50 staircase ideas designers use to transform homes into something extraordinary

These 50 striking staircase ideas illustrate how in modern modern home design the stairs can become a central design statement, raising the bar one tread at a time

wrought iron staircase with curved balustrade and modern black chairs
Design by LALA Reimagined
(Image credit: Roberto Garcia)

Focussing on staircase ideas is a key part of modern home design. After all, in a traditional multi-level home, the staircase is often smack dab in the middle. Why not make it an architectural wonder, a statement, a piece of the decor that sets the tone for the overall scheme?

“I think that the staircase is the statement of how the rest of the house will feel and flow, so it's importance is at the top of the list,” says interior designer Christy Dillard Kratzer. “It is the first impression someone has as soon as they walk through the front door.”

Sure, the staircase is often a transition space, used to get from one floor to another. While most homeowners don’t spend much time there, especially their children, who might skip stairs altogether on their way up and down. But for interior designers, it’s an opportunity for a show-stopping moment.

In fact, according to Blair Moore, founder of Moore House Design, you should think of the staircase as the sculpture to your home. “This is what fuels the cohesion of the space and is the most dramatic element within your home,” she says. “I love thinking of staircases as almost an artist's sculpture. What elements can you intertwine into it that tie both the design of the multiple floors together.”

Ready to take your staircase to new heights? Take a look below to see how interior designers are making staircases next-level in modern homes.

Keith Flanagan
Keith Flanagan

Keith is an experienced homes writer and editor. He has written hundreds of articles for various international titles helping readers make the best home design choices, and spends his days interviewing interiors industry experts to bring the latest ideas to his readers. For this piece he spoke to the world's best designers to compile fresh takes on staircases to inspire.

Staircase ideas

1. Use a runner to bring in pattern

A stairway with a black and white runner surrounding by dusty pink walls.

(Image credit: Malissa Mabey. Design: Susannah Holmberg)

Incorporating a runner is a traditional choice for several reasons: the carpet will reduce noise for those with heavy footsteps while also creating a soft surface for foot traffic. And, for those hoping to up the ante, it also turns your staircase into a surprisingly long canvas for pattern. Pick the right runner and you can make traditional patterns feel modern, like this checkered runway above. 

"By their very nature [staircases] are often centrally located and can break up a space, so instead of hiding or disappearing the stairs, we love to celebrate them," says designer Susannah Holmberg (opens in new tab). The black-and-white pattern, paired with a modern pink paint, gives this space the depth and attention it deserves. "We opted to paint the balustrades black and add the checkered runner to bring out an edgier nature to the pink," adds Holmberg. "In the same vein, we chose the photograph, whose dark background and arresting image help elevate the color palette, to something more refined."

2. Upholster your treads like a 'sofa'

A wooden staircase with two treads upholstered in vintage rugs

(Image credit: Erin Little. Design: Moore House Design)

While you can install a traditional runner and make it modern, why not break outside the box by upholstering select treads? Like color-blocking your stairs, it adds variation and softness while staying modern and original. 

In the renovated barn above, connected to a 1700s cottage in Maine, Blair Moore of Moore House Design (opens in new tab) added an inspired new approach to this age-old interior. In addition to installing driftwood around the staircase and basing the palette in lime plaster walls, Moore covered entire treads in vintage rugs to round out the space. “We created the upholstered treads before even constructing the rest of the staircase,” says Moore. “I knew I wanted them to feel like a newly upholstered sofa.”

Pro tip: if you’re hoping to install a similar heirloom rug for a one-of-a-kind treatment, plan ahead. “Measure carefully, and give yourself some extra slack,” says Georgia Hoyler, the owner of Passerine (opens in new tab), which sources handmade vintage rugs (including the one pictured above). “If seeking a vintage runner for the stairs, it is important to give yourself a good bit of wiggle room when sourcing a runner (or runners, plural!) for the overall length of the stairwell. Aim for at least 10-15% overage.”

3. Update your stairs with a modern palette

The staircase in a Brooklyn brownstone with a new neutral palette

(Image credit: Kyle J Caldwell. Design: Lyons Studio)

What to do with an old, tired wooden staircase? While you could gut the space and install a whole new design entirely, you can also transform the architecture with a modern color palette that contrasts original wood grains with newer color themes (like a neutral color scheme).

