Peter Christenson standing by one of his staircases.

Carpenter builds ‘stairway to heaven’

Proof that art and creativity can come from just about anything, whether it's a chord or a hammer.

Sooke resident Peter Christenson always liked to work with his hands, giving in to his skills as a carpenter, but there was nothing in the middle to fill in between his job and his desire to play music.

Around 16 years ago, he finally found something that would bring the two worlds together: building staircases that become abstract pieces of landscape art on the side of a cliff, which later became known as Shoreline Design.

It’s one of the few jobs in the world that you start at the top and make your way down to the bottom, literally.

But while he doesn’t mind being vertical for most of the day, climbing mountains isn’t exactly what he does to relax.

“I’ll build you a staircase, but I’d much rather be in the studio playing music during my down time,” he said. In a sense, building the stairs is one dream that helps feed his other passion for music.

Christenson hopes to get more involved in the local music scene as well, considering he’s played nearly a dozen type of music instruments since he was a teenager.

And regardless if he’s holding a guitar or wood chisel, he’s managed to set himself apart as a craftsman.

It wasn’t without inspiration though.

Having started as a dock builder in Georgian Bay and Muskokas in Ontario, Christenson was first inspired by the idea when he was on a ferry heading over to Pender Island. He looked at the side of the Island, and thought, “Ah, what if I could do that?”

Fortunately, the niche caught on, as not many carpenters like hanging from a rope over a cliff to build a zigzag of stairs all the way to the bottom.

He’s also a Capricorn, which, given his ability to hang from sheer cliffs, has an ironic connection to the sign’s symbol, the mountain goat.

As he grew his business, he soon realized that it really took a mountain goat spirit to build such projects off of vertical drops straight down, even some that hang well over the edge.

“After the third guy called for a job with me, I asked him, what’s your sign? He said, Capricorn – I thought, come on in, give it a shot,” Christenson laughed.

There’s no room for mistakes either, like one staircase he built on Pender Island that hung over a sheer 76-metre drop.

“You wouldn’t want to forget your sandwich.”

On average, he builds a staircase on a 12- to 15-metre bank in around 12 days, with an incline comfortable enough to accommodate anyone from a two year old to a 92 year old.

He also takes a more traditional way of building the staircase, using galvanized pipes deep into the rock as the foundation instead of concrete and rebar.

In the end, it’s all about doing something you like, Christenson pointed out, being living proof that art and creativity can come from just about anything, whether it’s a chord or a hammer.