Staircase Decor, 3 Common Mistakes + what to do instead

Hi Everyone,

Happy Easter and Passover!


A while back, I received a real Dear Laurel note asking about staircase decor.

So, out of curiosity, I looked it the word “staircase,” in the dictionary:

I found out that the word originated in the early 17th century.



Don’t you adore old architectural drawings? I do. This is a fragment of the exquisite grand staircase at Le Petit Trianon, Versailles. Louis XVI had it built for his mistress Madame De Pompadour. However, she died before it was complete.



Today, a section of the ornate railing. Photo by Stacey Bewkes of Quintessence. There are more gorgeous photos from the palace in the link.


Staircase = drama



Frankly, my dear… You’re coming with me!


Helsinki04Natural History Museum10Helsinki Natural History Museum

I get a little dizzy when I look at this, but that’s more me than this cool design.


Time to abandon the extraordinary for the three “are you kidding me?” examples to avoid in staircase decor and design.



What is this?

Not only does it look hazardous, but it also has to be the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.



No, wait. I was wrong. This is uglier.

Please put in a proper runner or nothing at all.


Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 1.18.54 AM

I think that staircase could use a little mowing. What do you think?

Seriously, though, I have seen this in people’s homes.

What do you do if there is no finished tread?

You can buy tread and riser covers to make a proper tread, and then you can put down a lovely runner. We’ll get to that in a sec.







I’m sure I’ve left out something.


Please let me know in the comments about any staircase abominations you’ve come across.


Let’s move on to the dos in staircase decor.


magazineC-APR-FEATMOBY-Staircase decorMagazine C

I love the look of this all-white banister and rail. However, the reality is that the rail will get a lot of abuse. So, if you want to do this, it would take a lot of prep-work to get a good solid finish that’s less apt to chip.


little green notebook black staircaseLittle Green Notebook

This all-black staircase is chic as hell, IMO. Black is a trend in staircase decor that I’m digging for more urban spaces, at least.


david-hicks-black-staircase-red-chinoiserie-chair - Staircase decor

David Hicks (not sure of the source)


The question is: Can you paint a narrow back staircase a dark color?


YES! You can see how fabulous this is. But, it has to make sense. In this case, I think it does.


jk-place-capri-michele-bonan - Chippendale railing - staircase decor

I can’t possibly do a post about staircases without putting in my favorite one in the entire world–in my favorite hotel. The JK Place Capri.

For more lovely images of the JK Place, please go here.

If you don’t already know, the style of this railing is Chinese Chippendale after the cabinet-maker, Thomas Chippendale. The late 1700s was when Chinoiserie became wildly popular in England and France.


Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 7.35.30 PMMeg Braff’s equally gorge Chinese Chippendale railing in white.


Elizabeth-Roberts-Ensemble-Architecture-Fort-Greene-Cumberland-Terrace-Remodelista-14-733x1101via the Romodelista – Elizabeth Roberts Townhome in Brooklyn

More black stairs. Love the ebony herringbone floor too.


sims-hilditch-interior-design-bath-country-house- staircase decor

I think these are wrought iron spindles, but not 100% sure. It’s an English Country Home by Sims Hilditch


jk-kling-stairs-sisal-rug-runner-white-spindels-traditional-staircase decorJK Kling

Alright. Gorgeous staircase. Gorgeous! But, sisal stair runner. Looks great.


If this was five years ago, I would’ve said:


Don’t do it. It’s slippery, and it stains.
I repeat. It’s slippery, and it stains.

However, my friend Lotte Meister has it all over her home. Please read what she said about it in this post from 2018.

Please note that the above runners are in the waterfall style installation.


staircase runner Loi Thai Tone on Tone wool sisal black railing

If you don’t do sisal you could do a mostly wool and sisal blend.

Above and below by Loi Thai of Tone on Tone.


wool sisal stair case runner

There are also wool and sisal blends that look sisal but are not slippery.

This is called a Hollywood installation. Actually, I did not know that term. I always just called it the one that wraps tightly around the stair tread.

With most stair runners, there should be about 3-6″ of wood showing. More than 8,” and I think it begins to look funny unless it’s a super-wide staircase. But please, no six-foot-wide staircases with a 27″ wide runner. That’s not a good look, however, I’ve seen it done.



Old Townhome

This blog has an excellent tutorial for creating the above wainscoting with an integrated handrail. Wainscoting is the antidote to greasy hands. :]



SB Long Interiors

Live the crisp, tailored work and millwork.



Sims Hilditch




Did you know that you can have wallpaper laminated? The person who wrote in said that she needed something super durable. Well, there is the answer. I love Schneider Banks in Texas, but other places will laminate your wallpaper so it can be cleaned easily.


