Custom Home Steps Up with Stylish Treads

A custom-designed and built house isn’t your everyday gift from a husband to a wife. But homeowner Mike Clarke did just that. He surprised his wife, Annie, with their dream home in Plymouth, Vt. Inspired by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Clarke worked with architect Daniel J. Pratt, president of RCWA Architects & Planners in Pittsfield, Vt., to create the home. One feature that stands out is a glass staircase, reminiscent of Wright’s Falling Waters.

According to Pratt, one of the original ideas was to have a waterfall cascading in front of the fireplace, but that was ruled out by the owner. Instead, Clarke sent Pratt a clipping of a glass stair and wondered if such a concept would work in this home.

“It was an easy ‘yes’ and I insisted on the treads being of blue glass,” says Pratt. “I wanted to bring back into the project the feel of cascading water even if it was by image only–in this case a blue glass staircase.”

Pratt says while he had worked previously on many dynamic stairs, this was his first made of glass.

“The design is more than just the glass. If you follow the lines you will note an adherence to sound design principles with the metal stringers, hangers and rail supports; all in perfect alignment and spacing. Not an easy task,” says Pratt. “The stair fabricator executed the work flawlessly from a very well organized set of detailed drawings. ‘The devil is in the details’ is a comment we hear a lot. We live by providing well-detailed construction documents.”

Given that this was a new experience and opportunity, Pratt says his initial reaction was one of excitement.

“We can do this–and we can do it well!” were his initial thoughts. “My concern was finding the right glass for the project. I also wanted to have each tread lit by small lights mounted on the back of each tread, adding to the drama of the stairs.”

Pratt researched glass and light manufacturers requesting glass samples, metal samples and lighting strips that they could combine to achieve the desired aesthetic.

Jockimo Inc. based in Laguna Hills, Calif., supplied the glass treads for the project.

“The architect contacted us after finding our website,” explains Tim Casey, founder and owner. “We worked very closely with the architect to assist during the design process and made suggestions regarding the glass and system, [sending] the architect and home owner samples, which were approved.”

Jockimo supplied 28 panels that measured 35 ¼- x 10 ¾-inches, two panels measuring 35 ¼- x 37 1/8-inches and two panels that were 35 ¼- x 37 ¾-inches. The panels were fabricated using PPG’s Azurlite glass.

“The glass meets the new ASTM specification that recently hit the street and all edges are monolithically polished–polished after tempering and laminating–to provide this nicest edge detail available,” says Casey.

Pratt adds that the stair fabricator and installer was Eric Bauer from Bauer Fabricators.

“It was a team effort and the results are spectacular,” says Pratt.

But a job such as this one was not without challenges, the most significant of which was bringing the right team together, Pratt points out.

“Many said they could do the work, however it was critical to put together a cohesive team that understood the importance of this showcase stairway, and that included the stair fabricator, the lighting manufacturer and the glass manufacturer,” says Pratt. “We manage our projects closely with both the owners and contractors. Looking ahead and keeping everyone in the loop was required to get the job done successfully. It is something we have many years of experience with. It is a hands-on approach we use to keep projects on track and it pays off in the end.”

Pratt says there had also been some concern with using the glass treads, as some people thought they would be intimidating and slippery.

“Neither is the case. The glass treads were the last items to be installed before the home was turned over to the owner,” says Pratt. “We were hoping all the treads were in good shape and they were. This staircase is one item of many that went into the magnificent secret home.”

And for others who might be on edge about attempting a new design concept, Pratt advices, “Never be afraid of taking on new challenges. It takes our mind off the craziness in the world around us. And have fun doing what you like to do.”