What Are Witches’ Stairs and Why Do They Even Exist? -

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What Are Witches’ Stairs and Why Do They Even Exist?

Witches’ stairs may sound mysterious and intriguing, but they actually have a practical purpose. These unique staircases have gained popularity in recent years, particularly on platforms like TikTok.

While they may be associated with superstitions and legends, witches’ stairs are not meant to ward off witches at all. In fact, they are a clever design solution for saving space in homes with limited room.

Witches’ Stairs: The Space-Saving Solution

Although they may not have the magical properties their name suggests, witches’ stairs are incredibly useful in homes with tight spaces. You can often find them in attics, lofts, and tiny houses. Architects refer to them as “alternate tread stairs.”

Instead of the traditional wide steps, witches’ stairs have narrow steps that are staggered. This design allows for efficient use of space while still providing a functional staircase to move between floors.

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How Witches’ Stairs Work

Witches’ stairs are designed to save space in two ways. Firstly, each step is only half as wide as traditional steps. Secondly, the steps are arranged in a staggered pattern. This combination ensures that the staircase is narrower than those found in regular homes or grand staircases.

Despite their smaller size, witches’ stairs can still provide additional storage space for books or other treasures. According to Scott Schuttner, author of “Basic Stairbuilding,” this design also ensures safer stairs with more free tread area.

Contrary to popular belief, witches’ stairs meet building codes and safety standards in the U.S. While a standard staircase is 3 feet wide, a residential witches’ staircase is typically between 27 to 30 inches wide.

The Real Origins of Witches’ Stairs

The concept of witches’ stairs dates back to 1985 when an entrepreneur named J.M. Lapeyre patented a metal version of these stairs. Lapeyre envisioned that this innovative stair alternative could replace unsafe ladders in tight spaces, both in commercial and warehouse settings. Interestingly, the design is also utilized on commercial ships and oil rigs, known as ship stairs or ship ladders in addition to witches’ stairs or alternate tread stairs.

Debunking the Myths

When witches’ stairs gained attention on TikTok, they were accompanied by urban legends. One such legend suggested that these staircases were built during the 17th century in Massachusetts to ward off witches during the Salem witch trials. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.

Another misconception is that Thomas Jefferson came up with the idea, and the design is sometimes referred to as the Jeffersonian stair. But the origin of witches’ stairs can actually be traced back to an original design documented in the book “Monckton’s One Plane Method Of Hand Railing and Stair Building,” published in 1888.

According to historian Robin Briggs, there is no historical evidence to suggest that witches’ stairs were designed to disable or ward off witches. The association between witches’ stairs and protection from bewitchment is nothing more than misinformation. In reality, the nearest belief related to witches was the practice of placing a broom over the door lintel to prevent a witch from leaving a room once she entered.

While it’s entertaining to speculate about myths, it’s important to uncover the true history behind witches’ stairs. Whether you view them as a clever space-saving solution or a decorative alternative to full-size staircases, witches’ stairs add a unique touch to any home.

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