At the great @slow-roads, we stumbled upon an image of two staircases side-by-side, the steps staggered, with no banister or partition between. There was no commentary.

How fantastic, we thought. It defies our notion of stairs, what they do and how they function. Defying the usual…logic.

It reminded us of artist Beatrice Wood’s perfect description of Marcel Duchamp’s revolutionary Fountain, a readymade sculpture made from a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt”. In 1917, it upended the art world and changed the way viewed art, and artists.

 He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object. 

THAT reminded us of the astonishing side-by-side toilets we came across in a New York City cafe’s rest room:

Sally Schneider

We’re grateful to the anonymous persons who unknowingly broke and then expanded our view of stairs and toilets,…

…created a new thought for that object…

Marcel Duchamp via Wikimedia Commons

…and expanded our imagining…


Soon after we published the double stairs, we got an email from designer Pamela Hovland to alert us that they are called “alternating treads”, and are an ingenious way to create a staircase in a limited space (traditional treads and risers require a pretty big footprint). She sent a photo of the version she has in her Minnesota cabin:

Pamela Hovland

We still couldn’t “get” how they work, stuck as we were on the idea that a person went up or down on one side of the staircase. It hadn’t occurred to us that you walk up or down the center of it. Pamela explained:

…you simply place one foot on the left ’stairs’ and one foot on the right as you ‘climb’ your way up (or down). Everyone that uses the stairs at our cabin is surprised at how they function — as the complicated visual doesn’t match the effortless experience. In fact, if you close your eyes as you climb (which I wouldn’t suggest), the climbing feels exactly the same as traditional steps.

Our “stuckness” is a fine example of rut/rote thinking limiting the view…

Then we had our mind blown again. Designer Laura Handler who writes the Interesting Found Objects blog, sent an image of THREE side-by-side toilets she spotted in “some fancy historic house – but I can’t remember where”.

Laura Handler

Much to ponder…

Photo at top: via @slow-roads, courtesy of  @_marinadenisova_ @pocoapocoapoco @openhousemagazine #slowroads

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2 replies on “Found Art with Echoes of Duchamp UPDATE

  1. The stairs in the photo are called ‘alternating treads’ and I have two sets of them in our small lake cabin in Minnesota — one set to a sleeping loft and another to the basement. They are definitely the subject of conversation and it always surprises people that the experience of climbing up or down FEELS exactly like traditional stairs. They are completely code compliant and an ingenious way to save space as traditional treads and risers require much more of a footprint. And, as you suggest, they feel like a sculptural element in the house. Come for a visit Sally!

  2. If you google images of “tiny house alternating stairs” you’ll find lots of wonder designs. Lots of improvising in tiny houses. I periodically get lost down the Pinterest rabbit hole of tiny house storage ideas to use in my small 1950s ranch house.

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