In the above brownstone, Merrill Lyons of Brooklyn's Lyons Studio (opens in new tab) created brilliant contrast by keeping select wooden detailing exposed (like the restored newel post and handrail) while updating a bulk of the remaining architecture with a fresh paint color. "It took a lot of work to get it to the point of looking the way it does now and careful editing of what remained a wood tone and what we were going to paint," says Lyons. "We felt that painting the spindles and wainscotting in fact allowed you to better appreciate all the woodwork in a brighter more modern way, and leaving the newel posts and railings in their stripped back wood tone helped round out the historic feel."

4. Treat old stairs to a monochromatic coverup

A grey-painted staircase with white walls

(Image credit: Erin Little. Design: Moore House Design)

5. Install a sculptural base

A wooden staircase with a green marble base

(Image credit: Ye Rin Mok. Design: LAUN)

The bottom of the staircase isn't always top of mind, save for a piece of art or a small piece of furniture. But if you’re hoping to give your staircase some serious wow-factor, a show-stopping base – like the marble stair above – can double as a work of art. This approach is happening a lot in current architecture trends.

The concept, a custom-made and oversized slab of green marble at the foot of the steps, was a collaborative design between the homeowner and Rachel Bullock, a founding partner of Los Angeles’ LAUN (opens in new tab). “He picked the marble and commissioned LA sculptor Ramon Byrne to create the piece,” says Bullock, noting that this specific stairwell leads to the primary bedroom. “The stairwell itself is more neutral with white walls and natural white oak steps but the marble step really marks the transition into the couple’s private space and adds a textural, sculptural element to the immersive color environment created in the bedroom (which is painted in a custom high gloss green by Benjamin Moore).”

Taking it one step further, you can also take an old set of stairs to new heights with a monochromatic paint scheme. This works two ways: painting in one color helps even unsightly staircases blend into their surroundings (the right paint ideas will cover up pretty much any eyesore), and it will also modernize the entire aesthetic of the staircase all in one.

In order to transform the wooden staircase above, Blair Moore of Moore House Design went bold, opting for a moody grey paint that covers every inch of the staircase, right down to the treads. “For me the eye needs to rest and breathe,” explains Moore. “Painting a staircase one color if it's not a stunning staircase design really helps sooth the eye and to help transition from one floor to the next.”

6. Give a modern spin to classic spindles

A wood and steel stairwell

(Image credit: Madeline Tolle. Design: Jaqui Seerman)

While traditional staircases get much of their character from wooden spindles, get inspired by industrial interior design by using materials like glass and metal. In the home above, clean lines are achieved with steel balusters topped with thin wooden handrails; the strong yet lean vertical spindles give the space a sense of height while keeping the entire entryway light and airy. 

“Our client's staircase is at the center of their home and the first thing you see upon entry so we needed something special,” says LA-based interior designer Jaqui Seerman (opens in new tab). “Here, the unique stair railing design creates dramatic vignettes of light throughout the space and provides a tasteful architectural backdrop for an entry that includes a beautiful vintage Italian table, antique rug, and fresh flowers.”

7. Make your staircase stand out with a bright accent

A wooden staircase with a bright yellow handrail

(Image credit: Brian Ferry. Design: BarlisWedlick)

Throughout modern homes, accent wall ideas are perfect for injecting interiors with bold color and personality. You can apply the same concept to nearly any surface of your staircase – whether you’re accenting your treads, risers, walls, or railings. In the above interior, a yellow railing creates a brilliant pop of color that brings a contemporary edge to a reimagined farmhouse. 

“The split-level nature of the home’s design features the staircase as the primary circulation space both horizontally and vertically through the space,” says Andrew Lefkowitz of BarlisWedlick (opens in new tab). “The railing design was conceived as a set of sliding planes placed between the flights of the stair to accentuate that movement. The vibrant color choice was used to highlight this feature; letting it stand out against other materials in the home while also referencing design choices in the adjacent barn, which features a similarly vibrant stair railing.”

