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Making the Right Choice | Open Riser or Closed Riser Stairs

When it comes to designing and building a staircase, one of the biggest decisions that homeowners and designers face is whether to choose open-riser or closed-riser stairs. Both styles have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice will depend on a variety of factors.

In this article, I will explore the pros of open-riser stairs vs. closed-riser stairs and help you make the right choice for your home or project.

Open riser stairs are ideal for making small houses or areas appear larger and brighter. Closed riser stairs are more traditional; they are safer, more stable, and are considered a better option for the elderly, visually impaired, small children, and pets.


Arguments in Favor of Open Riser Stairs

Make Small Houses/Areas Look More Spacious

Open riser stairs are a type of staircase where the vertical sections between the treads, called risers, are not solid. Instead, they are either absent or made of a material that allows light to pass through, such as glass or perspex.

The absence of solid risers allows light to pass through the stairs, creating the illusion of more space and making the area feel brighter and more open.

The open design of the stairs also makes them less visually heavy, allowing the eye to flow through the structure, and making the space appear larger and more connected.

Modern style staircase made of wood and steel with open risers

Open riser stairs are particularly valuable in small areas.

Don’t Interfere With Light Infiltration as Much

The open design of open riser stairs allows light to pass through the vertical sections between the treads.

The light is able to reflect off the walls, giving the impression that the space is larger than it actually is. This is because light helps to create depth and dimension in a space, making it appear more expansive.

Open riser stairs are designed to allow more light to pass through by using transparent or semi-transparent materials such as metal, glass, acrylic, or polycarbonate for the risers or by not building risers at all. 

Properly spacing the open risers, making the open risers smaller and slimmer, and using wider treads can also help to enhance the amount of light passing through the stairs, creating the illusion of more space and a brighter atmosphere.

It is important to note, though, that building codes typically have guidelines for the maximum allowed spacing between open risers to prevent accidents and ensure safety. 

The specific requirements will vary depending on the jurisdiction, but generally, the maximum spacing between open risers is around four inches. This is to prevent small children and pets from falling through the stairs.

Can Be Cheaper as Less Material Is Used

The open design of these stairs typically requires less material, as there are no solid risers to be made. This can make the overall cost of the stairs less expensive.

Open riser stairs can be customized using a variety of materials such as metal, glass, wood, and acrylic, and the design can be adjusted to fit the budget and aesthetic.

Additionally, the construction of open riser stairs typically requires less labor than closed riser stairs. The open design eliminates the need to create solid risers, which can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. 

When solid risers are used, it usually involves a lot of cutting, shaping, and joining of wood or other materials. On the other hand, the open riser design typically only requires that the treads be attached to stringers, the structural elements that support the steps. This can be a simpler and quicker process.

Match Modern & Minimalist Design Styles

Another advantage of open riser stairs is their ability to be designed to match the aesthetic and style of the space they are in, whether modern or traditional. This flexibility in design allows the open riser stairs to complement and enhance the existing decor in a room rather than detract from it.

For example, if a room has a modern aesthetic, open riser stairs with clean lines, minimal ornamentation, and a sleek finish, such as stainless steel or glass, can be used to complement the style. 

Modern style staircase made of wood and a glass panel as a wall

Open riser stairs can be designed without handrails or balustrades, relying instead on treads and stringers for support. This can enhance a minimalist aesthetic and create a more open and airy feel, allowing for more visual space in the room, which aligns with the minimalist style.

On the other hand, if the room has a traditional aesthetic, open riser stairs can be designed using traditional materials such as wood with ornate details and finished with a stain or paint that matches the existing decor.

Often Easier to Reinforce/Repair the Stairs

Open riser stairs are often easier to reinforce or repair than closed riser stairs. The open design allows for easier access to the structural elements of the stairs, such as the treads and stringers. This can make it easier to identify and fix any issues that may arise with the stairs.

For example, if the treads of the stairs become loose or damaged, it can be easier to access and repair them with open riser stairs, as the risers are open and do not block access to the treads.

With closed riser stairs, access to the treads can be more difficult, and the repair process may require more time and labor.

The same applies to reinforcing the stairs. In the case of closed riser stairs, reinforcing the structure may require a more complex process of removing the risers to access the structural elements. In open riser stairs, the structure is more easily visible and accessible.

Arguments in Favor of Closed Riser Stairs

Can Be Considered to Be Safer

Closed riser stairs have solid risers, which eliminates the gap between the treads and the risers, reducing the risk of tripping or falling.

Because there is no space between the steps for a foot to catch or for an object to get stuck, it makes walking up and down the stairs safer.

Man wearing black shoes going up the stairs with open risers illustration

Having solid risers on a staircase will provide a better view of the steps, making it easier to see where to step and reducing the risk of tripping or falling. This is especially important for older adults or people with visual impairments as they may have difficulty seeing the steps clearly.

