For all those staircases that are in need of a bit of TLC, we’ve spoken to two top interior designers, Taline Findlater, managing partner of Olivine Life and Judie Hart director/owner at JJ Hart Interiors to give you some simple and effective DIY staircase hacks to try out this weekend.
Create space and light with paint
‘If you are up to the preparation and work involved, then painting can make a real transformation and you can also create space and light using lighter colours or shades,’ says Judie Hart.
Experiment with colour
Paint the treads – the top, flat part of the step that you stand on – and risers – the vertical part of the step – in contrasting shades, using the darker colour on the tread and a lighter one on the riser to help prevent dirt from showing up.
In contrast to the above tip you could reverse the colours to create a different effect.
‘Paint the stair risers in a dark colour to give the illusion that each step is floating,’ says Taline Findlater.
The right tools for the job
When painting wooden stairs avoid paints with a high-shine finish (such as gloss) as it can be slippery under foot. If possible use non-slip paint — it has a slightly grainy texture to create more grip.
If you are painting the treads and risers in different colours, wait for one colour to dry before starting on the second. Also, paint the risers first so that you can still access the stairs to apply the second colour to the tread.
Get creative with carpeting
If you don’t want the expense of replacing a whole new fitted stair carpet you may want to replace a worn-out carpet with a stair runner that has a smaller surface area.
‘There are some fantastic companies providing great stair runners in beautiful designs and colours with fun trims/tapes. Stair rods can also be added but make sure that the runner is not too busy if you are also thinking of adding in another element,’ says Taline.
Paint your own carpet
‘If you have a smaller budget but you want to add interest to the stairs themselves use paint to create the illusion of a stair runner. Simply paint a contrasting colour running up the stairs, leaving a strip of the wood or base colour on either side,’ says Taline.
Check the condition of the stairs beneath the existing carpet before removing it to check that the wood is in good enough condition to be exposed.
If you like the look of a wooden finish but your staircase isn’t in the best condition, wooden stair cladding is a quick and effective solution. Simply fix pre-cut and treated treads and risers over your existing stairs for an almost instant transformation.
Stair stickers can provide a great focal point on stairs and the best thing is they are non-permanent so you can change the design as often as you wish.
‘If you want to add script or decoration to the stairs but don’t want to paint them use wall stickers. Marble or wood effect self-adhesive papers are now available, which can be cut to size — I would use these on the front of the tread for best effect,’ says Judie.
Attention to detail
‘If your tread is wide enough, you could add small plant pots with their own saucer each painted or decorated with differing colours or patterns. Different plants or grasses would be very attractive,’ says Judie.
Using non-permanent accessories on the stair treads, such as jars or LED tea lights, allows you to swap and change them to suit the seasons or even just your mood.
‘Look into the new ‘stair baskets’ designed to sit and hold clothing, household or personal items — brill for bags, gloves and electronics,’ says Judie.
Repair or replace
If any of the spindles are cracked or damaged it is essential to repair or replace them immediately. You will probably find that you don’t need to replace all of the spindles, it is usually possible to replace individual spindles in the same style, or for more bespoke staircase designs, a professional woodturning service will be able to recreate additional spindles to match your existing design.
If the newel post at the top or bottom of the stairs is at all broken or unstable, seek professional advice as it may be compromising the overall safety of your staircase.
Know when to call in the experts
Stripping a balustrade back to the bare wood can be a fiddly and extremely time-consuming job — one that it really best left to the professionals unless you are an experienced DIYer. There is also no guarantee that the wood underneath will be in good condition and may end up being a costly, yet wasted exercise.
It may be easier and more cost-effective to replace the balustrade entirely with fresh new wooden stair parts — or even with a completely new finish, such as glass or metal.
Highlight the handrail
If your staircase has a wall-mounted handrail rather than a full balustrade you can still apply extra detail. ‘Pigs ear’ handrails (that sit flat against the wall) can look effective when painted in a contrasting colour to the wall and mopstick handrails (attached to the wall with brackets) can be smartened up with decorative handrail end caps or new wall brackets.
Focus on the balustrade
The balustrade is the ideal place to hang seasonal decorations; however, it can also be used all year round for draping fairy lights and bunting.
‘Add strings of lights twined around the handrail for a subtle effect,’ says Judie.
Try hanging small terrariums filled with succulents between the spindles.
Install spotlights into the skirting boards that run up alongside the stairs — not only will they provide useful lighting, they can also create a stunning effect.
‘Lighting the treads of the staircase is also an effective and stylish way to add illumination,’ says Taline.
Keep off the walls
‘Avoid wall lights going up the stairs — they are not practical and tend to visually unbalance the space. When lighting stairways/hallways and landings we suggest using lanterns or similar and there is a huge range out on the market for every budget,’ says Taline.
Hit the ceiling
Create a feature above the staircase with a statement pendant light — the double height created over a staircase allows you to experiment with more dramatic, lower hanging lighting options.
Drawing the eye upwards is a foolproof way of distracting from a less-than-perfect staircase.
‘Create a full-on light feature around the balustrade with a strip LED that plugs into a socket in the hall or on the landing. If going down this route, my motto is to always use items that are fit for purpose,’ says Judie.
Create a gallery
‘Staircases are an ideal place to have a gallery wall — group together frames but try to keep the theme or frame style similar to avoid the space becoming too busy,’ says Taline.
‘Stairs and landing walls are the perfect spot for all those family photos or art you could never hang. A gallery works perfectly here, but aim to keep a relationship between frames or sizes for best effect,’ says Judie.
Make a statement
‘Staircases provide the perfect space for experimental painting or wall coverings and, although they are relatively small spaces, they can still handle quite a lot of decoration! Be adventurous — there are some wonderful murals and full picture wall papers around,’ says Judie.
Wallpaper made practical
‘Wallpaper is a beautiful way to decorate, but because of the foot traffic up and down the staircase, we suggest putting in a dado rail so that any marks below can be touched up with paint as time passes,’ says Taline.
Consider the available space
‘Beware of adding items on walls — height and depth are important if people are walking by or underneath,’ says Judie.
Open up the room
Mirrors are a great way of opening up dark, narrow staircases as they give the impression of more space and also maximise all available light.
Compact and bijou
‘Landings are small spaces and therefore need quite compact furniture, but resist making everything ‘mini’. A thin console table with a lamp will fit well, and adding a mirror above can add depth to the space,” says Taline.
Add detail with rugs
‘A rug is a quick and easy way to add colour, texture and interest if you don’t have stair runner — make sure your rug is big enough and goes underneath any pieces of furniture, like a console table. If the rug is not large enough it can make the space feel smaller than it actually is,’ says Taline.
Go under the stairs
‘Build in cupboards, drawers and shelves to house family clutter, coats, boots or toys. Alternatively, use the space to house a lovely desk or console table with a chair and lamp,’ says Judie.
If you have a half landing then make a feature out of it! Use it to showcase a funky houseplant or a piece of statement furniture.
If there isn’t much floor space on the half landing you can create a stunning effect by hanging a trailing houseplant from the ceiling.
Get rid of the clutter
And finally, our last tip is the most obvious, yet possibly most effective one — keep your balustrade clutter-free! Stop using the newel post as a makeshift coat and bag hanger and see how much neater your staircase looks.