As an often overlooked space, your staircase walls offer huge styling potential thanks to the vast expanse of space - both vertically and horizontally.
A well-decorated staircase can transform a functional space (with that function being getting you from A to B) into a visual masterpiece, giving you additional real estate for adding personality and charm to your home.
We've gathered insights, thoughts, and feelings from interior designers and color experts to help you address the challenge of finding the perfect staircase wall decor ideas.
How to decorate your staircase walls
'One of the interesting interior design trends we expect to see in 2024 is around the ‘Collective Hub’, as people focus more attention on decorating communal areas in their homes, such as the staircase,' says Tobie Lewis, Head of Marketing at Sherwin-Williams.
Often found in the entryway of your home, a transitional space like the stairs, landing, and entryway not only allows you to experiment with color and decor ideas but also works as a place to transition from the outside world.
Stop your staircase from becoming a design afterthought and elevate your home's aesthetic by turning your walls from a blank canvas to a captivating space - with the help of a few experts. From embracing the power of a curated gallery wall to a show-stopping single focal point, here we show you how to transform each step into an opportunity for style with a design feature that impresses with every ascent.
1. Think about how you want the place to feel and function
Linda Hayslett of LH.Designs says the first thing to consider when deciding on decor plans for your staircase walls is to identify how you want the space to feel and function.
'Depending on the shape of the staircase and if it's open or not (meaning walls vs open railings), making a staircase interesting comes down to what you are hoping to achieve in the space,' says Linda. 'Do you want it to stand out? Is the goal to have it blend in and create a small moment when walking by?'
'Some spaces lend themselves to large pieces that make huge impact like artwork or a gallery wall. Other stairs can be more closed off, so adding interesting lighting such as sconces will add interest,' Linda adds. 'I like adding multiple lighting sources to make a staircase interesting, as you can it as fun or as subtle as you want.'
Linda Hayslett is a Los-Angeles-based interior designer that specializes in residential projects. With a rich fashion and entertainment background, Hayslett moved to LA in 2003 and became a designer after working as a celebrity fashion stylist. Linda was recently named one of House Beautiful's 2020 Next Wave Designer to watch and was 1 of 8 designers for Wholehome 2021.
2. Maximize vertical space with oversized art
Perhaps the most instantly impactful tip is to infuse your stairway with a sense of drama with a large piece of artwork as the focal point. Making use of the vertical expanse whether you choose a vibrant painting, large-scale photograph, or a unique sculpture, oversized art not only fills the space but also commands it.
'I like to strategically place artwork in the stairwell to create a visually engaging gallery that complements the architecture, guiding the viewer's eye as they ascend or descend,' says interior designer Jennifer Chused, founder of Chused & Co. 'The artwork can tell a story or evoke specific emotions, enhancing the overall atmosphere of the space,' she adds.
We recommend decorating with art that resonates with the overall aesthetic of your home to create a visual narrative that echoes the surrounding rooms - while still speaking volumes about your artistic sensibilities.
'For the walls, we try to keep it down to one important piece or place dramatic sculptures near the stairs,' agrees Carola Pimentel of Assure Interiors.'As a collector of contemporary art, I am drawn to small-scale sculptures and wall-mounted installations for the 3D quality and impact the pieces create in a space.'
Featuring an oversized Monstera Leaf and bold red and yellow color palette, this statement canvas from Anthropologie could be just the piece to add to your blank stair wall.
Defined by abstract strokes and soothing hues, this print lends a decorative accent to any interior. Thanks to the soft pops of color, this oversized canvas should work with the flow of your entire home, picking up tones as you pass from room-to-room.
3. Create a focal point using statement lighting
Stairwells tend to be dark and lacking in natural light, so strategic lighting that mimics daylight or creates a warm ambient glow is important. To overcome the challenges of limited space, designer Abbie Naber of A. Naber Designs recommends focusing on a single, impact element.
'Being that the stairwell in this project comprised two levels, we opted for large-scale lighting and art to help cover some of the negative space. Here an oversized oblong pendant partners with a large-scale rectangular piece of original art to create interest - but also not overcrowd the stairwell space,' says Abbie.
'Think about using wall lights or line lights on the walls of your stairs,' suggests Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight. This not only adds a layer of sophistication but addresses the issue of a dimly lit staircase - which is both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
Meticulously crafted by designer Ariel Okin, this 5-arm ceramic chandelier combines artistic elegance with functional sophistication, offering an exceptional choice to enhance the ambiance of any interior setting.
Bring some coastal flair to your space with the Large Seagrass Pendant Ceiling Lamp from Threshold™ designed with H&G favorites: Studio McGee. This domed ceiling light is made from natural-hued woven seagrass for an earthy and airy feel.
Abbie Naber is the owner and principal designer of a NABER DESIGN, a San Diego based interior design firm. Focusing on renovations, new builds, interior design, and styling, Abbie strives to create spaces that are approachable, fresh, and inviting.
