Rare Victorian - Staircases Are Not Furniture

Staircases Are Not Furniture

img 2055 Staircases Are Not Furniture

img 2055 Staircases Are Not FurnitureI have a new pet peeve – though I need a stronger way to express my disdain for this practice but I’ll keep the blog clean.  The removal of historic staircases from homes that are not being demolished is a low way to secure extra bucks.  Owners are irreversibly removing a piece of a home’s character, history, and beauty by doing so.

I understand the benefit of taking them out when the house will be seeing the wrecking ball, but when the house is going to live on?  Come on.

Architecturally significant staircases are not furniture.  When you move out you don’t just take it with you or sell it.  I don’t care if the staircase is going to live on in another property.  That’s not the point.

The money is nothing to sneeze at, I’ll admit that.  The Lockwood Mansion profiled on this site is an example where the owners are mulling a $100,000 offer for their 3-storey staircase that you see to the right.  Yes, $100k, or enough for a new Mercedes S-Class.  In the context of a $2.2 million home sale, however, that represents a 5% kicker.  It’s all relative.  I don’t know where the owners currently stand on the issue, but I hope they decide against it.

There is also an estate sale coming up with lots of Victorian furniture and the home is being sold as well.  They describe the home’s beautiful quartersawn wood details in the sale description and then go on to explain that they’ll be ripping out and selling the home’s original staircase at a later time as well.  Might be able to squeeze out another $10-$20k by doing so and $1,500 for the auctioneer who may have suggested it.  I won’t be profiling the sale on this site as a result.

All too often no respect is given to these historic properties and once they’re raped of their interior details, it is very difficult to put back.  Then once you’ve removed enough of the home’s character there almost isn’t any reason not to demolish the home.

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  • drew49 - February 11, 2009

    Hear, hear! Our house is greatly devalued because someone removed its staircase when it was turned in a two-family home.
    I would consider buying another staircase if it came from a demolished home, but the one I would need would almost need to be custom built from old plans. I do know of a retired staircase builder who might be persuaded to take on the job, but it would be massively expensive.

  • John Hutchinson - February 11, 2009

    Dear John,
    To say I am shocked is an understatement. I think you stated what would appear to be obvious. I will just finish with, those people are idiots. Oh excuse my French on your site.

  • Hardwood - February 11, 2009

    Virgil, the previous owner of my house, sold my interior staircase – twice! The first buyer gave him a deposit, but discovered it was too wide (over 4 feet across) and shallow of a rise to work for him. Virgil reluctantly returned the deposit. He learned his lesson and sold the staircase once again to another buyer, but this time with a non-refundable $500 deposit. Luckily it didn’t work for the next buyer either! So, I still have my long winding staircase.

    I think the seller would be a fool to even consider selling the staircase from the Lockwood Mansion. The staircase is such a core part of a home that once it’s gone, the home is forever changed. Besides, I think it’ll be much more difficult for the seller to find a buyer once that staircase is removed.

    Here’s a link to some pictures of my home that’s known as “Hardwood”:


    William P. Gainey

  • woodwright - February 12, 2009

    I agree w/ RV regarding the disemboweling of a historic house. The practice of removing architectural elements/ details from a home – purely in the name of making money is a thoughtless, selfish thing to do, much like raping the planets resources for your own use/ benefit w/ no regard to the consequences for future generations. Our home had 2 built in mantels w/ overmantels removed and sold prior to our purchase of the house – it’s a shame they are gone. These details are all important parts of a homes design and it’s character.
    I am surprised that anyone would offer $100,000 for the staircase of the Lockwood mansion – which probably doesn’t include the cost or labor for removal, or installation/ retrofitting it into it’s new location. It’s a nice staircase – but by no means extraordinary. I am a custom cabinetmaker – I would think that for the same money or less a new, staircase with the same details (or one even nicer) could be custom built to properly fit the space it is being considered for. The rise and run of the stairs is designed to the space it is to fit into, not to mention the width, radiuses, headroom, etc. I’m also surprised that the owners would be entertaining the offer and considering tearing it out. The mansion would not be saleable without a staircase. To have a new staircase built and installed would eat up most or all of the money they made from the sale. If it were replaced w/ a simpler staircase – it would affect/ devalue the property. To install an elevator instead would certainly not be a cheap alternative either. Money does do evil things to people and seriously clouds their judgement. woodwright

  • john hopper - February 12, 2009

    This is really quite shocking. I don’t know how the system works in the US, but is there no form of ‘listed building’ status for historical properties as there is in the UK? Buildings are graded with strict rules on internal and external features depending on the importance of the building. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove a staircase from a listed building as there are heavy fines for tampering without consent from a local council.

    It seems sad that an individual could rip out integral parts of a house for profit. After all, we are all just passing through and we should be able to leave a property in a sympathetic state for the next occupant.

  • RareVictorian - February 12, 2009

    Lockwood is being sold as a commercial property, so with the existing staircase there is no accommodation for the handicapped. Removal of the staircase would precede the installation of an elevator.

    John, there are protected statuses for buildings in the U.S. but to my limited understanding they do not get “listed” by default. One has to actively submit their home for that status.

    Townships have the power to designate sections of real estate as under their architectural oversight, but in the case of this one lonely building, it is an island unto itself.

    I would think that with the Addison Hutton (architect) connection it should have been put on one of the lists (State, U.S.)

  • misslilybart - February 12, 2009

    The Lockwood building probably meets the criteria for both the state and national registers (designed by noted architect, associated with significant person, exterior relatively unaltered, etc.) but does not appear to be listed on either.

    In the US o’ A, interiors of historic buildings are not protected, no matter what the historic register listing status of the the structure. Protection of the exterior results only from a local ordinance and designation; protection of interiors is virtually unheard of. (The NY City Landmarks Commission is a notable exception, as they have some limited control over public interiors… a similar bill is currently under consideration in Philadelphia.)

    Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places does not afford any protection for a privately owned building, either from alteration or demolition, ever; it only requires that a Section 106 review be conducted if federal funding is used for the project.

    If anyone wants more extensive reading on the subject, I can post some links… I am a former member of a local Historic Preservation Advisory Commission and my bookmarks on this subject runneth over…

  • Jaco Hoffmann - September 5, 2009

    Hi John
    I need help and information with the restoration of an antique english staircase. After some sanding down looks like Burmese teak. I can mail photos if you can help or refer me to someone. The whole thing is in pieces.
    Jaco Hoffmann

    • John Werry - September 5, 2009

      Jaco, post your inquiry at VictorianForum.com. There are many woodworkers that stop into that site and they would be able to help more than I. John

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