Plate 164: “A snug little kingdom up four pair of stairs.”

Plate 164

Each time “The Book of Plates” is mentioned I pull out my copy, flip through the pages and find something new to study. Last year I had a lot of fun creating artwork using details from BoP. There was a “rabbiting” plane, a thieving crow and a dinner plate to name a few Roubo-inspired creations.

Roubo very kindly included several plates on staircase design and construction. He gave us straights, spirals and curves with each detail connecting to the next, helping us visualize the whole.

Like many travelers I want to climb and photograph staircases. Some are marvels of construction and seem to defy gravity. Others are my nemesis with risers too low or high, too dark, no handrail. Whether floating or falling down, a grand staircase is great for a dramatic entrance. A spiral staircase in a small apartment is like having your own floor-to-ceiling sculpture.

We need well-designed staircases (and their cousins, the ladders) to move us up and down in our worlds. A solid set of steps is satisfying whereas an unsteady stairway can be terrifying. The light at the top of the stairs is reassuring; the darkness at the bottom is to be avoided. Designed by Roubo, or others, we all tumble down stairs from time to time with alcohol, cats, verigo, or more cats the usual culprits. My father once observed that my mother and I seemed to be more prone to falling up stairs to which we replied, “It was a trip, just a trip! There was no falling!”

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Roubo’s staircases are in Plates 162 through 170. Plate 164 is a particular favorite of mine. By following the connecting lines the builder can see and understand, from top to bottom, the construction of these stairs. As with all of Roubo’s plates considerable thought and artistic ability went into its planning and execution. We need stairs and Roubo gave us some beauties.

I’ve always thought the painting “Staircase, Doylestown” and a couple of lines from a Thackeray poem made a perfect pair. Now, I think Roubo’s “Staircase, Plate 164” partners equally well with these lines from “The Cane Bottom’d Chair”:

Away from the world and its toils and cares,

I’ve a snug little kingdom up four pair of stairs”.

“Staircase, Doylestown” (1925) by Charles Sheeler, Jr.

Suzanne Ellison

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4 Responses to Plate 164: “A snug little kingdom up four pair of stairs.”

  1. Ryan McNabb says:

    Very nice. Having just finished my own house, which has a lot of nice interior trim in it including 18th century interior shutters and window seats, I linger longest in the stair cases. I have the most memories there. Nearly every surface has a small story attached to it. I can build five rooms that don’t have as much meaning for me as one flight of stairs.

  2. Eric R says:

    My aunt had a grand staircase and the middle landing was one of our favorite play places.
    Thank you for this article. It brought back many fond memories.

  3. jwatriss says:

    Wharton Esherick built some amazing stair cases, including a spiral staircase in a client’s home, that had no center support, just a corkscrewing railing.

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