8. Mix up your materials

A split-level stairway with shiplap walls and Cyprus beams

(Image credit: Chris Little Photography. Architecture: Pritchett + Dixon. Interior Design: CDK Interior Design)

If you’re considering a larger renovation, don’t stop at the stairs – build a rich and layered look by varying the materials used across the walls, ceiling, and surfaces surrounding your staircase. In the rustic-meets-modern interior above, a convincing use of reclaimed cypress (for both the flooring and ceiling beams) creates immediate contrast with the steel staircase while the walls and ceilings take it one step further.

“The shiplap walls and tongue and groove ceiling in the space complement the beautiful staircase by adding a crisp, but relaxed, vibe to the space,” says Atlanta-based Christy Dillard Kratzer (opens in new tab) of CDK Interior Design, who worked with architects Pritchett + Dixon (opens in new tab) on the above interior. “The horizontal lines of the shiplap, mixed with the vertical lines of the beams plus the angle of the staircase railing all add the perfect visual interest to the space. The mixture of the materials, sleek and rustic – smooth and textured, are what make this unique staircase space.”

9. Install a custom handrail

A white-walled staircase with a leather handrail

(Image credit: Joe Fletcher. Design: Katie Martinez)

Like  jewelry for your staircase, handrails – the only other tactile element beyond the stairs themselves – can change the entire look and feel of your space. In the interior above, what looks like wooden pipe railing is actually an entirely different material comfort: it's covered in leather.

Coupled with a modern mix of textures and surfaces, the custom leather handrail creates a soft touch to the fully modern interior design. “I love the tactile leather handrail, the transition from concrete floors to wood and the feeling of walking up into this light filled expansive space,” says  designer Katie Martinez. 

10. Pick hanging art with height

A side view of a staircase with art objects across the entire wall

(Image credit: Donna Dotan. Design: Workshop/APD)

For an unexpected design moment, staircases offer a surprisingly large canvas for hanging art in your home. While even a standard framed artwork will create visual interest on the wall above your steps, select pieces of art can change the entire experience of climbing the stairs by highlighting the architecture's height. 

This was the case in the Nantucket home above, where architects used art that guides you through (or up) the space. “As a practice, we think a lot about liminal spaces — hallways, staircases, and other transitional areas in a home — and the way people experience them,” says Andrew Kotchen, founding principal, Workshop/APD (opens in new tab). “This custom art installation was designed to activate the space, create engagement and interest and complement the staircase’s architectural details, making even the movement between floors and rooms meaningful.”

11. Be striking with period details

black iron curved stair rail and a wooden staircase

(Image credit: Roberto Garcia)

In this elegantly modern home in LA, design studio LALA Reimagined were lucky enough to find this balustrade still here from when the house was built. Straight out of the Hollywood Regency era, it sweeps impressively up from the entryway. 

'The staircase was original to the house, but brown,' designer Azar Fattahi says. 'We painted it black to make it reminiscent of Jean Royere.'

The chairs are from The Future Perfect, and were chosen for their sculptural form to greet you as soon as you arrive in the home. 'We find focal moments have more impact when they are not expected,' Azar's design partner Lia McNairy says.

12. Use your staircase to add color and drama

modern red staircase in a large white living room

(Image credit: Gavriil Papadiotis)

In this striking Georgian home in Chelsea, architect Michaelis Boyd (opens in new tab) punctuated an open-plan area with a dramatic floating staircase structure.

The design was inspired by the floating red “Staircase-III” by Doh Ho Suh, exhibited at the Tate Modern.

Collaborating with Diapo and Webb Yates Engineers, Michaelis Boyd's team created this unique sculptural staircase, made from perforated red steel and floating above the living room floor. “With this staircase we wanted to create a statement piece that was both sculptural and functional,” architect Alex Michaelis says.

red floating staircase by michaelis boyd

(Image credit: Gavriil Papadiotis)

red floating staircase by michaelis boyd

(Image credit: Gavriil Papadiotis)

13. Curve metal into a striking spiral

staircase ideas with dramatic steel spiral staircase

Get the look: Bespoke staircase design by Cousins & Cousins

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

In an open plan warehouse-style home, creating a large, central centerpiece is a way to add real design flair.

Here, the double-height staircase became an instant focal point in this Hackney home. Its metal balustrade is created from curved sheet steel, with floating treads stopping it from appearing too heavy. There’s a flush leather handrail, too. 

