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Ideas for Painted Stairs

Thinking of giving your stairs a lick of paint? Let these lovelies help shape your décor decision

Houzz UK editorial staff. I’m an interiors journalist and editor, previously for… More

A painted staircase will often be the first thing that catches your eye as you enter a house. Whether you want a contemporary look, an injection of colour or something to enhance the period features of your pad, there’s a solution for you. Painting stairs yourself is a big job – so make sure you know the look you want before you get the sander, tape and brushes out. Here are some of the best ways from Houzz on how to do it, so you can imagine how a standout staircase might look in your own place.

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Conjure up an absent carpet
Stairs were once only ever painted at the edges, with a carpet running up the centre. Upon moving into an old house, you might still lift up the stair runner to find that beneath it you have bare wood. This is not a bad look at all – and it looks brilliant here because the middle strip of stair has been treated to give the wood a healthy, smooth finish (sand and varnish with a non-slip product to reduce the risk of splinters and slips, too). Also, the rest of the hall and the edges of the stairs are all bright white, giving a crisp and airy feel to the space.

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Colourwash it
Solid colour is the obvious choice if you’re going to paint stairs, but it’s not the only one. You can create this semi-transparent ombre effect in a number of ways. One is to buy a selection of paints next to each other on the colour chart of your choice. Pick matt versions and, for each shade, water down the paint in a separate container and test it on a spare piece of wood until you get the opacity you’re after. Too weak is better than too strong – you can always layer it up. When you’re happy with the colour and can still see the woodgrain, if you’d like a worn, shabby chic kind of look, rough up the (well-dried) paintwork with a fine grade sandpaper – there are lots of guides online for ‘distressing’ paintwork. Then top your steps with a hard-wearing matt floor varnish – ensure you go for one that won’t yellow as it ages, discolouring your paintwork beneath.

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Fake a carpet
In the reverse of the idea seen in the first home, here this staircase has been painted to give it the illusion of having a blue runner on it. For a crisp, colour-block effect you could paint the sides of the treads white, too, but this all hangs together well because the white risers tie in nicely with the painted balustrade, while the bare-wood treads tie in with the hall floor.

Choose paint designed for use on floors to ensure it’s the right finish and won’t be slippery for feet in socks.

Architecture: How you can make more of your staircase

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Invert the norm
When stair runners are fitted and skirtings are painted white, it’s probably more common to see stair edges painted to match, or to be left unpainted, sanded and waxed or varnished. Here, the owners have created a subtle variation by going for black steps.

When applying any strong paint colour adjacent to a different one, it pays to invest in a good-quality, paint-blocking painter’s tape rather than just using regular masking tape… or winging it in the hope that your steady hand will keep things neat. Fiddly as it is to apply the tape, you’ll thank yourself for making the painting so much easier – and less worrisome – by doing so.

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Go monochrome
Black paintwork lends somewhat of a heritage look to a space – but in this dinky cottage it’s given a modern twist with white risers, which really make a design feature and focal point of this little staircase. The matching black banister is a nice detail.

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Reveal your treads
Leaving your wooden treads exposed instead gives quite a different look. If your stairs are in great shape and the wood looks good, and if you have gorgeous solid-wood floors to match, show the lot off. Keeping the risers the same colour as all the other paintwork keeps the overall effect uncluttered.

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Choose a paint-alike carpet
This interesting idea for staircase décor gives this entrance area a contemporary kick.

Skirtings are grey; stairs are white, balustrade and banisters and the woodwork in the rest of the space are painted grey. The central strip of stairs could have been painted grey, too, but instead has a carpet designed to match – and to add a little flash of colour. The egg-yolk yellow adds warmth, and the whole scheme looks pulled-together because of the strict palette and repetition of shades. The blue and yellow work because the artwork above the little table links and contains them.

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Be edgy
If you live, perhaps, in a 1960s or 1970s house, you might have an open-tread staircase designed a bit like this – which provides a whole lot of additional possibilities with paint. The wood in these designs is a nice feature to keep, especially if it’s a nod to your home’s midcentury heritage, so focus instead on the edges of your staircase (the strip is called the ‘stringer’). With no wall on the right-hand side, you can really make a statement by painting the exterior of the stringer, too. The colour here will impact on the room around it more than it might in an enclosed hall, so be sure to pick out a few details or accessories in the same shade to tie your paintwork into the room as a whole.

(Incidentally, to comply with Building Regulations, new open-tread staircases typically will need to have a safety wire or similar behind each tread so that small children aren’t at risk of slipping through the gaps.)

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Alternate your risers…
Choose an overall colour for your staircase – white, as here, is a good all-rounder – then add more colour by picking out just the risers and painting them in an array of tonally complementary shades. These blues, along with the white and the rope handrail, quickly create a nautical feel.

If you’re going for this kind of colour combination, buy heaps of tester pots and paint them onto strips of paper. This way, you can play around, lining the strips of paper up to make sure you get the best range and order before you commit it to your stairs.

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…or alternate your treads
This idea works just as well with the treads, rather than the risers, carrying the colour. Here, however, the effect is pared back a touch as there are only two shades of blue in the mix.

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Slip in a stripe
This elegant stripe makes for another gentle nautical theme. To achieve this, you’ll need to be committed to precision: measuring, marking out and several rolls of proper painter’s tape are all necessary to get a professional-looking finish.

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Dispense with your skirtings
This clean-lined staircase makes for a much crisper effect when painted. And adding to that effect is the lack of skirting boards. If you’re in a period property where taking out skirtings would look wrong, you can still give a nod to this look by painting your stairs one colour, and your walls and skirtings a different colour.

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Stencil ’em
Here’s a cute idea – and especially so if there are small children around, who’ll enjoy leaping up each step and counting them as they go.

Use a stencil to get uniform digits like these. Before painting a thing, make sure you’re going to end up at the right end of the stairs when you’re done – probably the bottom – and that you have all you need from the other end of the house. Even though floor paint can be very quick-drying, it’s not advisable to walk too much on it until it’s dry enough for its second coat – read the timing instructions on the tin to help you plan the job.

Do you have painted stairs? Tell us all about them (and share photos!) in the Comments section.
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