Unless you live in Downton Abbey, your house stairs ain’t nothing but a wooden hill for reaching the next floor up.

Garden steps are so much better; they come in loads of shapes and sizes. They can tempt us, slow us, provide us with seating or act as theatrical stages for gloriously flowering pots. So a little more thought and planning will deliver a flight to fancy (sorry!).

crazy curved stepsThe three key dimensions of steps are

1. width (how long from one side to another the flight is)

2. tread (how deep from front to back each step is) and

3. riser (how high each step is)

Deciding the best balance of these three will give you the overall look and feel of your flight. And understanding how many we need and where they can fit will shape our decision. Let’s see how…

OK, so our garden is on a slope. If the far end is 1.3 metre higher than our back terrace and we’re dreaming of siting a deck up there to catch the evening rays, we could simply sink one flight of standard 600cm steps with 400cm treads 160cm risers into the slope, getting us up there in 8 steps. But really? Is that the most relaxing, beautiful journey we can design?

A really common mistake is to design outdoor steps like house stairs, thin, long or steep. Visually this translates to ‘mean’ and ‘ugly’! Everything we design for outside needs to be scaled up to make spatial sense… steps particularly.

So we consider design options to suit the atmosphere, movement and layout we want. If we split the flight into two sets of four steps we’d immediately make two things happen;

1. we’d walk up them a little slower

2. we’d pause slightly between flights. And what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stair.. (really, I do apologise)

lush gravel stepPlace those flights a bit further apart, say, on a middle terraced area, and we’ve created a reason for a whole new section of the garden to¬† wander through.

Drop the size of riser from 160cm to 140cm, tweak the width to 800cm and the journey becomes even more relaxed.

Now increase the depth of tread to 900cm and our garden steps become occasional seating for garden party guests.

Playing with height, depth and width can give us many different feelings and journeys around our gardens.

The overall space the steps take up becomes bigger of course, and the cost will increase the more labour and materials needed. The design challenge is to balance the style of steps we want with the space we have, the height we need to reach and the budget we’ve got.

Here are some garden step examples…which do you fancy skipping down or sprawling on?