Property: The stunning stairways that sometimes steal the show

ALL HOUSES need a focal point. Sometimes it is the wonderful inglenook fireplace or, the Aga in the kitchen and just occasionally, it is the staircase. Just when a staircase is purely functional and when it is an art form is debatable, but a truly amazing staircase can become quite a feature of a house.

A four-bedroom maisonette in Swiss Cottage, north west London in a Victorian building, had an extraordinary architecturally-designed staircase which had been made into the main feature of the property.

"The whole property had been made into an ultra modern home and the staircase with holes in the sides and chrome bars as banisters ran through the centre of it. It was part and parcel of the whole design," says Natalie Leon, of Goldschmidt & Howland's Hampstead office. "Anyone into minimalism found it very appealing."

Trevor Abrahmsohn of Glentree Estates remembers a particular house in Mill Hill, north London built by an architect for himself, which suffered from one of its staircases. "The staircase from the first to second floor was so narrow you couldn't get up it if you were wearing a coat" he says. "I think it was just a mistake, but it meant I couldn't sell the house as no-one was interested in buying it.

"On the other hand, a converted church in Cloister Court, where Peter Stringfellow once lived, has a wonderful turret which you got to by 400 stone steps from the living room. At the top was a little observation room with a 360 degree view. People liked that because it gave the house character".

Some staircases have more uses than just providing a means to getting up and down stairs. "We had a client in Hampstead whose property had an extremely wide staircase with bottles positioned up the centre aisle and a bar running along one side," says Philip Green of Goldschmidt & Howland's Regents Park office.

"The property was a maisonette in a converted period house and the original staircase was incorporated in this. It was so wide you could walk up the stairs one side and choose your bottle of fine wine on the other. It was a good selling feature and the young chap who bought it was very taken."

In Islington, north London, a very traditional Georgian terraced house had been imaginatively refurbished with the most unusual Gaudi-style staircase, made in twisted metal and exotic wood rising from the dining room to the ground floor. "This sold very quickly and every one who viewed the house liked it. Some people were lost for words, but the house had a Mediterranean feel to it, so the staircase worked," says Mark Cullin of Foxtons.

An Art Deco building in Finsbury Square, EC2 - The Broadway, which overlooks the Honourable Artillery Company's sports ground - has been converted into apartments and the penthouse on the 5th and 6th floors has a stunning staircase in its double height entrance lobby.

The staircase, which doubles back on itself, leads down from the upstairs private lift lobby past a window looking on to the grounds and to the entrance hall on the floor below. It has been designed with gunmetal painted ironwork banisters to reflect the art deco feel and the upper lobby has been fitted out as a viewing gallery with integrated hanging rail system for pictures. The penthouse is for sale for pounds 5.95m.

Cambridge Gate, NW1 is a terrace of 19th century French Empire style houses overlooking Regent's Park, which have been converted into huge apartments. English Heritage insisted that every staircase, with their original stone treads and mahogany banisters, were kept. So four six- bedroom flats on the ground and lower ground floors have their own front door and one of these staircases leading through the house up to a small study/conservatory and terrace on the third or fourth floors. Three of the flats are available for around pounds 2.8m.

And out of the ordinary staircases are not limited to London. An Art Deco house in Tottenhill, west Norfolk with barley twist chimneys, circular turrets and eye brow windows has a rather striking staircase.

The reception hall with stained glass windows is on the ground floor of the tower and running up one side of this is a sweeping oak and intricately fashioned wrought iron staircase to the first floor.

"It is a very unusual house and people either love it or hate it," says Malcolm Duffey of agents, Belton & Duffey. "Everything in the house is original and you have a wonderful view standing at the top of the staircase." The three-bedroom house in 3.5 acres is on the market for pounds 225,000.

Poles Park in Hertfordshire boasts a development by Leach Homes in the grounds of the Hanbury Hotel & Country Club. One of the large detached houses has a spectacular solid oak Scarlet O'Hara style split staircase with galleried landing. "Opinion was fairly evenly divided," says Nick Stubbs, sales manager.

"People who were looking for a grand house with formal accommodation thought it was wonderful. It made the statement they were looking for. Others who wanted a more conventional house didn't feel they could cope with it. It was certainly something you couldn't ignore."

This house is sold, but another five-bedroom house with a similar staircase will be built next year.

Goldschmidt & Howland, 0171 435 4404; De Groot Collis, 0171 235 8090; Foxtons, 0171 704 5000; Glentree Estates, 0181 458 7311; Belton & Duffey, 01553 770055; Leach Homes, 01920 822200.

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