Sep 29, 2023

A step in the right direction: Let your staircase shine

Top to bottom, staircases perform both functional and aesthetic roles in our homes. Typically a prominently located feature — often in a front foyer or near the front entrance — staircases can range from eyesore to eye-popping style statement.

Obviously, you want the style of your staircase to be compatible with your home's overall look. But a staircase remodel can inject new character, helping lean your design in directions from traditional to transitional to industrial, contemporary or the ever-popular coastal casual, to name just a few. Keep in mind that darker woods skew more formal, while lighter or grayer-toned woods, especially those with pronounced grain or distressing (think shabby chic), lend a more casual feel. Light natural wood combined with white and, sometimes, black can create the increasingly popular Scandinavian vibe.

If your staircase is not bringing enough to the style party, here are ideas to help. Since options are myriad and can be overwhelming, it may be helpful to think in terms of four main components: handrails and balustrades, treads, risers and the inner string wall — the interior wall to which stairs attach. Regardless, choice of material will play a significant role.

Balustrades are often made of wooden spindles with various profiles topped by a wooden handrail. But there is a whole world of other options just waiting to be tapped, with handrails blending or contrasting. For balustrades, consider ultra-modern panels of clear or tinted glass, metals in a range of colors (silver and black are among the most popular), and styles from sleek cylindrical spindles to cable railing, mesh, panels, or virtually any motif you can dream up — say, Hollywood Regency or Art Deco. Wrought iron with perhaps a stylized branch or other plant motif can lend charming rustic appeal. For an ultra-modern approach that can look warm if combined with wood, consider a steel stair-to-ceiling spindle-style balustrade that creates a stair screen. Alternatively, these screens can be made of materials like cording or woven wicker.

For treads, consider wood, stone, concrete or even a carpet runner, especially if you have young children or pets. These days, carpet often gets a thumbs down, but it is just right in certain contexts: It certainly muffles sound, but it can also skate that edge between traditional and current. A precast steel staircase supported by a wall and a screen-style balustrade is an unexpected industrial option to consider. Risers in the same material as the tread will lend the most visual cohesion. But for a different visual interest and focal point, adorn your risers in wallpaper, tile or paint that is bold or subtle, sophisticated or whimsical.

If you are thinking of removing the carpet and going with the wood underneath, remember that the treads are usually made of particleboard. You can replace them with oak hardwood for a more updated look. The cost range for one flight of stairs would be between $4,500 and $5,500.

Wood and metal treads can float — that is, attach only on the inner string wall. You can float all but, say, the first three stairs if you want some built-in storage under the stairs. That area can be a prime spot for shelving, cubby or pull-out storage, as well as for handsome display.

Things get really interesting when you think about combining materials. One simple way to approach this: Think in terms of contrasts like warm and cool, both to the touch and to the eyes. For instance, wooden newel posts, handrails, treads and risers — "warm" — combined with railing balustrades made of black metal cable — "cool" — can evoke a farmhouse, coastal casual or industrial modern aesthetic, depending on the finishes and profiles. Stairs can even be edged with materials like metal for a bit of pizzazz.

The interior wall of your staircase is an essential component of its overall impact but can be easily overlooked. Wainscoting is traditional — with board and batten looking cottage or coastal — often with photos or art above. But why not contemplate blocks of monochromatic tile; veneers of brick, stone or wood; or even a skim coat of concrete if you aspire to a more industrial look.

Finally, in your stair makeover, consider lighting. A trio of options: under the lip of the tread, intervals at the base of the interior wall, and under the handrail on the interior wall. Stair lighting is not essential, but it can boost the safety and drama of your staircase.

Chris Ettel, founding partner of VB Homes, is a member of the Tidewater Builders Association — now Coastal Virginia Building Industry Association.

Have questions? Send to [email protected]

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