Furnishing

Designing a staircase: first impressions count

Torben Schröder

In most houses, the staircase leading to the next floor is located near the entrance. So when you receive guests, one of the first things they look at will inevitably be the stairs. Make a good impression with a chic mirror, a small plant, LED lamps on the wall and a little bit of color rather than leaving bare walls. Here we provide you with ideas for designing a staircase.

View from above looking down on two children standing on a staircase.
© Getty Images/Cultura RF

In this article

General points to bear in mind

First, we will give you some general tips on furnishing before we move on to specific suggestions later in the article.

Adopt a consistent furnishing style

Even if the staircase, like the hallway, doesn’t represent living space but is merely a passageway, you should still pay attention to its design. With a little imagination – and usually only a few steps and purchases – you can effectively adapt the staircase to the architecture or the design of the adjacent rooms. Here are a few ideas for different furnishing styles:

  • Bauhaus style: you should deliberately opt for quite plain artwork and furniture in the staircase area. This will make the design of your entire house comprehensible at a glance.

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  • Industrial style: you can make your interior look even more like an old factory building with inspiring combinations of materials – for example a dresser consisting of a metal frame and a wooden top.

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  • Country house style: simply continue the natural, cozy atmosphere on your staircase – with a ceramic vase on a step and wooden souvenirs on the walls.

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  • Scandinavian chic: create a straight-lined, calm Scandinavian look on the staircase with a predominantly white color scheme, a wooden handrail and accessories made of fabric.

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Keep the right balance

Even if you are very enthusiastic about redesigning your staircase, remember that the practical aspect should remain the principal focus. After all, you want to be able to walk up and down stairs without having to avoid oversize palm leaves. In a family household, it is not uncommon for two people to meet on the stairs at the same time. It’s also an important escape route. So don’t overload the staircase with furniture and decorative items – especially in rather cramped, older buildings.

Color: just the way you want it

A little bit of color looks good on any wall. Flashy or discreet, dark or light, monochrome or multi-colored – the decision on how to paint your staircase is entirely up to you and your family or roommates.

Here are a few general tips: if the staircase is quite narrow, then you should choose a light tone like beige. This makes the area appear larger. Conversely, wide stairwells are suitable for darker tones.

Two people are painting a staircase.

A fresh, bolder coat of paint is one of many ways to design a staircase.

Wallpaper: be bold and go for it

Woodchip wallpaper decorates most of the walls in our homes. It is inexpensive, has a structure that allows you to get away with mistakes when wallpapering, and can be painted over several times. But it is also a bit boring. If you want to experiment with wall design, the staircase is exactly the right area to choose, because it’s the one place where you won’t have to stare at a wall for hours and may eventually start regretting your decision.

There is a wide selection of motifs and patterns available: from imitation wood, stone and concrete to textured wallpaper with raised surfaces and photo wallpaper depicting entire landscapes. You can also choose to only partially wallpaper the staircase, i.e. just the landing, or stop halfway up the wall on each step.

As we all know, children also like to put their hands directly on the wall when they use the stairs. In family households, we therefore recommend covering the wallpaper with a special liquid layer – this is known as elephant skin. This provides good protection against external influences such as sticky hands.

Pictures: an individual touch

Hanging pictures is a quick and effective way to make additions to a painted or wallpapered wall. Whether vacation snapshots, advertising motifs or works by real artists – it’s best to choose just one type.

Your small gallery will look particularly harmonious if you arrange the pictures in an imaginary line parallel to the handrail – especially if the individual motifs build on each other or perhaps even tell a continuous story to anyone coming upstairs.

Make sure that you attach them firmly. If you rush up or down the stairs in a hurry, you may lose your balance and touch a picture by mistake.

Lighting: functional and impressive

Due to the tube-like shape of a staircase and the frequent absence of windows, the incidence of natural light is lower than in other areas of the house. That’s why it’s important to make sure there is sufficient lighting so that no one takes a tumble and injures themselves.

The most common type of lights are ceiling spots. They provide plenty of light, which in turn ensures safety. But there is also a more elegant way of doing things. A modern, stainless-steel floor lamp placed on the landing can be an eye-catching feature. Wall-mounted LED lamps with a dimmer switch create an atmosphere similar to that of the spa area of a hotel. Unusually shaped staircases can be highlighted with incorporated spots alongside each step. You should generally avoid colored light, as it does not provide enough contrast to the steps.

Small light spots on the wall illuminate the steps of a wooden staircase.

Fascinating light play: small lamps on every second step guarantee an impressive effect.

Furniture: space permitting

If your staircase is almost too small for two people to cross paths, then you don’t need to think about adding furniture. However, if there is enough space, you could provide a comfortable armchair for taking a break halfway up or down, for instance. A shoe cupboard or a wardrobe can be a useful addition, while a bookshelf is more suitable as decoration.

Accessories: a wide variety to choose from

Memories from a past vacation or collector’s items that don’t seem to fit anywhere else can be an impressive idea for the walls. Alternatively, you could hang up items associated with your favorite hobby for your guests to admire: musical instruments such as guitars and violins, or sports equipment like skis and tennis rackets.

To make the staircase as comfortable as possible, you can lay carpet – either only on the landing or on every single step. In addition to the visual aspect, this also has other advantages: a surface made of carpet is usually less slippery than one made of wood, for example. In addition, carpet also dampens the sound of footfall.

Liven up the stairs with plants. A large tub on the landing, small vases at the edge of each step or even a gravel mini-garden under a freestanding staircase – there are plenty of options to choose from. Just remember that the plants won’t usually get any natural light on the stairs, and that the temperature will also be a bit cooler. Plants that can thrive in these circumstances include Zamioculcas, Aspidistra and nest ferns.

Conclusion: something for everyone

A bit of color on the walls, atmospheric wall lights, personal pictures, practical furniture and different options for accessories – the possibilities for staircase design are practically inexhaustible. But be careful not to overload your staircase, because you should still be able to use the steps comfortably.

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