from those in the original house. 

“When creating a loft conversion, the first thing to decide on is whether you want to have a clear delineation between the old and the new, or whether you’re going to be faithful to the original start of the house,” explains Ann Marie Cousins, founder of AMC Design.

“Whatever you decide, the main thing I would advocate on a staircase for loft conversion is to keep it simple,” she continues.

“A pared-down chamfered oak spindle and a simple handrail will be suitable in a period conversion as well as a contemporary one.”

However, loft conversion stairs also present an opportunity to contrast with the existing staircase.

Geoffrey White, managing director at GLW Engineering, says floating steps and industrial-inspired metal works are both fantastic options if you’re looking to add a contemporary spin.

“Don’t be afraid to get creative,” adds Ryan Fitzgerald, founder of Raleigh Realty.

“I once did a walnut and glass combo on loft conversion stairs that was straight-up art. It’s about balance. You want stairs you’re proud to show off, not just something to get you upstairs. With the right loft stair design, you can have functionality and high style too.”

wooden stairs with glass balustrade

Consider the cost

When it comes to loft conversion stairs, John Davis, founder and operational director at Springfield Steel Buildings, says the cost will depend on the type of staircase you choose and the quality specified.

“In my experience, decent quality loft conversion stairs will typically set you back £1,500 to £3,000, but prices can vary depending on the design complexity and materials used, with some even costing up to £20,000,” John explains.

“When planning a loft conversion, you need to consider the design and functionality of the stairs leading to your new loft space. I recommend prioritising safety and ease of access above all else.”

Play with paint

Whether you opt to blend with the old or contrast for a more stand-out stair design, it is worth considering your paint scheme.

 “To create a seamless transition between new and existing spaces in your home, choosing the right style and aesthetic of your loft staircase is key,” explains Liz Igwe, interior and paint expert at Dowsing & Reynolds.

“Whether you want to create an understated look or you’re looking to create a contrasting focal point, both styles can be achieved by playing with paint. To blend your stairway with your existing home’s colour scheme, opt for a wooden style staircase and choose neutral paint tones to create an understated and minimalistic look.”

To tap into current trends, Liz says rainbow stairway designs that get progressively lighter with colour as you go upstairs are proving popular right now.

“This helps to take your eyes upwards, helping to create a more spacious feel – which is great for tight spaces such as loft conversions,” she explains.

“To get the look, add a touch of white paint at each stage to make it a shade paler. Finish your stairway with a runner that complements the paintwork to tie the space together.”

Ann Marie agrees that paint is a great way to make an impact with the design of the loft stairs.

“Painting the banister spindles and newel posts a striking colour or opting for a contrasting shade for the banister is a great way to introduce colour in a very low commitment way,” she suggests.

Loft conversion stairs also present an opportunity to go bold.

“You could consider selecting a bright and bold shade to help make your staircase a striking design feature in your home,” Liz continues.

“Pair with complementary artwork to add to the focal point and finish your stairway design with a runner that complements the paintwork to tie the space together.”

colourful hallway ideas: mustard accent chair with sage green-painted stairs and accent runners

Introduce natural light

One legitimate concern many people have is that converting their loft, with the addition of a new staircase, could make their existing landing very dark.

Geoffrey suggests one way round this is to consider installing a skylight.

“This will introduce some natural light into the space and accentuate the aesthetics of your staircase,” he explains.

If you’re a semi-detached property and your stairs run along the detached side, you could also consider adding a side window to add light in.

“Under permitted development guidance, this window will need to be opaque and non-opening below 1.7m from the finish floor level,” Oliver explains.

Think about the flooring

Experiment with stair coverings like carpets for comfort, or sleek wood for a more modern look.

“I recommend incorporating unique patterns and textures to bring a more personal touch to your loft stairs,” Geoffrey explains.

Building regs generally require that there is a door in a loft conversion, so you’ll have a door either at the top or bottom of the stairs.

Ann Marie says this is the perfect place to delineate the change in flooring, if you are not otherwise re-carpeting the hall stairs and landing.

“Painted stairs can look great, but can be noisy, so we would advise against them unless you think the loft conversion would rarely be used,” she adds.

Runners are a great way to distract the eye if you were having a change of flooring from the main house to loft conversion, and can be a great way to introduce some colour and pattern.”

Striped stair carpet with white painted stairs and mustard edging
Image Credit: Tapi Carpets and Floors

Get creative with storage

Storage is key in a loft conversion, given that you are taking away the attic space where you might previously have hidden the Christmas tree and all your suitcases.

According to Ann Marie, loft stairs are a perfect place to hide away some extra storage, which would not have necessarily been the priority in the original house.

Geoffrey adds that creative storage solutions under the stairs can help maximise the efficiency of smaller loft spaces.

Consider a space saver staircase

If you’re short of space, you can add a space saver staircase.

“This is a half way house between a ladder and a staircase, and will reduce down the stairs impact on the whole house as their run is a lot shorter,” Oliver explains.

“It is more difficult to use, so avoid if this is a forever home and you will struggle to get furniture up there – but if this is going to a small mezzanine space it might be more helpful.” 

Add in some art

Ann Marie suggests adding in art above the stairs or on the quarter landing, if there is one.

“It is best to choose something robust as the stairs might be narrow, so I’d advise opting for a canvas or a print in a frame with acrylic for glass,” she adds.

Light them up

Like lighting in the rest of the loft, Ann Marie advises considering how you want to light the stairs at the planning stage of the project.

“Lighting is something you always have to think about, almost from the very beginning of any project, because rewiring later on is messy, expensive and inconvenient,” she explains.

If you’re considering adding a pendant light, you need to think about the scale and whether you have enough headroom. Instead, Ann Marie suggests using a directional spot light or wall light.

Consider the accessibility of the materials used

A bespoke, metal staircase would look incredible, but if it’s going to the loft or a terraced property, it might need to be prefabricated off site, and then craned in.

“This will be more expensive than building in timber as standard,” Oliver explains.