Revealing the Incredible Craftsmanship Behind Helix Staircases

At its best, the coveted spiral staircase is a feat of engineering and design beyond measure.

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The coveted spiral staircase is a feat of engineering and design beyond measure. Its effortless twists and turns defy conventional climbing and conjure up mysterious upstairs worlds in the minds of those who dare to circle toward the ceiling — or next floor, rather. While they look seemingly simple in design, spiral staircases are actually very challenging to create. That’s why architects looking to specify the spiral must turn to veteran manufacturers who can produce custom-designed staircases for different architectural typologies.

Serett Metalworks, a local New York company, designs, fabricates and installs custom helix staircases for clients across the city and around the country.

One Brooklyn-based manufacturer who’s been providing bespoke staircase designs from New York for 20 years is Serett Metalworks, led by founder and owner Joshua Young. Situated inside an old warehouse in the industrial district of Gowanus, Serett employs 17 people who do everything from design to fabrication to installation. The team takes on residential, mixed-use, commercial and public projects for a client list ranging from Calvin Klein to the Rockwell Group, Woody Allen and Hariri & Hariri Architects.

The team at Serett Metalworks

“We’re halfway between a fabrication machine and an architectural design company,” Young said. “We do a lot of in-house designing, but we also assist on fabrication projects. Architects or contractors will come to me with an idea, sometimes really good designs already, and we’ll make it a reality. A lot of our commissions come from reputation.”

Serett specializes in all things metal: metal paneling, metal sculptures and metal stairs. But their truly cutting-edge designs come in the form of their spiral, single and double helix staircases. Crafted in a three-dimensional spiral, helix stairs are one of Serett’s most popular products. According to Young, the company does all of their helix bending in-house after a rigorous engineering process, which they also do by themselves — sometimes without a computer.

“With helix staircases, there are a lot of problems with engineering,” Young said. “There is no program out there for engineering one that actually works. The math is always off, and it’s just a human error, even for an experienced drafter.”

Serett used Marine-grade stainless steel with a satin nickel finish for this residential project in Florida. In order for the helix to horizontally support itself at the top of the staircase, metal tubes were inserted underneath the cantilever.

One of Young’s engineers often completes his helix calculations by hand. For less complex staircase projects like spiral stairs, the team works in CAD after detailed drawings are analyzed. Spiral stairs, which are shaped in a circular pure spiral, wrap around a newel, or central pole, that supports the steps. The handrail is usually included on the outside of the circle and the design is often very steep depending on the diameter of the stairwell. Because of this, building codes only allow spiral stairs to access small areas of limited occupancy within commercial applications.

Helix staircases, however, are aptly helical in shape. They don’t have a newel, which promotes the use of strong materials, and handrails are included on both sides. The stairs are commonly fabricated with two large curved stringers with the treads attached between them. They also can be designed in an elliptical or oval shape and can be naturally wider, which means they must include durable materials like metal or concrete to support the weight.

Serett uses mostly recycled metal for their various architectural projects including staircases, exterior paneling and residential art pieces.

Young sources all of Serett’s metal for both stairs and other applications from various suppliers around the country and in Canada. Depending on the type of metal specified, it can require more thorough research, say, for exterior applications where the metal can easily rust. Serett also uses glass, stone and wood on their stair designs. They’ll formulate the slab work on the wood in-house as well as do any glazing needed on the project. Serett is usually called upon to do interior renovations with new stairs specified, so a strong knowledge of a smooth installation process greatly helps them.

“We’re not contractors,” Young said, “but we’ll take care of the whole space if necessary. We’ve had to adapt over the years as a company who is able to step in and employ our products with this type of efficiency.”

Serett fabricated a custom, white-painted helix staircase for an art gallery in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood. In keeping with the structural integrity of the building, which was built in the 1850s, Serett installed a large amount of wood beams as bracing for the structure.

Serett started out in 1997 as an architectural fabrication company that offered stairs, handrails and decorative paneling. While staircases are still one of their primary products and, perhaps, some of their best work, their skills extend beyond the interior. Serett works on special art commissions for clients like New York hospitals, Hollywood and the Hilton Hotel chain that showcase the versatility of metal.

Serett created this floating staircase for a new apartment complex lobby in Long Island City, Queens. The minimalist design included solid, 4-inch-thick maple slabs, 1/2-inch tempered glass and blackened steel as the stringer.

Despite the allure that artistic metalworking attracts for Serett, Young still considers staircases to be his favorite products to design. Whether he’s creating a helix made entirely of metal or a wooden step structure using a minimal amount of the material, it’s the end result that keeps him engaged in the study of stairs.

“I love stairs,” he said. “Once a staircase is designed open in a space, especially in smaller apartments, it makes the whole room feel bigger and adds a little bit of life. With my stairs, it’s a little mix between art and architecture. This is a creative venture, really, with a stunning final product that makes a difference. That’s why I love them.”

So, next time you specify stairs, don’t be scared to spiral out.

Images courtesy Serett Metalworks

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