What Are Witches’ Stairs? The Bizarre Home Design Choice Explained

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What Are The Witches’ Stairs Like? The Strange Choice in Home Design: What It Means

The “witches’ stairs,” a unique or at least strange design feature, made the rounds on TikTok in March of a few years ago. The stairs do have a strange past, but not for the reason their name suggests. They were made by ball-fingers and, apparently, weren’t based on superstitions after all. They can also be useful and nice to look at if they are made and installed correctly.

Photo Credit: itsthatrealestatechick | TikTok

The Witches’ Stairs are not what they seem to be.

Witches’ stairs are surprisingly useful, especially in homes with limited room, even though the myth behind them is much more interesting. You might find them in lofts, attics, and small homes. It’s thought that witches’ stairs were made to save room while still letting people move from one floor to another. “Alternate tread stairs” is what architects often call them.

How the Witches’ Stairs Work

In two ways, this design was meant to save room. To begin, each step is only half as wide as a normal step, and they are placed at different heights. Both help save room because they work together to make sure that a staircase isn’t as wide as a normal one in a house, let alone a grand one. These smaller stairs could also be used to store extra books or show off treasures. Scott Schuttner, author of “Basic Stairbuilding,” says that on an alternating-tread stair, the space between treads on a given side is twice the unit rise. This gives you more free tread area and, in theory, a safer stair.

Witches’ stairs are useful in more ways than one. They do meet building rules and safety standards across the U.S., despite what most people think. Most staircases are 3 feet wide. A private witches’ staircase, on the other hand, is usually 27 to 30 inches wide.

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The Real Origins

For witches’ stairs made of metal, a developer named J.M. Lapeyre got a patent in 1985. He thought that the innovative stair alternative could be used instead of ladders in warehouses and businesses, taking the place of dangerous ladders in small areas. It’s interesting that the same form is used on commercial ships and oil rigs. These stairs are also known as ship stairs or ship ladders, as well as witches’ stairs and alternate tread stairs.

Photo Credit: itsthatrealestatechick | TikTok

The wrong idea

There was an urban tale that went along with the videos of witches’ stairs when they first appeared on TikTok in 2021. According to the story, the stairs were built in the 1600s. People say that they were put up on homes in Massachusetts to keep witches away during the Salem witch trials because “witches can’t climb up them.” This idea has been shown to be false since then, but there is still another one out there. There is a story that Thomas Jefferson came up with the idea. As a result, the style of witches’ stairs is sometimes called the Jeffersonian or Jefferson stair. But an original plan was written down in “Monckton’s One Plane Method Of Hand Railing and Stair Building,” which came out in 1888.

Photo Credit: itsthatrealestatechick | TikTok


Putting the Myth to Rest

One thing is for sure: we don’t really know where design came from. Witches’ stairs were not built with the theory that they would keep witches away. There is no evidence for this anywhere in history. Robin Briggs says that in “the huge amount of historical literature and the many manuscript sources” that he has read, there is “no mention of stairs that could disable witches.” It’s strange that a lot of people who had this one-of-a-kind staircase also had “buried witch bottles under the threshold.” “Or put dead cats in the fabric to keep it from being bewitched,” Briggs said, adding that it was “pure disinformation.” “The most common belief was that if you put a broom over the door lintel, a witch who came in would not be able to leave.”

Myths and tales are fun to think about, but it’s also interesting to know the real story behind witches’ stairs. Any way you look at it, they’re a fun and different way to decorate that isn’t a full-size stairs.

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