Closed riser stairs are generally considered safer for small children as the solid risers provide a barrier that can prevent children from falling through the stairs, which can be a major safety concern for parents.

Additionally, closed riser stairs also have less chance of getting a child’s limb stuck in the gap, which can prevent injury and accidents. Moreover, the closed riser stair design can prevent children from playing or climbing on the risers, which can be another safety concern for parents.

Seem More Stable

In addition to being considered safer, closed riser stairs seem more stable to users.

The risers do provide additional structural support, which can help to distribute the weight of people and objects moving up and down the stairs more evenly. 

However, realistically, the open riser stairs, when well-built, are just as stable. The lack of a riser is compensated for.

The visual appearance, however, makes people feel safer. They look more stable, which can create a sense of security and stability for the elderly, people with mobility issues, and small children. This can increase their confidence and make them feel more comfortable using the stairs.

Pets can also be upset by the backless stairs. This can be quite a big deal. You’ll have to work with your pet to help them overcome their fears, and you’ll be facing carrying them up and down for a while.

Dog trying to go up the stairs on a sunny day illustration

Solid risers provide a visual barrier that can help pets navigate the stairs more easily. The risers can also provide a surface that pets can use to help steady themselves as they climb or descend the stairs.

You Can Better Use the Space Under the Stairs

As a joke, in our house, we refer to our storage room under our stairs as the “Harry Potter room,” as it resembles the small space where Harry Potter was living under the stairs in the first book and movie. Obviously, we don’t have anyone living in there, but it does make a great storage area.

The best part of using the space under the stairs as a storage area is that it can be closed off and hidden from view, which can be great for keeping items out of sight. You don’t have to worry about the aesthetics, how organized everything is, or how clean it is because it is not visible to others.

Using closed riser stairs as storage can be a great way to conceal items that you don’t want to be visible, such as sporting equipment, luggage, tools and hardware, holiday decorations, and even food. These items can be stored away, keeping them out of sight and away from curious eyes.

Additionally, if the space allows it and the necessary plumbing and electrical connections can be made, the space under the stairs can even be turned into a small bathroom. You can pop a ductless fan in there and you’re all good.

staircase with bathroom or toilet underneath illustration

More Options When It Comes to Materials

Closed riser stairs can be made from and covered by a variety of materials, such as wood, concrete, stone, tiles, and carpet.

Wood is a popular choice because it is durable, versatile, and can be stained or painted to match the existing decor. 

Concrete is a great option for closed riser stairs because it is durable, versatile, and relatively low maintenance. It’s also fireproof, termite-proof, and mold-proof, making it a great option for areas prone to natural disasters.

Stone can add elegance to any space and can be made from natural materials such as granite, limestone, and marble. They’re also slip-resistant, making them safer to walk on when wet.

Tiles are a good choice because they are durable and easy to clean and maintain. They can also be used to match the existing decor, as they come in a wide range of colors, patterns, and finishes to choose from. 

Carpeting the stairs can provide a warm and inviting atmosphere, making the space feel more cozy and comfortable to walk on. The carpet also acts as sound insulation and can reduce noise from footsteps.

The added traction provided by the carpet can also help to reduce the risk of slips and falls, making the stairs safer to use.

Match Traditional & Luxurious Design Styles

When it comes to traditional design styles, natural materials such as wood and stone are often used to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Closed riser stairs can be made from these materials, to create a traditional look that complements the overall design of the space.

Traditional design styles often include ornate details such as carved balusters, decorative newel posts, and detailed handrails. These details can be added to closed riser stairs to create a traditional look that complements the overall design of the space.

For a more luxurious design style, materials such as marble, granite, and high-end hardwoods can be used for the stairs. These materials can be used for the treads, risers, and handrails to create a more opulent look. 

Marble, for example, is known for its durability, elegance, and luxury and can be used to create a grand and dramatic look. Granite is also known for its durability and luxury and can be used to create a more modern and sleek look. 

High-end hardwoods such as walnut, cherry, or mahogany can be used to create a more classic and timeless look.

You Can Get Combination Staircases

The combination of open and closed risers can create an interesting and dynamic design that can add visual interest to the space.

For example, open risers can be used on the upper section of the stairs to allow natural light to flow through and create an open and airy feel, while closed risers can be used on the lower section of the stairs to provide more privacy or to conceal storage space.

Combination staircase, open risers and closed risers illustration

Alternatively, you could have open risers on the lower section of the stairs to allow natural light to flow through and create a brighter and more open feeling in the space, while closed risers can be used on the upper section of the stairs to provide more safety and security for children.

It’s important to keep in mind that the combination of open and closed risers can have building codes and safety concerns, so it’s best to consult with an architect or building professional to ensure that your design is safe and compliant with local building codes.


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