4. Curate a gallery wall
A gallery wall is the perfect way to add personality to your staircase as the creative possibilities are endless. But it’s not just about the picture – preparation, placement, and presentation are everything.
'A staircase wall is the perfect canvas for a gallery wall. Give personality and style to a sometimes-forgotten wall by mixing and matching wall art and framed photos,' says interior designer Kathy Kuo.
'It's always nice to have an overarching color scheme with a gallery wall, but because you aren't necessarily matching the wall art with the furniture and decor of a room, you have a lot of freedom to experiment with color and design motifs in unexpected ways,' Kathy notes.
Erika Woelfel, Vice President of Color and Creative Services at Behr, agrees. 'Use the staircase wall to create a gallery with a mix of framed artwork, photographs, and other decorative items. For a budget-friendly option, you can find vintage or pre-loved frames and refresh them with spray paint,' she advises.
It's the perfect place to mix different pieces of art without committing to filling an entire room. If you're still building your collection and don't have many pieces yet, try hanging a big focal piece and flanking it on either side with a vertical row of smaller pieces. The stairs can also be a great place to display children's artwork without sacrificing the decor of an entire room.
Kathy Kuo is a celebrated interior designer and international guru within the home and lifestyle space. She has 20+ years of experience in the design industry.
5. Get creative with wallpaper
If you’re looking to really make a statement in your stairwell, consider hanging wallpaper. Undoubtedly one of the most eye-catching ways to spruce up your walls, the staircase allows you to be braver with color and pattern choices than you might be when committing it to a dedicated room.
'Wallpaper is a fantastic way to add an element of pattern and design interest to staircases, hallways and other small and narrow spaces,' says Ruth Mottershead, Creative Director at Little Greene. 'Trailing florals, botanical prints, and other all-over patterns are particularly effective when you don’t have the space to add smaller decorative accents but want to inject this space with a wonderful sense of warmth and personality,' she advises.
And it's not just for maximalists. Perfect for elevating a space when hanging art feels too daunting, minimal barely-there wallpaper is far beyond a mere backdrop and works to add interest without commanding too much attention. Try a simple stripe in colors that complement the surrounding rooms to ensure a cohesive look.
Ruth Mottershead is the creative director of the family-run paint and wallpaper businesses Little Greene and Paint & Paper Library, which specialize in creating luxurious paint and wallpaper that represent 300 years of decorative history.
6. Panelling, moulding and millwork
Paneling, molding, and additional millwork will add depth to your staircase and provide an extra detail without compromising on space. When decorating this stairwell, designer and founder of The Mistfit House Monica Stewart chose to pair traditional, chunky paneling with floral wallpaper in a similar muted color scheme for a result that is both homely and charming.
Gianna Pagliarulo, interior designer and founder of Studio Itaca, is a fan, using paneling in project houses of old and of new. 'Paneling is a great choice for drawing attention to your staircase,' says Gianna. 'A lot of people think paneling is a bit traditional but it really works for many contemporary styles of interiors and can be painted in any color, neutral or a bold accent.'
'If you have understairs storage cupboards or a guest WC you can also use paneling here to conceal the door creating a sleek visual appeal,' she adds.
7. Play with paint techniques
Don't overlook the impact of paint. From color drenching to limewashing, you can add texture to an otherwise flat-looking space. 'There is a real opportunity to turn the staircase area into a statement feature with paint effects which wrap around corners, or which grow from the wall onto the ceilings,' says Tobie Lewis.
'Color blocking with sharply contrasting colors can look effective here. Whether you have carpeted stairs or wooden steps, think about how your wall will work with the colors of the stairs themselves,' he adds.
Behr's Erika Woelfel agrees. 'Paint the staircase wall with two complementary colors. You can use a darker color on the lower portion and a lighter shade on the upper portion for a visually appealing effect.'
'For staircases that have less natural light, it's best to go with a lighter color in the space, but if you're looking for a mood, and opt for a darker choice, then make sure to include another light source up the stairs - either with sconces, stair lights or railing lighting,' advises designer Linda Hayslett.
When approaching decorating your staircase, keep these expert-approved tips and tricks in mind. Ensure harmony by coordinating your wall decor choices with the overall design theme of your home, creating a seamless transition between floors to truly elevate this in-between space in a way that enhances the flow throughout your entire home.
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Charlotte is content editor at Homes and Gardens, having joined the team the week before Christmas 2023. Following a 5 year career in Fashion, she found herself working at many women's glossy magazines including: Grazia, Stylist and Hello and most recently working as Interiors Editor for British heritage department store Liberty. Her role at H&G fuses her love of style with Charlotte's passion for interior design, and she is currently undergoing her second home renovation in Surrey - you can follow her journey over on @olbyhome
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