14. Use paint to fake a stair runner

white painted staircase with unpainted central part

Only the edges of the staircase in this Bloomsbury townhouse were painted, leaving a raw strip of original stone in the middle, acting as a stair runner.

15. Use the treads to inject a pop of bright color

yellow staircase rising up from a parquet floor

Using yellow has become one of the boldest and best interior design trends of recent years. Its sunny disposition provides an instant lift, and where better to do this than on the staircase? 

Here, in a converted school building, a lemon-yellow staircase connects what were once two individual flats. The yellow shade refreshes and energises the space, and makes for a bright and cheerful apartment.

16. Use floating treads to let light into lower levels

wood stairs with a curved white balustrade in a modern entryway

The curved staircase in this artist's mews house curls up to the first floor bedrooms, and down to the basement studio.

Floating treads mean that light can come in via the skylight at the top of the stairs, and trickle all the way down to basement level.

Similarly, with no windows at the rear, this mews house needed creative solutions to filter in light. This floating staircase design draws in sunlight from higher floors and skylights through the use of open treads. The choice of blonde timber for the steps further lightens the space throughout.

17. Illuminate steps with recessed lights or spotlights

white staircase with lights built into the wall

A sculptural and sweeping staircase takes centre stage in this ultra-modern Victorian terrace townhouse in west London.

The treads are illuminated with recessed lights that shine through slits in the curved walls. The staircase design was inspired by a Barbara Hepworth sculpture called 'Pelagos'.

18. Create a recessed hand rail

black modern curved staircase with slim pendant lights

The central staircase in this former London hospital was one of the most important features of architect Stuart Robertson’s design.

Aside from it's sumptuous shape, it features other striking design tricks too – including a recessed hand rail.

recessed handrail on a white wall of a black curved staircase

19. Contrast a light palette and soft shapes with a metal bannister 

curved white staircase with black railings and wood steps

(Image credit: Matt Clayton)

A modern and minimalist metal banister adds crisp black lines and a modern contrast in this detached Edwardian home in Buckinghamshire.

The bottom of the stairs is smooth, white and twisted like a piece of sculpture, while the banister stretches up to merge with the upper banister, creating a taller barrier for safety while also letting in plenty of light.

top of a curved white staircase with black railings and wood steps

(Image credit: Matt Clayton)

20. Strengthen a floating staircase with a metal spine

monochrome penthouse with floating staircase

(Image credit: ©Bob O'Connor)

A dramatic, floating staircase punctuates the main entrance of this chic, monochrome penthouse in Boston.

A glass banister follows the treads up to the upper landing, while cascading strings of lights hang down the stairwell, adding further drama.

Aside from giving the floating treads strength and support, the metal spine also creates a dramatic, skeletal-like shape.

21. Use a suspended staircase to play with atrium style spaces

converted warehouse with pine staircase and white walls

(Image credit: Adam Carter Photography)

The layout of this converted warehouse is centered around a birch plywood clad suspended staircase in the triple height void. The dramatic design can be viewed from above, below, and even from across the mezzanine floors.

converted warehouse with pine staircase seen through crittal windows

(Image credit: Adam Carter Photography)

converted warehouse with pine staircase that hangs over an open plan dining area

(Image credit: Adam Carter Photography)

22. Don't forget the ceiling

curved white ceiling over a wooden staircase

(Image credit: Matthew Clayton)

The original staircase in this period home in Hackney (same as featured above) was preserved, leading up to the bedrooms. To make the staircase modern, the ceiling was given a smooth curve.

Meanwhile in this reconfigured flat in Hampstead, the architects turned a design problem into a creative feature.

The key to unlocking the potential of this property was installing a staircase which worked with the building. The first section of the staircase rises to a lower landing, turning right underneath the chimney stack and left into a new staircase rising to the upper floor. This clever reduction in the landing height allowed for space to walk under the chimney and created a beautiful feature that is the talking point with all guests. 

arched ceiling above a wood staircase

23. Add zest with a block color staircase

curved metal yellow staircase in a white living room

(Image credit: Suzanna Scott Photography)

The living room in this colorful San Fransisco home is punctuated with a vibrant yellow spiral staircase. It adds drama, colour, and sets the tone for the rest of the design and color palette.

