By Matthys Van Leeuwen.
With the Eagle Landing Stairs disappearing, an unsung Burien stair-builder continues to build magnificent stairs.
Meet Loran Dugan, a man who for his stature you could easily overlook, but his craftsmanship to build stairs makes you look up. He has been building unique stairs from his shop in Burien for 34 years. So, I asked him how many feet in the air he has created over all those years and he “guesstimates” the number of stairs, multiplied by an average height; the altitude should be around 20,000 to 25,000 feet!
The history of stairs dates back to the first human structures, which were most likely hewn logs or flat rocks stacked for easier access to the raised entrances of huts or even caves. As civilization and building techniques advanced around the world, magnificent staircases took shape in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Loren grew up on a farm where he had a cabinet shop, and at age 14 began an apprenticeship where he learned about wood, how to use power tools and what to build with those things. He started out building boxes, progressed to cabinets, then small furniture pieces. At 16, his first piece for sale was a cradle and stand-out of red oak in the shape of a rowboat with carved dolphins and oars with oar locks; this sold in 1974 for $1,500 (that would be $7,500 today and likely $ 10,000 next year, given the current rate of inflation).
He lived on a 150 ft boat for a year during which time he learned a lot about boat maintenance. After moving to Seattle in the late 80’s, his step-dad helped him get a job with a local stair company; then 2 years later he started his own business.
What is the future of this type of craftsmanship in the United States? There are a lot of stair- building master craftsmen who are retiring within the next 5 years, and there aren’t many younger men who want to do any type of construction, never mind a specialty like stair-building.
While asking him how deep I need to reach in my pockets to get me a staircase, he jokingly tells me “$12 million is a good place to start”, but he has done full stairs including treads and railing for $12,000. Are there people still willing to pay for fine craftsmanship? His steadfast answer is “yes”. Most of the contractors he works with have clients with the resources to buy just about whatever they want, which includes gorgeous homes with beautiful staircases. He markets his stairs through building contractors he has worked with for many years, contractors who specialize in high-end homes, and for the retail clients who tend to be word-of-mouth; they also find him through the website BeautifulCustomStairs.com .
Then the final question: “What is the most remarkable stair you’ve built?” The Luger job on Lake Washington is the “image”. The owner bought a swamp in Florida; then harvested the cypresses there which were used for all the woodworking and staircase in this gorgeous home. The most fun thing to build was the free-floating elliptical stair.
Read more about his business