Reworking the Stairs

Stair layout is another major consideration. A straight staircase would have been too steep for Janet's parents, Jacqueline and Len Buckley. So Cratsley designed a double flight with a landing, adding a skylight directly above for maximum illumination. Cratsley points out that although skylights can detract from historic homes, this one won't be noticeable on the back of the house. "In this case, gaining the light is more important," she says.

Just as important is getting the stairway right. Landings under attic ceilings are notorious head bumpers. In order to meet the code requirement for height between the landing and the ceiling (measured at the edge of the first stair), Tom and TOH master carpenter Norm Abram whip out their calculators. After about 10 minutes of numbers crunching, they arrive at a combination of landing depth, stair rise, and tread run that satisfies all the code requirements while giving the Buckleys a comfortable stairway — including a seat built into an extra-wide landing.

"All in a day's work," says Tom, as he quickly marks off cuts on the stair risers. "But this project really demonstrates why a conversion can be tricky. It's hard to meet code in these tight spaces, but those codes are there for a reason. If the job's done properly, you'll have a space you can really live in safely."

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