24. Mix and match contrasting shades for a more unexpected look

color block house with blue staircase and yellow stair rail

(Image credit: Photos © French + Tye)

You wouldn't usually consider the staircase as a way of injecting a pop of color, but as this candy colored home in Islington proves, it can be a very fun and effective way of introducing a contrast colour.

Canary yellow, bubblegum pink and navy blue sit unexpectedly but harmoniously together.

color block house with pink stair rail and green ceiling

(Image credit: Photos © French + Tye)

25. Use smooth plaster and a slim frame to inject modern Scandi vibes

smooth staircase with black iron stair rail

Get the look: Staircase, bespoke design by Studio DB

(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

By using slender bannisters that gently bend at the beginning of the stairs, this modern staircase design sings with elegance and offers a lightness further complemented by the natural wood banister. Using a deep first step is another clever touch, as it has the effect of leading upwards, creating a seamless sense of movement and flow. 

26. Make an entrance with a suspended design

staircase that go down into basement

Get the look: Try Arc Fabrications for similar metal balustrades. The light is the Series 21 pendant by Omer Arbel for Bocci

(Image credit: James Merrell)

When a staircase forms part of a living space, an architectural design acts as a focal point rather than just a practical object. The staircase below is open and is seemingly suspended.

The use of thin balustrades and the addition of white underfoot add a forgiving sense of lightness to the large structure.

27. Highlight the twist of the inner banister

staircase with a curve at the bottom

Get the look: Staircase, designed by Guy Stansfeld. This is Poul Henningsen’s PH 50 pendant for Louis Poulsen

(Image credit: James Merrell)

This design uses a sweeping staircase to create a feature, and uses the gentle curve of the base of the steps above to add a feeling of continuous space. An integrated banister in sleek wood enhances the curves. 

28. Incorporate storage in the treads in compact homes

plywood staircase with built in storage

Get the look: The stairs were designed and built by David Money Architects. This is the Saltbak rug from Ikea.

(Image credit: Future)

Architect David Money came up with this clever solution for book storage. Utilixing the plywood staircase, he built a library into the dead space between each tread. 

29. Incorporate fitted storage

black stair rail in a modern loft apartment

Get the look: The custom walnut millwork is by RJ Millworkers. The walnut chairs are by Elijah Leed and are upholstered in Holland and Sherry fabric. The mahogony side tables are family heirlooms.

(Image credit: Emma Tannenbaum)

This original iron staircase used to be part of a former newspaper printing house. It leads up to the roof terrace, and has been outfitted with custom walnut storage by RJ Millworkers that conceals a TV and toys. 

30. Clad a suspended staircase in aluminium panelling for a clean look

criss cross staircase in open plan atrium

(Image credit: Vipp)

A modern staircase that’s clad in extruded aluminium panelling cuts through this double height converted power plant in Copenhagen, while bedrooms at mezzanine level feature floor to ceiling glass walls, offering views into the cavernous space below.

31. Dangle modern pendant lighting down the centre stairwell

staircase ideas with statement stairwell lighting

Get the look: This is the Hanging Mobile No.405 light by David Weeks Studio. The framed photograph is 5Pointz by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao.

(Image credit: Future)

A multi-tiered light that transcends all three floors adds drama to this stunning Connecticut home, while the simple design and monochrome scheme has a sophisticated, elegant effect. 

32. Achieve a rustic effect with exposed timber treads

Staircase Decorating Ideas

Get the look: Find a similar bench at Pinch. Similar rug, Moroso, similar vintage mirrors, Kiki Design.

(Image credit: Future)

This 17th-century former mill in Gloucestershire throws out the design rulebook and is a masterpiece in contemporary meets classic design. Interior designer Nia Morris (opens in new tab) worked with architect Richard Parr to create the dramatic entrance. The sleek balustrade works beautifully with the exposed timber treads. 

33. Give a subtle nod to famous designs

modern staircase ideas with large stairwell

(Image credit: Photography by Simon Brown)

This staircase was conceived as a sculpture to be looked at and a stage to be seen on. The overall appearance alludes to the fantastical in infinity Penrose stairs made famous by the lithographs of Escher. Beata Heuman has added to the effect with simple ‘Pernell’ pendant lights from Arteriors that mimic the balustrades without competing with its visual impact.

