Disappearing stairs are any configuration for stairs that can be used to move from one floor to another, but is not fixed in place permanently. Some designs for these types of stairs call for retracting sections that fold and can be recessed in the floor between the two levels. Other designs call for stairwells that fold to a more or less flat position against a wall.
With all types of disappearing stairs, the object is to provide easy access from one level or floor to another, without taking up the space that is commonly set aside for permanent stairs. The pull down stair design that is used for many attics is a prime example of disappearing stairs. With easy ceiling access, the stairs are pulled down, unfolded, and used to ascend to the attic area. Once the individual leaves the attic by descending the stairs, they are refolded and retracted into the ceiling once more.
An attic staircase of this design functions with the use of springs that make the retraction process easier. Considered safer than the use of an attic ladder, these attic steps take up no floor space when not in use. The diminutive size of these folding stairs makes them ideal for placement in hallways or other areas of the home where they are convenient to reach but out of the way at any other time.
The sliding stair is also a form of disappearing stairs. Using a framework that is not unlike those once commonly used with fire escapes on the outsides of buildings, sliding stairs usually slide outward and down when needed, but can be recessed into a wall or ceiling when not in active use. Stairs of this type are made of lightweight but sturdy materials, making it relatively easy for anyone to move the stairs into place when necessary.
Wall hugging stairs are another form of disappearing stairs that provide utility without taking up a lot of space. With this design, the stair steps are hinged to the wall. The supporting network for the steps is also attached to the wall and often powered with a small hydraulic motor. When activated, the supporting beams slowly swing away from the wall and lock into position.
Once the framework is in place, the steps on this type of disappearing stairs lower into position, fitting into grooves on the framework. This helps to add stability to the overall structure and also makes it less possible for an individual step to slip out of place while in use. When the stairs are not needed, they can be folded neatly against a wall, freeing up floor space.
Wood and various types of metal are used in the creation of disappearing stairs. For designs that are not completely hidden from view, there is usually some effort to make the devices appear to be some sort of art or design element in the space. Folding stairs that are structured to hug the wall often appear to be some type of wall art when not in use.