Some wallpapers are wipeable but not laminated.


TScheerer stairs

Then, some beautiful high-end vinyl papers are super practical and great-looking. The above wallpaper is David Hick’s The Vase- available through Clarence House. 


Okay, and now for the some news!


Things are moving along with my renovation. I have gotten some quotes from the contractor. Yes, it is going to be expensive. But, we already knew that.

How much, Laurel?

Haha. Maybe I’ll go over that one day, but not right now.

I’m still waiting for quotes from the kitchen cabinet maker, but that should be coming very soon.

In the meantime, I am a lunatic thinking, thinking, thinking about many other design details.

And, one of them is the staircase railing! First, let’s look at my living room back wall as it is today–sans furniture.


living room staircase April 2022

I cannot wait to get rid of the horrid spiral staircase. You can read more about it here.

And, also this post which discusses unconventional staircase design–and safety.

living room no furniture - new stairwell
Above, I virtually created the new stairwell, approximately where it’s going to go. Yes, the baseboard heating on that wall is going bye-bye.

Since I’m planning on putting in a mini-split ductless AC, I won’t need it, as they also provide additional heat, if necessary.


Okay, sorry to leave you hanging.

However, we need to stop for today. Next time, please come see my design for a staircase railing, and more.




PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!


***ALSO, there are only three more days for the Laurel Home 10%+ 10-year-Blogiversary sale. Please go to the bottom of last Sunday’s post here to find out more.***


23 Responses

  1. Hi, Laurel – Appreciated all the good stuff packed in this post and additional linked posts on stairs. Back in Portland, we had to resort to carpet treads for our (spoiled) Cardigan corgis, and the treads worked well … mostly didn’t notice them after awhile! We now have a single-story home.
    (I wanted to insert a photo of the corgis on the stairs, but can’t seem to make it work.)
    -Deb 🙂

  2. I broke my ankle in January because I missed the bottom step of staircase. The treads are stained the same as our floors. I now have a small rug on the floor there so I can tell the difference between the bottom step and the floor. I think dark or black stairs look awesome, but are a recipe for disaster.

  3. You asked for mistakes

    I’ve seen. I’ve seen people not create a safe descent for pets by not having enough balusters.

    Thanks for the pretty pictures!

  4. Lisa D, if you see my comment, I have seen that trim referred to as stair brackets. Laurel, I love these beautiful staircases and can’t wait to see what you have in mind for your new staircase!

  5. Hi Laurel,
    At my age, thank goodness my house doesn’t have stairs.
    But if I had them, my personal preference would be treads stained the same as my wood floors. I also would prefer wood risers. With a white painted railing with wood stained handrail.
    The examples you shared are also lovely.

  6. Hi Laurel,
    How are you going to patch the floor where the old spiral staircase was? I’m curious if you have sources for reclaimed wood; we were lucky to find a guy who had some old-growth fir when we had to match our 1853 floors, but it can be hard to find. Your renovation looks great!

  7. I know stick-on stair tread carpeting is fugly

    But I can’t find proper stair carpeting in that is affordable, easy to keep keep clean, and wide enough. I’ve been looking for years and years!

    I want sea grass because it is indestructible with my 3 German shepherds. Sisal is terrible for us… I’ve always thrown it away in a short time. Sea grass is the only way to go for no-stains, no wear and tear at all.

    So I do have stick-on Seagrass treads with black trim, a black banister and white spindles and risers and maple treads.
    It looks acceptable to actually good…and was easy to do myself, and affordable!!!…and after 5 years of 12 German Shepherd claws running up and down, it still looks brand new.
    So sometime I compromise…and pick my battles.

  8. I know stick-on stair tread carpeting is fugly

    But I can’t find proper stair carpeting in that is affordable, easy to keep keep clean, and wide enough. I’ve been looking for years and years!
    I want sea grass because it is indestructible with my 3 German shepherds. Sisal is terrible for us… I’ve always thrown it away in a short time. Sea grass is the only way to go for no-stains, no wear and tear at all.

    So I do have stick-on Seagrass treads with black trim, a black banister and white spindles and risers and maple treads.
    It looks acceptable to actually good…and was easy to do myself, and affordable!!!…and after 5 years of 12 German Shepherd claws running up and down, it still looks brand new.
    So sometime we compromise…pick your battles I say.

  9. In Alabama, most of us have heat pumps on our AC units, which warm a bit. But we went one winter with three space heaters bc our ac broke and the was no budget to replace it until spring, and it was COLD! So we now have a backup natural gas furnace, and we are grateful for the extra heat.