34. Give modern architecture satisfyingly smooth curves

rounded white staircase with skylight

A delicate ribbon of polished plaster, this smooth staircase ties this ultra-modern Victorian terrace townhouse (opens in new tab) together.

modern white staircase with rectangular skylight

35. Contrast metal with organic materials for an eye-catching look

steel staircase against wood wall

(Image credit: Photography / Mark Selen)

This custom black sculptural steel staircase was created by Studio David Thulstrup. The black staircase stands light yet stringent in a contrast to the adjacent wood-cladded wall. 

The wood cladded wall draws the viewers’ attention upwards, where the light influx from the second floor creates a play of light and shadows on the semi-cylindrical wood cladding, offering warmth and texture that contrasts the raw concrete flooring.

36. Use black accents to frame a vignette

staircase ideas with crittall doors

Get the look: The metal glazing is from Clement Windows. These are Popham Design tiles at Ann Sacks. The banisters are painted in Railings estate eggshell by Farrow & Ball.

(Image credit: Paul Massey)

Dark banisters offer a dramatic line that zigzags through the house. The stairs are framed by these tall and wide steel doors that help open up the ground-floor space, flooding it with light. 

37. For basement staircases, stick to glass and light, open designs

staircase with glass banister leading into basement lounge

Get the look: Rug, Designers Guild.

(Image credit: Future)

Basement access is often from the front, so you usually have stairs under stairs. In order to help make the basement feel part of the house, the stairs are in the middle of the ground floor and sit on dainty legs with glass balustrades. This was crucial in order to bring in lots of light. 

38. Round out clean-lined architecture with curves

A spiral white staircase with black handrails.

(Image credit: Richard Powers. Design: KAA Design Group)

If you’re building or renovating a modern interior, chances are you’re working with plenty of right angles. And while clean lines have their merits, adding a sculptural element to the mix can lead to dramatic visual interest – so is the case with a curving staircase in a contemporary space.

In the home above, the winding staircase does just that. “The sinuous form of stair provides a more sculptural element to the mostly orthogonal and clean lines of the home,” says Grant C. Kirkpatrick of KAA Design Group (opens in new tab). In this way, the staircase’s design is almost a work of art in and of itself, one that lifts the overall mood.  “[It] can also suggest a positive vibe - an uplifting element in the home that implies movement and spirit,” adds Kirkpatrick.

A view through a doorframe of a staircase with hanging photos along the wall

(Image credit: Nick Glimenakis. Design: Emma Beryl)

Like many rooms in the house, gallery wall ideas are fantastic ways to create character-building moments, and the wall above your stairs is yet another blank canvas. “A staircase wall is a fantastic opportunity to feature a gallery wall because displaying a lot of pieces moves you through a space and keeps visual interest as you ascend the staircase,” says NYC interior designer Emma Beryl (opens in new tab)

In the family home above, Beryl made it personal with photos taken of the homeowners. “I particularly love to display family photos on a staircase gallery wall because I think it's a great way to transition from a public space on the first floor to the bedrooms on the second story.”

40. Create a design moment beneath your stairs

A staircase with 'floating' treads rise over a bench, rug, and framed artwork

(Image credit: Molly Rose. Design: Raili CA Design )

If you’re lucky to have usable space beneath your staircase, why not use it to create a functional design moment? Whether you place a vertical sculpture to fill the void or you incorporate seating to create a new zone, think of this space as an opportunity.

In the staircase above, the space beneath the first flight has plenty of room for decor, and the designers used this as an opportunity to ground the soaring staircase with a seating area. "This is a staircase that spans three stories,” says Raili Clasen of Raili CA Design. “We used an open staircase which creates a modern feel and styled the space with some vintage oil paintings and a found bench to create a design moment."

41. Make your staircase a focal point

A central staircase rises several floors above a white-walled living room

(Image credit: William Abramovitz. Design: Jeffrey Dungan Architects)

At the end of the day, your staircase is an essential piece of any multi-level home — there’s no getting around it. “When you think about it, we use stairs almost every day in our homes so the experience of moving vertically and how that elevates us emotionally is important,” says architect Jeffrey Dungan (opens in new tab). To that end, consider making your staircase more of a feature than just a functional element.

