Randy O'Rourke

Asked to describe the hidden staircase he designed for the remodel of a San Francisco shingle-style house, architect David Gast answers with a question of his own. “Did you ever read that children’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?”

As it happens, the novel by C.S. Lewis (about a girl who opens a closet and enters another world) embodies just the kind of whimsy that Gast’s clients—a couple with two kids—wanted for their home. The staircase is concealed behind a bookcase/door, like a portal to a secret hideaway if not a world beyond. Bookshelves also line the stairwell, but the hidden entry answers real needs. The house already had a main stair to its second floor. But because square footage was being added to the third level, another means of egress was required. It had to be configured so as not to disturb the existing design of the house, so Gast created a secret stairway leading upstairs to the study from the main floor. This way, the kids could use the study, which is adjacent to the master suite, without traipsing through their parents’ bedroom.

The challenge was designing a door that opened easily and wouldn’t sag under a load of books. Many hinges were required. The door’s bookshelves are shallower than wall units; they’re meant for paperbacks. Gast says he wouldn’t have added the staircase if code hadn’t dictated it, but the result was a happy ending: a multi-tasking entry that turns the transition from public space to private into a playful passage.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.