How to Wake Up Your Staircase

A beautiful stairwell can tie your home together and make moving from one level to the next a pleasure. “It should be this magical kind of space you move through.” Fawn Galli, an interior designer based in New York, said that a beautiful stairwell can tie together your home and make it feel more spacious. “It should be a magical space that you can move through.” Galli, Mr. Mitchell and other designers shared ideas for updating your stairs.ImageTo update a stairwell in Cornwall, Conn., Fawn Galli, a New York-based interior designer, added a strip of black paint resembling a runner.Credit…Costas PicadasPaint ItIf you have a wooden staircase you want to update, paint is one of the easiest, most affordable ways to make a big change. Common methods include painting the entire staircase one color or using two contrasting colors for the treads (the horizontal) and risers (2 the vertical). It’s possible to do more. Ms. Galli updated a staircase in a Cornwall, Conn. house by painting the treads and risers blue, and then adding a strip of inky-black that runs up the center, much like a painted runners. She said, “We wanted it to feel stylish, thoughtful, and important.” “It creates a sense of place, even though it’s a transitional moment.”Other options include painting each riser with a progressively lighter shade of the same color, to give the staircase an ombre look; using stencils to add patterns, letters or numbers to risers; or, if you’re artistically inclined, creating a custom pattern or arrangement of stripes that’s painted freehand or masked with painter’s tape.ImageIn a house that Fawn Galli designed in Newport, R.I., colorful wallpaper and a runner help make the stairwell a focal point.Credit…Courtesy of Fawn Galli InteriorsImageRather than wallpapering the entire stairwell of a house in Los Angeles, Mark D. Sikes framed panels of handpainted wallpaper with molding.Credit…Amy NeunsingerAdd WallpaperPasting wallpaper over drywall is an easy way to give a stairwell a different expression, but the same material can be used in various ways. Mark D. Sikes, a Los Angeles-based designer made one stairwell more lively by framing strips Gracie handpainted wallpaper with molding. This gave it the appearance of a paneled wall. “So we came up with an alternative — which was also very enjoyable — which was to take some panels and frame them to create interest and define the color scheme.” Hyphen & Company founder Shelly Lynch-Sparks applied wallpaper to the stair risers of a Mattituck, N.Y. house. “It added an extra layer to the space that was just slightly unexpected,” Ms. Lynch Sparks stated. It can be seen from almost every room in the house. You can also use ceramic tile to cover your stair risers if you aren’t tempted to wallpaper them. He added blue-and white Portuguese ceramic tile to the risers on the main staircase in a Mediterranean-style home in Los Angeles. He installed small shelves with blue-and-white ceramic vases on the wall next to the stairs. This creates a consistent color scheme throughout the house. A stair runner can be used to make a simple staircase look more elegant by adding a strip of carpeting that runs up the middle. You don’t have to be safe. Ms. Galli likes to have stair runners as part of her projects. “The wilder the better.” She installed a rug from The Rug Company featuring a Diane von Furstenberg pattern that featured large-scale leopards. Another runner she installed featured a school of fish. Another runner she installed had a black line running through the middle and fading to blue at its edges. Galli has installed stair-runner carpet depicting leopards and schools of fish in her projects.Credit…Costas PicadasFill It With ArtOne of Mr. Mitchell’s favorite decorative moves is to fill a stairwell with art from top to bottom, stretching from the stair treads to the ceiling. He said that he and his colleagues have a gallery wall at the top of the staircase. If you want to do the exact same, he recommends keeping all other elements (wall paint, stair runners, and handrail) as neutral and quiet as possible. Next, take inventory of the art you want to hang. He will then fill in the space around these pieces with smaller works. While prints and framed paintings are the most popular, Mr. Mitchell also uses objects. He decorated a staircase with fish plates and plate hangers in his Nova Scotia second home. For another project, he mounted a small shelf holding sculptural ceramic vases at a landing, within a larger wall of paintings.ImageAt his second home, in Nova Scotia, Canada, Mr. Mitchell decorated a stairwell with fish plates.Credit…Annie SchlechterChange the ArchitectureIf you’re renovating your home, you have the opportunity to make more dramatic changes to a staircase. You can replace the handrail and balusters, or rebuild the entire staircase. Instead of using traditional wooden spindles you can make a guardrail with lengths or panes made of tensioned metal cables or tempered glass. Sometimes, Mr. Johnson makes custom metal baluster panels which attach to wooden stairs with screws. Sometimes, Mr. Johnson opts for handrails made of wood with beautiful curves. He sometimes pairs them with unusual metalwork or a newel post. Mitchell, a Toronto designer, once used a simpler method to build a custom handrail. He strung a thick rope through brackets attached to metal walls. Image by Caleb Johnson, an architect from Portland, Maine. Credit to Trent Bell. Although a staircase or part of one can be remodeled, it is a chance to be creative. However, it is important to keep in mind the local building codes. These regulations include the maximum space between the balusters and the circumference for the handrail. Mr. Johnson said, “You should look for moments when, rather than marching with the way that you’ve always done it, you can celebrate them in a different manner than what you expected.” Subscribe to our weekly email updates on residential real-estate news. Follow us on Twitter at @nytrealestate