Stephen Ronsheim is the other kind of industrial designer, the kind that designs industrial machines and assembly lines. While remodeling his own home, he ran into a design problem. In solving it, may have revolutionized how staircases are built in the future--at least if enough architects, engineers and designers become aware of his product.
What tickled us the most: Ronsheim solved his staircase problem using both high technology--and the Amish.
The Indiana-based designer recently premiered his product and resulting company, Ascendings, at the Build Boston trade show. Core77 caught up with him afterwards for a brief interview on what makes these staircases so special and how he designed them.
Core77: For those who aren't familiar with how staircases are built, what's the difference between your product and a standard staircase?
Ronsheim: The major difference from an Ascendings stairway and any other is the fact that the Ascendings stairway is modular in design. The modularity concept opens up many new doors. An example of that would be a remodel job in an existing structure, such as a condo or a loft. In most cases it is nearly impossible to rebuild stairways in this type of structure, due to the fact that most stairways are prefabricated and built prior to arriving at jobsite. It is then the responsibility of the builder to move that stairway into the building being remodeled. There have actually been cases where exterior brick walls have been removed so that a staircase may enter a building.The Ascendings staircase is pre-engineered and prefabricated to a specific requirement. They are assembled at the factory to assure good quality control and ease of installation at the final destination. They are then disassembled and packaged, in many cases, in a crate that is not much larger than a desk. Obviously, when they reach their destination entry into any building is with ease. Assembly can usually take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours for the average staircase. So yes, this is a huge difference in what the industry has had to work with in the past.
The modular design brings some versatility with it, no?
We have found that we are virtually unlimited as to the types of structures that we may produce: Straight steps, curved steps, and so on.
How do your components work?
Ascendings stairways use a patent pending technology where normal stringers are replaced by individual aluminum stringers. Ascendings call these risers. The concept is amazingly simple: We first start out with two floor mount risers and add to the top of that a tread. On top of that we add two more risers. Eight bolts (four on each end of a step) are used to secure this assembly. Risers and tread continue to bolt together to the base assembly until the final structure is complete.
It is important to note that the riser material is aluminum and is precision CNC machined to very exact tolerances. All bolts are Grade 8 socket head cap screws with a very high tensile and yield strength. In most cases, the yield strength for each step is 200,000 pounds. In most cases, the material used for the tread is wood, although metal, lightweight concrete and glass are possible.
How did this idea come about?
A couple of years ago my wife and I made a very large addition to our home, approximately 35 feet wide by 75 feet long. The side of the structure that is attached to the existing home has an inside height of 18 feet and tapers to a 10 foot inside height. At one end of this structure, we decided to add a second level room to the tall side of the structure. This was free space and its use would be determined at a later point in time.
An interesting design challenge was, How to get to that room? The stairway had to go up and over a door as well as a food bar, then ascend further over a window with still one more ascension up and into the room. The concept of this design took nearly a year and a half.
Once you had the idea, how did you execute it?
I have spent nearly 50 years of my life designing special industrial machines and assembly lines primarily for the automotive industry. So, once the concept for the stairway was conceived, in comparison to my normal profession it seemed like an easy task to create a hard design. To the computer I went, and, in a few short days the design was complete.
My company, the Christopher Stephen Corporation, has several pieces of CNC machinery. Machining was the next step, and machine them we did. Simultaneously I met with some of my old Amish friends who made some very, very beautiful walnut treads for this endeavor.
To be honest, after completion of machining [the project remained untouched] for quite a long period of time until one day, I became excited about what this new concept in stairways may look like. I singlehandedly started assembly. I now know that it should have been a two-man job, but once I got started I couldn't quit. I did recruit help for the last section and upon completion, I was one very proud man (but then, what man isn't proud of his own creations). I settled with that idea and time went on with business as usual.
Okay, so you've got this new, cool stairway in your house. How did it go from that to starting a business?
Over a period of the next several weeks friends and family gathered to see this new addition, and the new stairway became a focal point. My plumbing contractor was asking, "Where in the world did you buy those steps?" After telling him my story, he was first to mention that these type of stairways could make a great business. And that is how it began.
So what's the next step for the company?
At the "Build Boston" show we were very surprised to find out that our product was accepted by nearly all types of architects. We were told by many that "this product will be welcome for years to come, as it will set new standards in building". We will continue to show in high-end tradeshows in the near future. It is our hope that we can establish dealerships throughout the United States, particularly in large cities where contemporary architecture prevails.