Walk through the front door of a typical production home and the first thing you’ll see is the staircase. It’s a long-held belief that this layout, with the base of the stairs located just inside the front entrance, gives the foyer a traditional look that homeowners want. While a graceful stairwell at a home’s entry has appeal, I personally believe this design loses out when it comes to functionality and use of space.
It has always bothered me that this layout gives no direct access to the stairs from the rooms that are the real hub of the home—the kitchen and family room. Instead, you have to walk through the formal living and dining areas to go upstairs to the bedrooms. Besides bad circulation, the stairs-at-front design creates dead spaces on both floors that could be better used as storage or closet space—features that are top priority for homeowners of all sorts.
An easy fix is a simple flip of the stairs so that they start and end at the middle of the home. This creates a pinwheel-style traffic flow on both floors, with the living areas and bedrooms fanning out around the centrally located stairs. Besides improving traffic flow, the pinwheel design allows for a larger, better-located entry closet as well as a walk-in closet in one of the secondary bedrooms upstairs. In turn, these new closet locations free up space to increase the size of the first-floor laundry room and the secondary bedroom.
As for making a statement at the entry, you’ve got plenty of options to add interest to the foyer and stairs—art niches, lighting, decorative railings. If the most livable designs place equal value on form and function, this layout shows how a small change can have a big impact.
Stair Straight Ahead
The traditional placement of a stairway—right at the foyer—hampers circulation and wastes precious space.
Stair at the Middle
Setting the stairway back from the foyer so it's more central frees up circulation and makes way for closets on two floors.