In the soaring interior above, the central staircase earns its status as one of the home's main attractions. “On the Alys Beach project, because it was exposed completely — that stair actually became a focal point of the space,” explains Dungan. “We played around for months with details of connections in steel and glass to create a more modern vibe in that two story space. The detailing of the balusters and rails was intense and we studied many samples of the elements and all the way down to the screws — so that stair became a design project in its own right.”

42. Bring in light with open risers

A wooden staircase rises along a vertical window

(Image credit: Douglas Friedman. Styling: Jenny O’Conner. Design: Chad Dorsey Design)

While artificial lighting is an important feature in staircase design (you’ll want to see every step at night) there are also ways to enhance natural light, too. Unlike closed tread stairs, many contemporary designers feature ‘open risers’ (risers are the vertical portion of each individual stair that connect with horizontal treads), allowing gaps so you can see through the staircase.

In the light-filled staircase above, skipping the risers altogether allows light to pour into the space from an adjacent window. “The stair is all about the way the light pierces the treads and draws the natural light back into a more internal hallway,” says designer Chad Dorsey (opens in new tab). “Functional and Sculptural.”

43. Craft a wooden spiral for out-of-control beauty

A wooden spiral staircase alongside a statue

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu. Design: Echlin London)

A compact, spiral staircase often makes sense in multi-level apartments with tight spaces. But you’re not stuck with the clunky, metal designs of the past – new models break the mold with bespoke forms and smooth finishes.

In the London home above, a one-of-a-kind wooden spiral staircase upends the industrial look typical of spiral staircases, aiming to create a sense of calm for the home’s inhabitants. “The staircase design helps achieve this through being made in one natural material and hiding its structure, which reduces the complex visible junctions between different components that draw the eye and collect dust,” explains Sam McNally of architectural studio Echlin. “The flooring on the ground and upper floors matches the staircase, which makes it appear as if it's all hewn from the same material. Natural light filters through the treads and down the sides of the staircase from a skylight above, allowing the banister to be solid, creating a cocooning and safe feeling as you spiral through the property. It almost hugs you when you use it.”

44. Make it brilliant with a skylight

A picture of a mid-level staircase leading up to a door

(Image credit: Haris Kenjar Photography. Design: Mowery Marsh Architects )

In many homes, whether modern or traditional, stairwells are often centrally located or positioned along a windowless wall, leaving most staircases in the dark. But if you’re redesigning your space, consider adding a skylight or sun tunnel above your staircase to find the light.

In the brownstone above, architects used a handful of tactics to bring natural light throughout the home (including a lean railing to maintain an open an airy feel), but it’s a lofty skylight that truly makes the space brilliant. “This staircase is flooded with daylighting from a fourth floor skylight as well as a glazed rooftop courtyard,” says Jennifer Marsh of Mowery Marsh Architects (opens in new tab). “The open risers maximize the amount of light that can reach the floors below, as well as create striking shadows on the pristine white brick wall.”

45. Build a staircase with curves and swerves

A staircase with curves plaster banisters

(Image credit: William Abramovit. Design: Jeffrey Dungan Architects)

While the modern staircases are commonly straight staircases, bringing in curves will turn your staircase into a showstopper in all the right ways. No, this doesn’t mean you need a spiral staircase, however lovely they can be. Instead, sculpting your stairwell walls with plaster can whip the vertical ascent into powerful shapes and lines.

In the home above, architect Jeffrey Dungan Architects (opens in new tab) channeled natural light from a well-placed skylight (one of his favorite tricks for stairwells) to create an almost ethereal glow before getting sculptural. “The other aspect I really love about stairs is their nature to be sculptural components within the home — they can be curved or spiraled and shaped in ways that  are powerful and moving,” Dungan. “This was the idea of the Lake Wehapa home. We used plaster and bent the wood structure to create a sinuous appearance in that stair.”

