Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Design Dilemma: "What Should I Do About This Staircase?"

More Ways to Waste Time reader Marla Reed, of Milton, Wisconsin, writes in with a question:

"I recently moved into a large condo with little character, and I'm stumped about what to do with this staircase, which is visible from the entire main level. It's currently painted a tacky flat white with a stained-wood top rail and carpeted steps (unfortunately, the carpet and the top rail have to stay as is). The walls are a mustard yellow, which we'll probably leave for now as well.

I was thinking about painting the stairway spindles, posts, and trim black. But I'm a bit concerned that painting it black would make the darn thing look too heavy, or would pull the eye in the wrong sort of way. I always received compliments on my last home, but this wide open space has me confused."

My gut instinct is that black would, indeed, be too heavy -- especially with all the brown woods and the warm neutral paint color surrounding it. That said, a black and white staircase could be really dramatic -- if Marla nixed the mustard wall color and medium-toned wood furnishings; removed the carpet; stripped and stained the stair treads, posts, top rail, and attached bookcase a deep ebony; and lacquered the stair trim, risers, and spindles a crisp, glossy white.

I grabbed a couple of stairway shots off of PointClickHome to illustrate what I'm talking about:

Of course, mimicking these looks would involve a lot of work and expense -- probably more than Marla wants to take on right now.

Any of you armchair designers have simpler (and more affordable) staircase-makeover suggestions for Marla? If so, please share them here!

(P.S. Have a design dilemma of your own? Send it in, along with a photo or two, and I'll put it up here for a communal brainstorming session.)


Anonymous said...

So I'm new to responding to your blog, but I thought I'd throw out another perspective.

If you want to minimize the amount of work, what if you painted the staircase the same color of brown that the handrail and loft are...so they all blend together. Right now, the white seems to cause the staircase to pop and stand out, that which you are trying to avoid/minimize.

And then to further draw the eye away from the staircase, give it somewhere to go...what if you loaded that staircase wall with a unique collection of eclectic (or whatever your style is!) pictures and artwork. That's what I would be drawn to and want to look at! Suddenly...no staircase. Just a thought :)!

Good luck...and let us know what you do!


Anonymous said...

I agree with Kristina. You'll create clean surfaces with an obvious color palette -- white, mustard, brown (the carpet throws this off).

The artwork you choose for the staircase can then give any feel you'd ACTUALLY want in the room. Coppery kitchenware for an antique look. Eccentric retro prints. Modern photographs. Whisps of branches and sepia for a country feel. Hanging small origami cranes from the ceiling at different lengths close to the wall...

I would also get rid of the bookshelf. It creates too many angles and lines; this draws your attention to an area of your home that's not your favorite (think mid-driff post-pregnancy, okay - not that bad). Again, this would create a cleaner space and draw attention to the feel (created by your artwork choice).

Good luck!

Anonymous said...


From viewing the photo of the space, I see two things that would need clarification for giving ideas.

Firstly, the upper floor railing appears to be horizontal and black.
Secondly, there appears to be another set of stairs beyond the white bookcases.

If the first is true, perhaps it would be a good idea to paint the staircase black, leaving the top rail stained. That would attempt to bring the look of the railings together. Removing the carpet and painting the stairs black would also be a good idea. It will not create a heavy feel, it would actually ground the feel of the space, if that is what you are looking for.

If the second is true, then changing the finish of the existing bookcase to match the newly paint stairwell might bring cohesiveness and push it into the background.

Another idea would be to replace it with a new storage solution. I found one that could work on crateandbarrel.com


Its called an Ascend Stacking Shelf with Drawers. The idea is to use stairstep bookcase/storage in place of the current bookcase. It draws the eye away from the stair case but does not block the main staircase view. That way, come the holidays, if you like to put up decorations, you will clean background for display.

I hope these ideas would be cost effective for you and your family.

- Nancy

Anonymous said...

There are some great ideas here! Thanks for your help. Just to clear things up a bit...the stairs underneath the carpet are plywood, not good for even painting. So it would have to be a different piece of carpet. The horizontal rail at the top of the stairs are dark stained bookcases that surround a loft. Another problem! And yes, there are stairs going down to the lower level. You can see the white rail behind the bookcase. I loved the Crate & Barrel shelving unit, but cannot afford it right now. So should I rip the bookcases out? Ugh! I am more confused than ever!

Lori said...

I'm confused about the railing at the top of the stairs. Even if you remove bookcases won't it still leave some sort of modern horizontal lines. This doesn't match the staircase (going for traditional) at all. Very odd. I'm wholly against painting the staircase black, unless you paint everything black, the toprail and the weird railing at the top of the stairs so everything matches. Personally, I'd leave it white and paint the top rail black. It doesn't bother me at all, except the spindles are too small. I'd get rid of or move the white bookcase thing, it's totally wrong for the space, it's way too long, competes with the lines of the staircase, and it's not even showcasing anything that would add interest to the room.

crazymomof4 said...

I know I'm about a year late, but just to put my two cents in (I'm having stair railing issues of my own)....Painting the stair spindles mustard yellow instead of the white, and leaving the facer board at the bottom white would help hide the stairs without touching the stained parts at all. Firstly though....that white bookcase does not belong there at all. That was the biggest distraction of all. Hope you had good luck with your project!



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