mid century modern

flying staircase

A ‘Flying’ reinforced concrete stair with a balustrade of terra-cotta coloured glass in black steel frames is an attractive feature of the front of the Bank, being visible through the plate-glass window. This stair leads to the staff lunch room and toilet facilities on the first floor.

Wingham Chronicle – September 3, 1957

The stairs of ‘The Bank’ are the jewel in the crown of this beautiful building but they were hidden from view for at least 10 years. The merger of ES&A Bank with ANZ saw the end of the period of cool Mid 20th Century colours in the bank branches. A more unified corporate approach would have been directed. The wonderful glass, black frames and citrus yellow / orchid green concrete was painted.

Mid century modern staircase before restoration

The paint job on the stairs was not only hideous in colour but really poorly done. Acrylic paint over enamel. The timber handrail of Queensland Maple was not spared a coat of ANZ blue either. Combine this with almost 60 years of grime and neglect and you’re only starting to get the picture. The sheet vinyl on the stairs had worn through to the hessian.

Then along came Holiday Coast Credit Union. This ‘daggy’ stair case had to be hidden from view. The front windows where covered in opaque vinyl so they could not be seen and a plasterboard wall was constructed around the stairs. Nails were blasted into the sandstone floor to hold the wall in place. The wall was built over a section of the handrail, literally entombing the landing glass and iron work.

Mid century modern staircase hidden by Holiday Coast Credit Union

When we first came to have a look at the building, the area around the stairs was used for storing mops, ladders and unused signs.

But it still looked awesome!!!

We marvelled at the amazing workmanship and design that went into the construction of this staircase. It is cast concrete and the whole structure was first formed up with timber.

The blacksmithing of the balustrade is just as amazing. The bend in the steel is so even, which is hard to do as steel wants to go thinner on the outside of the arc and thicker on the inside. The frames that hold the glass in are so exact and tight.

The formwork was built around the iron work so it’s embedded it into the concrete stringer of the stair.

After this, the whole thing had to be rendered smooth and was done so the vinyl flooring finished flush with the concrete edge. The builder was Tim Schmitzer of Schmitzer and Burg. Aaron contacted his son, Barry Schmitzer, while doing research and he said ‘My Dad was a concrete man, he loved it and was a pioneer in the use of it’.

The glass is ‘rough-cast’. Normally clear, the colour is achieved by applying an orange glaze and firing a second time. The Queensland Maple used on the hand rail is a rare species of timber and the pieces used are known as fiddle-back. This is the most prized of the timbers as it has a beautiful cross banding, the same you see on violins and guitars.

But lets not forget Richard Apperly, the architect. It is so perfectly planned. The slight gap that allows the steel to rise up to the second floor, the angles and curves of the steel and the lovely taper on the landing support.

Even before settlement had gone through on the building, the previous owner allowed Aaron to get stuck in.

Paint stripping mid century modern staircase

Great delight was taken in bashing up the horrible, insensitive wall that had entombed this beauty. Check out the video!

But after Team Well took out some internal anger issues, great care had to be taken in the demolition of the wall. The original glass was under there and power had to be disconnected. The plasterboard was cut away revealing the studs and this was unscrewed and removed.

Free at last!

Sheets of chip board had been glued with construction adhesive onto the steel work and this had to be taken off with the use of a heat gun. Too much heat may have caused the glass to shatter so easy does it.

All of the paint was removed with paint stripper and steel wool – lots of it, again, and again, and again. The glass was also stripped this way with 0000 steel wool so the glass and glaze would not be scratched.

The paint om the timber hand rail was removed with a tungsten tip scraper and sandpaper and the paint in the grooves was removed with a small craft knife. The rail was removed except for the landing section which was chocked up to allow for timber oiling and painting of the steel work.

Caution was used in removing the worn out vinyl incase that contained asbestos. This was laid on top of a layer of cardboard which had to be dampened and removed with a wire brush wheel on a drill, spraying paper pulp everywhere!

The original stair treads and rubber were numbered, removed, cleaned and polished and reused. Anything original was preserved.

At first the glass was to remain in situ as we were worried that removing it might break it but as the stripping continued it was discovered that some of the panels had been broken and replaced. Some with an inferior glaze that was effected by the paint stripper and some where clear glass with an orange paint applied to one side. Obviously this came off with the paint stripper just leaving clear glass. The glass was then removed and new glass had to be sourced. We also discovered that some of the panels were cracked.

Our good friends at Wingham Windows managed to source, with great difficulty, the last pieces of rough cast glass in Australia! We then found an exact matching coloured vinyl that we could apply to the reverse, smooth side.

Painting was super challenging. The black frames, the citrus yellow and orchid green had to be masked so nothing dripped onto each other or the sandstone. The frames that hold the glass in, were painted separately.

After much deliberation, we decided to lay cardboard as an underlay for the vinyl again. We figured if it lasted 60 years last time it should be OK.

New black vinyl was laid and the precious glass re-installed. Aaron did not breath for a whole day!

Mid century modern staircase fully restored Mid century modern staircase set against stone feature wall Mid century modern staircase now studio for Well Creative

The jewel was back in the crown once more.

Modernist staircase

When the winter sun is low and is shining through the glass, it is jaw dropping, dazzling and spell binding.

1950s cast concrete staircase Mid century modern concrete and glass staircase

Also triumphant at night when backlit. The strong orange pop looks wonderful with the 50’s pastel colour pallet.

Retro vintage 1960s staircase

The “flying” stairway has been featured against the plate glass windows at the front of the building, and the banking chamber presents a scene expressing the latest ultra-modern trends in banking accommodation for Both clients and staff alike.

Wingham Chronicle September 6, 1957

Mid century modern retro vintage staircase

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