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Musings on Stairs: Practical…and Dangerous

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

While stairs provide a very practical function as a means of ascending or descending from one level to another, they can be dramatic architectural statements in a home, from soaring, floating staircases in a central hall to modern circular stairs, winding around a column to a higher floor.

Did you ever wonder why circular stairs wind counter-clockwise when all of us tend to do things in a clockwise pattern? Read on to find out.

From castles to humble cottages, stairways have allowed more living space under the same roof by providing a means to get to another floor. Unless you live in a ranch-style home or a one-level apartment or condo, as I do now (missing the aerobic exercise stairs provided when I lived in a colonial), you climb stairs.

Some of us love the transition from one living space to another (“I can’t sleep on the same floor where I eat,” one buyer client told me), while others, especially our more mature citizens, seek living arrangements that boast “no steps.”

Besides their architectural and practical contributions to a home, stairs also add greatly to the statistics of accidents, even death, in the home.

The staircase can be the scene of high drama as well.

In “Gone with the Wind,” every dramatic turn takes place on stairs. Scarlett first spies Rhett at the foot of the staircase she’s climbing at Twelve Oaks. Then, after war breaks out, she shoots and kills a dirty Yankee as he menacingly approaches her on a staircase at Tara.

And we all know that sexy scene when Rhett scoops up Scarlett in his arms and bounds up the staircase two steps at a time, setting hearts aflutter when the Hayes censorship office was still very much in effect. It wouldn’t have been nearly as effective had Rhett just escorted her across a room.

In a subsequent scene in the film, Scarlett attempts to shove Rhett down a staircase, but he steps aside and she takes a nasty tumble to the bottom.

All too often, many of us take a dive down a stairway. Maybe it’s because we’re in a different mode of balance when we are shifting our weight up or down. Actually, if you’ve noticed, it’s easier to climb steps than to go down them, even if the physical effort is greater when we climb. My theory is that we achieve better balance on the balls of our feet when climbing. We seem not to be so sure about which part of our foot to place on the step going down, especially for people with larger feet.

I’m very conscious of the possibility of accidents on the stairs, perhaps because of an imprinted memory. When I was less than two, my mother tells me that I opened a door to the basement and plunged down the steep staircase, hitting my head on the concrete floor at the bottom. My mother screamed, thinking I was dead, but obviously I survived. In later years when I would behave oddly as a teenager, my mother had an excellent excuse to say, “That fall on your head when you were a baby must have caused some damage!”

And when my daughter was at a play date at a neighbor’s home, I remember the panic and fear when I received that call saying that, playing hide-and-seek, she too had fallen down a flight of basement steps. She too is okay. Maybe it’s a generational thing.

Tragically enough, more than 15,000 people die each year as a result of falls, and as many as 1,300 of those occur by falling down steps. Additionally, many people suffer injuries on stairs that are frequently not reported, making injury statistics harder to pin down.

Interestingly, many accidents happen when there is an uneven step in a series. This had been done intentionally in the distant past as a security measure to trip up thieves when entering or leaving a home.

Now here is the reason that circular or curved staircases are designed in a counter-clockwise pattern. As we know from old Errol Flynn movies, in the Middle Ages, it was critically important to safeguard the castle. With stairs designed intentionally in a counter-clockwise fashion, the defender of the castle, on a higher level of the staircase, could swing his sword freely in the open space to his right. His enemy below would keep hitting the wall to his right with the same action. How’s that for good trivia?

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is, and his blog is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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