Monday, January 18, 2010

Staircases and status

click photo to enlarge
The staircase in today's photograph isn't the grandest that you will see, but it certainly isn't the meanest. The curved, cantilevered stone steps, the polished hardwood rail ending in a tight volute, and the strong, steel balusters suggest the sort of stairs that might grace a small Georgian or early Victorian house. In fact these particular stairs are in a large house, parts of which date from the 1400s, and the rest from just about every century since. And these are by no means the main stairs: rather, they appear to be the servants' stairs, linking the kitchen and other domestic areas of the house with the very grand first floor rooms.

Staircases have long been used to give a house stature and distinction. The humblest houses usually have a straight flight. Those that wish to appear a step up (pun intended!) from such dwellings usually contrive to have a quarter-turn staircase i.e. with a right-angled turn part way up, sometimes with a quarterpiece (a small landing). Dogleg staircases, where the steps turn sharply back through 180 degrees are often found in slightly bigger houses. However, the dwelling of desire aspires to stairs that curve, and in so doing give a graceful "catwalk" for the owners and their guests. So, quarter winding stairs, geometrical stairs and wreath stairs are popular. The biggest houses with very large entrance halls will often feature a variation of the double return stairs.

What this modestly elegant stairway, for use by the servants of the house, says to anyone who sees it, is that the owners of this house are people of consequence because even the domestic help has stairs of distinction. I took this shot not only for the strong form the handrail gives to the composition, but also for the subsidiary shapes of the balusters and steps, and the fine colours of the pieces of stone, illuminated by winter light through a nearby window.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12.8mm (60mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/13
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On