Alternating Tread Stair

A ships ladder is a great option for ascending between floors when little space is available. We built this alternating tread stair in our own home to access a yoga and meditation loft. It tucks into a modest 24″ wide cavity formerly inhabited by a hall closet.

The stringers and treads are fashioned from hand selected 2×12 fir framing lumber while the risers are built out of 1×12 fir lumber. The entire stair was glued and screwed together in the loft above and then lowered into place as a single unit.

After experimenting with a variety of geometries, we found 60° to be the sweet spot for the stair. It’s compact and space saving, and provides natural ergonomic movement. Above that pitch and you may find your knees colliding with the upper treads on the ascent.

Originally, we had planned to install a handrail, but after we used it a number of times, we found that it was ergonomically more comfortable to go down frontwards than backwards. In that position, due to the steepness of the descent, it feels safer and more natural to brace off of the walls than to try and grip a railing. Please note, this stair was built during a time when it was exempt from code requirements. For the most part, these stairs are now regulated and handrails are generally required.

Speaking of the walls, the dark blue paneling makes for a nice aesthetic compliment to the natural tones of the fir. The paneling is cedar that Matthew salvaged from one of his client’s remodel projects. It was in OK condition, but came in short lengths and had the dated look of material from the 1970’s. Our desire was to apply a finish that revealed the natural grain of the wood, blend in the more distressed parts and give it a more contemporary feel.

After some experimentation we came up with a fairly easy solution:

The material already had a clear finish on it, so rather than trying to strip it off, sand it, and re-apply a new finish, we went with a simpler approach. We cleaned the boards and then wiped on a very thin coat of dark blue latex paint. The clear finish prevented the paint from soaking into and saturating the wood resulting in a washed effect. However, the paint left behind a rough texture on the boards which wasn’t pleasant to touch. We solved that by lightly scrubbing the boards with steel wool. The result was a beautiful honed finish that feels smooth and polished.