Step up: Well-designed staircases add drama to home design


Staircases are certainly a functional necessity of multi-level homes, but are often overlooked as a focal point.

Treating staircases as a central design element creates a new canvas on which to experiment, opening up interesting visual possibilities in any space.  

“People tend to think ‘stairs are stairs,’ and don’t realize stairs are a statement piece,” said designer Sara Simon of Handsome Salt Interior Design.

Do look up

While carefully planning their décor, consumers usually think about color palettes, furniture, artwork and flooring, but frequently ignore the sometimes multiples sets of stairs in their home.

“A lot of times clients get focused on areas that require furnishings and assume that a staircase is more of a strictly functional element of the home for going up and down,” said interior designer Carrie Livingston.

Sometimes that can simply be the result of where the flight is located in a house and whether or not they were built to be seen from the get-go.

“If they’re in a hallway where they may not be a focal point, people often don’t give them the attention they deserve,” said Nicole Michael, designer at Nicole Michael Designs. “Others are meant to be on display.”

Design by Handsome Salt Interior Design. Photo by Jenny Siegwart

Whether or not the architect has made it clear, staircases are a wonderful opportunity to add design touches and should be incorporated into the overall space rather than left alone.

“Firstly, any time a person enters a room, their eye automatically travels up,” Ms. Livingston said. “That means your eye automatically gravitates towards an ascending feature, so take that amazing visual opportunity and maximize it.

“Secondly, stairs offer a wealth of surfaces and elements that allow a homeowner to combine materials, pattern and textiles in a completely unique way.”

Fancy flights

Especially in luxury homes, large staircases are often right inside the front door and are ripe for a grand entrance moment.

“If you have a big staircase visible when you enter the home, they’re highly important for that first impression,” Ms. Michael said. “This is where you can create a huge statement while setting the scene for the rest of the home. It’s like a first glimpse of what’s to come.”

Even a more hidden set of stairs can offer a big moment, its tucked-away aspect a big plus design-wise.

“What’s great is that a staircase is a highly defined space,” Ms. Livingston said. “It’s relatively small compared to other areas of the home, which make them an amazing place to let your wild side out a bit with bold color or a big pattern.”

Design by Carrie Livingston Design. Photo by Robb McCormick

When in a more confined space, Ms. Michael uses a combination of metal and transparent glass to make a small stairway more open. Ms. Simon opts for floating stairs rather than the “chunkier” traditional versions.

A favorite element of the designers, present on every type of staircase, is the railings.

“My favorite part of staircases is getting to design the railings – lots of opportunities to get creative,” Ms. Simon said.

According to Ms. Livingston, both railings and runners can be used to add a bit of drama that does not overwhelm the surrounding space.

“I love to really dress up stairways,” she said. “They’re like the jewelry of the home for me. I play a lot with railings in beautiful metals like brass, or runners that look like an evening gown. The more dramatic, the better.”

For an extra dose of luxe, the materials incorporated into the staircase are key.

“Limestone and marble are two options that create an instant sense of opulence,” Ms. Michael said.

“Using high-end, luxurious materials on stairs can immediately elevate the entire experience of your home,” she said.