The Cross House

A Stepping Consideration

I installed the steps to the south face of the big porch in 2015. They were intended to be temporary. I use them often.


This is what was there in 1999. Are these the original steps?


The original drawings show something much more dramatic. But…what is drawn is not what was built. There is no column to the right, and no stone base under.  As such, I would guess that the steps were not built as shown.


The steps to the south entrance are wood and deliciously curvaceous. They appear original, which is remarkable, even though they have always been protected by a roof overhead. I cannot wait to restore them!


The north steps, also delicious. And in stone! 


The west steps. More stone. Less delicious. However, plenty of imposing!


So, it seems obvious that if the extant three steps are all curvy, that maybe the missing one was, too?

But I don’t think so.

There’s the 1999 image of a straight run. And the steps might be original. They were rotted enough to be.


But the three curvy steps all very neatly die into some adjacent. That will not be possible here because of the angle of the steps. 


Thus, my current thought is a straight run. The exposed side would be infilled with lattice, matching the adjacent lattice. I have no idea what a railing would look like, although I do have the original rail for the south entrance steps. I might have it copied.

The whole would be made out of pressure-treated lumber so it will last till the end of time. I won’t paint it.

So much pondering to do!

15 Responses to A Stepping Consideration

  1. Wow, Ross. That 1999 picture is truly frightening. This beautiful house has come a long way since then. I am so surprised that the curvaceous steps are wood.

      • Yep. 40 years. Me too. my experience is not the same. I’ve replaced it many times. Then again, as much as it pains me to admit it, American p.t. is better than Canadian p.t.

  2. It sure rots here in the land of Mold, Moss, Mildew, and Mushrooms! (The PNW) My neighbor just pulled down his deck cover, built in the 90’s…. 8×8 PT, rotten. And it had been painted many times.

    You might want to consider some salvaged old growth fir. I swear to god it petrifies into something indestructible! You have to pre-drill everything to put in nails or screws, and it’s gorgeous!

    Or, oh! Black locust! It turns a dark blackish gray if not treated. Heavy and hard, I love the stuff.

  3. I’ve been working with pressure treated for 35+ years and have had to replace it multiple times. The “treatment” is only on the outside. Wherever you cut it you should seal the cut, that will extend the life, but not by much. Your best bet for extended life is composite but it is pretty expensive. In my opinion it is worth the money.

  4. I would be inclined to explore some other design ideas before deciding on pressure treated lumber*. If you made two quarter round templates of scrap quarter inch plywood that have a diameter that matches the depth of the West side steps. I would try one against the stone pillar to the left and the other coming out from the angled corner of the foundation to the right. I would then use a straight piece of wood to get an idea of what a base step would look like. I guess I would then move them around as necessary to create a style of base step that matches the others or appeals to me. A stone step would be ideal, but one made of poured concrete would be workable. At that point, I would decide if I liked such a design, and figure out how to make it hug the house wall on one side and the column base on the other as it turned and went up. The North step design would also be a consideration. You failed to mention the missing cellar window from the original design in this post, although you have in at least one other. I suspect that in reality a column base to the right, next to the house, looked awkward when laid out, so the window was taken off of the drawing board too.
    I wish you luck on the process of deciding. I personally find the look of pressure treated steps would be a turn off. You have done all of this amazing restoration work on the exterior. It has taken you years and may take you some more, yet you appear to be ready to compromise on these steps. On the other hand, you have great design sense, so I am probably missing something.
    There have been earlier comments made on this post about pressure treated lumber. My understanding is that the wood is milled and put in a sort of hot pressure cooker that is then heated to produce toxic chemicals at high pressure that are meant to permeate the wood. I believe that different chemicals were used by different companies. I have been told that arsenic was one of the chemicals that was commonly used until it was banned. Although I don’t recall looking for one or seeing any disclosures on pieces of pressure treated lumber as to the chemicals in each batch.

  5. I suggest building a rough mock-up out of old wood (and/or cardboard), to figure out what looks good. I think following the theme of the others with rounded treads that wrap around the edge of the left stone pedestal would look really good. If you can get them to lay out like the North steps, I think that would look great.

    Rounded steps would also eliminate the visual need to install a railing on the open side. If you need a railing to to have something to hold for safety, you can put it against the wall, where it won’t be very noticeable.

    Finally, I concur with others that PT lumber is far from permanent. It does offer much better rot resistance than untreated new-growth softwoods, but in weathering conditions that can’t fully dry, it’s just a matter of time before it decays. The average pressure-treated outdoor wood deck only lasts about 10 years. It’s usually the areas that can’t dry out that rot first (like the tops of stair stringers under the treads, or other areas that are sandwiched together). Although pressure-treated wood does have relatively effective through-thickness application of the preservative, cut ends do generally have less preservative than uncut edges. You can buy cans of preservative to brush on cut ends that can help. Using treated wood that includes a water repellent (or applying your own) can help further, however, if it’s a type that includes wax, that will preclude any painting in the future.

    Concrete is sure to be the most long-lasting material. However, if you aren’t 100% certain on your design, wood is a lower-cost and less-permanent route that gives you an easy path to change later. Doing the rounded edges in wood would be a lot more work vs. concrete, though.

  6. I wonder whether any one in the Mouse family has any pictures of the steps from when the family first bought the house. It would be fascinating to know whether there was an earlier version/style.

  7. I am on the fence, but I am leaning towards concrete steps with rounded steps on the exposed side; they would mimic the stone steps on the north side at a fraction of the cost. Whatever you decide will look awesome, your instincts haven’t failed you yet.

  8. can you see any ‘ghost’ marks on the stone walls on either side? from the photo there appears to be something on both…

  9. As I study the pictures I think it might be missing something to assume the stairs were straight. My mind says that if they gently turned as they descended (the right hand – the bay side- of the treads being wider than the left) by the time you reached the ground level the bottom tread being perpendicular to the column face. This may well allow the curved return that you are saying wont work… then of course, I am just going by the few pictures I have… but with all the other steps being curved, especially the existing wood ones, my bet is these were wood and curved in a similar style as well. It would certainly fit the blueprint – demi column or no demi column

  10. It appears that your current straight run of stairs lands you at the edge of the sidewalk(?), up against the foundation of the house. A curved/flaired set of stairs would allow a person to ascend/descend to/from the centre of the sidewalk, making the turn on the staircase. If you use these stairs daily, ergonomics would say to make them streamlined in their use.

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