    I will say that my sister and BIL just bought a beach house, which has mini-splits, and they were so confusing! The brand they have isn’t common, and they spent days trying to figure out error codes, for which the manual kept saying ” Call an HVAC specialist.” It was so frustrating when I stayed there, bc at midnight, stumbling around without my glasses, I tried unsuccessfully to read the LED numbers on the high wall mounted unit. My poor kiddos were sleeping in a room at 77 degrees, and I had no clue how to change the setting to cool it for them.

    I’d recommend a lot of research of various companies, ask them how to troubleshoot common problems, and be prepared for a steep learning curve ( it’s sure not intuitive, IMO). Good luck!

  10. Gorgeous staircases. What do you call the pretty millwork on the side of the stairway at the Sims Hilditch country home? I love it. Your living room is beautiful, even when it’s naked. I can’t wait to see the final reveal.

  11. Love the beautiful staircases except for all black, which looks like you are ascending into a pit. I agree with the person who thinks it would be dangerous.

    I could see one mouse and a mouse hole on a riser of our basement stairs. We have no mice, so no unpleasant associations.

  12. Echoing Jackie, the ductless wonders, aka heat pumps, don’t work below 32 degrees, and not so well even then. My sister in Virginia has lived with them for a long time. In cold weather you need an auxiliary system, which is electric and which, when in use, sends your heating bill into the stratosphere.

  13. For Alex: Laurel may not be able to do this in her apartment, but there are ceiling units you can install instead of those appalling wall units that make a house look like a commercial building. We did that in our house; the units aren’t noticeable unless you’re looking up, and they work well.

    In a house with high ceilings, wall units can be placed high enough up so that they aren’t noticeable. My sister lives in an apartment in a converted Victorian house where they ran these large things that look like corrugated pipe snaking through the rooms just below the ceiling. But with 12-foot ceilings and abundant gorgeous windows and millwork, they don’t matter much. With Laurel’s high ceilings, wall units high up won’t interfere with hanging art, which means they probably won’t be noticeable. Our ceilings are 7’10”, so wall units would have been impossible to ignore.

  14. For anyone reading today’s great blog who lives in government housing or will be in a rental home for only a couple years and now feels bad about their stair treads (those little pieces of carpet in the first few posts): you already knew they weren’t attractive, but it’s a choice between using those carpet treads or getting rid of Fido, and Fido is definitely staying, so so are the stair treads. I will say I managed to find some that were slightly better looking than the half moons in those photos, but anything was better than having to haul the dog up and down the stairs. Enjoy this season in your life. You’ll be retired (or in a permanent home) soon enough.

  15. I like the mice silhouettes on the stair risers…sort of. I have enough real mice in my old house that I don’t a reminder of them. Looking forward to your stair design.

  16. Type “book stairs” into Google Images and you will see a lot of crazy as well as some very cool staircases incorporating bookshelves or else decorated to look like shelves or spines of books. The worst staircase idea I ever heard (and talked someone out of) was to install a couple of video monitors to the walls of a steep, high, staircase in a small college museum. All-black staircases strike me as possibly hazardous to people with limited vision, too.

  17. They make units that go into the ceiling and are flat, so you don’t have anything projecting into the room. I don’t want a unit that sticks out of my wall. Check into other options.

  18. Please tell us more about how you are doing your ductless minisplits without making your beautiful house ugly. Hubs really wants the minisplit. We are about to uglify our little 1931 house unless you help. Actually, we will be getting a floor/wall unit on one side of our fireplace and evenutally building a fake bookcase around it with a matching real bookcase on the other side, but we’re pretty hazy on the details . 🙁

  19. Laurel, Love all these stair details. I want to change mine!!
    Can’t wait to see your entire renovation- especially the stairway and that gorgeous kitchen!

  20. Just check that mini split for heat , despite all assurances from my high end vendor it doesn’t work well for heat.
    Looking forward to seeing your staircase love your blog

  21. Hi Laurel, beautiful stairwell ideas! This past week I went and picked out new wool carpeting and dark contrasting wide binding to be made into a waterfall stair runner. I was so excited until I got the quote and fell off my chair! Your post makes me wonder weather wool/sisal combo with a narrow binding would be more affordable. Any thoughts on things to consider?

  22. Happy Easter/Passover Laurel!

    I’m especially interested in how you will incorporate a mini split into your traditional decor without it sticking out like a sore thumb.


  23. We moved into an older home last year that had a tired nape staircase stained in a hideous orange hue. We painted it black and white and replaced the carpet in the treads with LVP (wood is not an option in the desert as it dries out). I have been looking at runners and saw these peel and stick carpet treads from oak valley. Don’t judge until you see them. They look beautiful but wonder if it’s still best to go with a traditional runner.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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