Stairs aren’t just a convenient way to get from one floor to another – they’re also a blank canvas just waiting for our creative touch. Bare wood, carpeting, runner, paint or maybe some colorful stencils? Check out our ideas for choosing the right stair treatment.
Unless we prefer to climb the walls or leap ten feet in a single bound, a staircase is irreplaceable. Stairs are no longer just a practical element in the design of our house connecting the floors but they have also a strong visual impact. They are the main decor element which we can turn into a focal point. The design of the stairs is important but sometimes we just feel like something is missing. Here are some ideas and tips that might inspire you. As somebody once said: “There is no elevator to success you have to take the stairs.”
1. Choose the stairs material
The stairs design has evolved significantly over the last few years with a variety of materials used for its construction. Let’s take a look at short characteristics and some advantages and disadvantages of main stair materials:
- Wood. It is probably the most traditional stairs material and the most affordable. The beauty of wood is that it can adapt to any style of interiors; be it traditional, rustic, modern, or any other. What’s more, wood is strong and quite easy to work with and provides an element of warmth. The cheapest option is plywood or pine and hardwoods (such as oak and ash) are a bit more expensive. However, wood has also some cons – it is less durable than other materials and can be damaged by high humidity.
- Concrete. It has always been a prime choice for stairs construction, as concrete can easily take any shape we desire. Also, the durability and strength concrete offers as a staircase material are unmatched. The main disadvantage is that concrete is not as visually appealing as other stairs materials. It has also a tendency to crack so frame support must be well engineered.
- Stone. This material offers variety in color and texture. It’s very durable, resistant to moisture, and easily maintainable. Stones like granite and marble are usually used as a cladding material for brick and concrete staircase. Stone lends our interiors a touch of luxury.
- Glass and acrylic. Relatively recent additions to the list of stairs materials are glass and acrylic. They add a touch of contemporary glamour to our interiors. Glass or acrylic stairs look nice with metallic handrails and balusters. The only disadvantage is that they are one of the most expensive material options. And we have to remember that they require high maintenance.
- Metal. Though not very popular, metal stairs can be a great option because of their strength and durability. Metal is perfect for spiral stairs and for space constrained interiors. However, such stairs can be quite noisy when traversed and they may change color in time.
2. Leave the stairs bare
A simple option is to leave the look of the hardwood stairs and keep them bare (meaning no carpeting), with a finish that matches the flooring in the rest of our home. There are many beautiful species and stains of hardwood and this could be a beautiful look all on its own.
However, bare stair treads may look unfinished and impractical. A dark tread will show wear and tear. Every blond hair and bit of dust will show and scream at us. The sound of our steps will reverberate throughout the whole house. Moreover, bare stairs are very slippery (especially if they are made of the highly polished type of wood) and it can be really dangerous when we have small children or elderly people at home. So as we can see, bare stair treads can be a quite risky idea.
3. Use a runner
To add softness, absorb noise, reduce wear on our stairs and prevent slipping, we can try a runner. It allows us to decoratively expose the hardwood on our floor while also practically covering the traffic areas.
The first common question is how wide should the carpet runner be. The answer to this will depend of course on the width of our stairs. The standard widths for runners are 27″ or 30″ and as a general rule of thumb, 4″ of bare wood on either side of the runner is usually aesthetically pleasing.
Runners come in all kinds of different styles, different fibers, and many different colors. For carpet color, the gray-beige family is now a hot trend. Patterned runners are also very beautiful. But we have to make sure that patterns will work on stairs because not all of them work well when they are bent and folded over the stairs. Non-geometric designs, such as floral designs or abstracts are a good choice for stairs. For the scale of the pattern, it is best to go small because large patterns will look too uneven and will be lost.
Rods are an optional accessory to stair runners. Metal rods are installed at the back of the stair, where the riser meets the tread and they help to keep the carpet firmly in place. They usually have ornamental finials on the ends to accentuate the overall look. Some people think that rods give the stairs a more elegant look, while others complain that these rods cause issues with stubbing toes on them.
Tip: Having a thin pad under a runner keeps the carpet from being lifted too far off the floor. The rubber pad is the best option because it is firm and very dense.
4. Go for fully carpeted stairs or cover only the treads
Sometimes stairs may be constructed from plywood or other materials that are not hardwoods, resulting in an ugly surface that can detract from the appearance of our home. In such case, it is probably wiser to carpet the steps wall to wall to hide the unfinished surface below. The same rules that were presented above for runners, apply also to this method, but we just need slightly more material to cover the extra width. The one advantage of full carpeting is the fact that it stretches from one edge of the stairs to the other, resulting in relatively little risk of tripping. However, installing such carpet across the entire width of the stairs is a bit more complicated – it requires some skill to fold the carpet correctly along each edge and create a seamless finish. It’s also a more expensive method than the simple runner because more material is needed.
Another option for stair carpeting is to cover only the treads (areas that we step on) with a runner and leave the riser (the back) of the stair uncovered. Stair treads may come ready made with a sticky backing or can be made to order from any remnant or broadloom material. Stair treads are the cheapest option because they require the least amount of material. It’s suggested to choose a subtle pattern or no pattern at all since the carpet pieces will be broken up. Stair treads create an interesting visual effect and can be a perfect choice in minimalistic and modern decors.
5. Lay down some paint on your stairs
Instead of using a carpet, we can lay down some paint and give our stairs fresh fancy look. We don’t want to say that the regular stair runners are the bad option for the stairs, but they feel a bit formal. Painted stair runners are an ideal alternative. They create the illusion of a real runner but they look a lot more casual, not to mention they’re much easier to clean. What’s more, the design options are as limitless as our imagination. And best of all, it will cost less than a carpet, and we can do them by ourselves, with the usual stuff for painting.
Before painting, it’s very important to fill cracks with wood filler, sand the surface smooth and finally apply primer if the surface has not been painted before. For best results, we should use a special paint for floors — one labeled “porch and patio” or “porch and floor” paint. We might need to apply two or even three coats, depending on the chosen color. The paint finish should be either a semi-gloss or enamel. It’s worth also to consider some non-skid additives that we can mix into the paint to provide better traction. We should apply two or three coats of polyurethane to the finished paint job. Otherwise, foot traffic will wear down the painted finish over time.
Tip: Allow the stairs to dry at least 24 hours before walking on them.
6. Use stencils to decorate the stairs
While painting our stairs in a bright shade can definitely be striking, stenciling a design on our steps can provide an even bolder look. It can turn a mundane set of stairs into a matchless composition of pattern and color. Using stencils to decorate the stairs is really easy so it’s a great project for novice do-it-yourselfers.
A few interesting ideas for stenciling our stairs:
- Patterns. Stencils come in a variety of striking patterns, including chevron, herringbone, lattice, tiled or fleur de lis. We can for example cover all of the risers and treads to mimic the look of a carpeted stairs or we can use stencils on either the risers or the treads and leave the other surface with a natural wood finish.
- Numbers. Never again forget which step we’re on when we treat the stairs as a quirky progression of numbers. It can be a nice idea for families with children. We add numbers on each stair and we teach our toddler how to count to ten.
- Words. Stenciling a few short inspirational words, such as love, dream, joy or hope, in the center of the treads can also look gorgeous. We can add even longer words or full sentences – it can be a line from our favourite book, song lyrics or any quote that we find meaningful.
Maybe you resent your staircase because it is boring or old and ugly. But instead of seeing your stairs as an eyesore, why not try out one of these six creative ways to give your stairs a new life? Put yourself in Scarlett O’Hara’s shoes and imagine leisurely walking down a grand stairway – your private stairway to heaven.