46. Use gloss paint for a hi-shine statement

A wine-colored staircase painted in gloss paint

(Image credit: Stephen Karlisch. Styling: Jenny O’Conner. Design: Chad Dorsey Design)

If you want to turn your staircase into a space no one can miss, give it a show-stopping color – but if you want to create a staircase no one will forget, there’s nothing like a glamorous coat of high gloss paint

As if soaked in wine, the above staircase’s glossy walls reflect light up and down the staircase while bringing a rich feel to the entire space. “We chose Farrow and Ball Brinjal in high gloss, which was inspired by a Cabernet,” says designer Chad Dorsey, who turned this room (located at the foot of the staircase) into a wine bar during the pandemic. “The high gloss added drama and helped make the space feel as a destination, while on lockdown.”

47. Use your runner to bring in bright color

A right, rainbow-colored runner climbs the staircase surrounded by white walls

(Image credit: Shauna Glenn Design)

If you’re looking to bring bold color into your home, picking a bright runner will help keep any daring choices in line – you can easily buffer a loud runner by surrounding the color with neutral walls and complementary decor. 

This was the case for the interior above, where a colorful runner spills down the steps like a rainbow. “The house where we installed this runner is full of eclectic design, original art and bold colors,” says interior designer Shauna Glenn Design (opens in new tab). “We had recently seen this Missoni for Stark carpet in a showroom and when the client mentioned that she wanted to install carpet on the stairs, we knew that the Missoni would be a perfect fit. The white walls and light wood floors were the perfect backdrop for the colorful runner and really tied in with the designs throughout the rest of the home.” 

48. Use a half wall to create a cozier feel

A leather handrail wraps up a stairwell's halfway surrounded by white walls

(Image credit: Cody Ulrich. Design: Chad Dorsey Design)

While you can use a traditional banister to create an open and airy feel, incorporating a half wall – complete with a handrail that wraps along the side – can create an intimate experience that ‘hugs’ you on your way up the stairs. In the interior above, the half wall also creates an opportunity to bring warm materials to an otherwise spacious stairwell. 

“I think the way the light peeks over the half wall and creates an intimate experience as one begins their walk upstairs is very special,” says designer Chad Dorsey (opens in new tab). “This stair is a little like an amazing sandwich of materials and artisans. A simple wood framed half wall with an exposed steel plate in the middle, the exterior is framed with a White Oak Cladding, all connected by a steel handrail that uses yet another artisan to hand stitch the handrail in leather on site.” 

49. Consider adding a built-in bench

A built-in bench at the top of the steps, surrounded y wainscoting, creates a seating area out of unused space.

(Image credit: Eric Piasecki. Architecture: Andrew Cogar. Design: Bryan Graybill)

While every stairwell has its main function (getting you from point A to point B), you create an even more dynamic space by doubling-down with a built-in seat. If your staircase design allows it, you can incorporate a seat in a number of places — just to name a few, the mid-level landing of a U-shaped staircase is a clever space for a window seat, while unused space beneath a stair staircase is yet another.

In the interior above, the designer made use of a half wall at the top of the stairs, incorporating a simple cushioned bench within a cozy nook. “We have lovely bookcases at the top of our stairs filled with all of our art books,” says designer Bryan Graybill. “The bench is a place where our guests can grab a book and sit down for a minute and page through the books.”

50. For a sturdy and stunning stairwell, wall paneling works wonders

An image looking through to a stairwell with wainscoting and wall paneling

(Image credit: Eric Piasecki. Architecture: Andrew Cogar. Design: Bryan Graybill)

While paneling offers a brilliant way to add character to pretty much any interior within your home, there’s another more practical reason they’re popular in stairwells: they make walls durable. These walls, after all, are part of a high traffic area prone to bumps and nicks, which makes staircase paneling ideas a smart choice for a lasting design. 

In the staircase above, a mix of wainscoting and paneling runs up and down the walls. “We put paneling in the stairwell to break down the massing and to give it a sense of intimacy and human scale,” says Bryan Graybill. “I also find paneling to be durable and practical for high traffic areas like a stairwell versus taking plaster all the way down to the skirting. This comes in handy when careless guests are carrying their suitcases down the stairs!”

Keith Flanagan is a New York based journalist specialising in design, food and travel. He has been an editor at Time Out New York, and has written for such publications as Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveller, Food 52 and USA Today. He regularly contributes to Livingetc, reporting on design trends and offering insight from the biggest names in the US. His intelligent approach to interiors also sees him as an expert in explaining the different disciplines in design.

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