How to decorate a staircase – design ideas for stylish staircases

Step up your style with these tips on how to decorate a staircase

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(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

Acting as a first impression to your interiors, decorating a staircase can make all the difference to the feel of your home. Here are some clever ways to decorate a staircase.

  • See: Staircase ideas – inspirational features for treads, rails, materials and more

How do I decorate my staircase?

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(Image credit: Paul Craig)

Where there is a staircase in an open-plan room, the space beneath is often used for storage, but this area is prime real estate for a decorative touch. Take note from this project and fit open shelving to display books, objects and artwork. If you want the space to purely be a library space, try colour coding the books for an extra splash of decorative drama.

Although a key structural element, the balustrade is also a chance to add decorative flair. There are many styles and materials which will work here, for example, fine powder-coated forged steel spindles can be designed to set a contemporary or traditional tone, while stainless-steel and glass options add instant wow factor. 

Always bear in mind, however, that balustrades must conform to building regulations, so if you’re thinking about doing something a bit different, talk to a building control officer or check current regulations at

How do you brighten up stairs?

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(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

There are many ways to brighten up a staircase, the first of which is color and pattern. A bold carpet creates an inviting first impression; take note from the home of interior designer Irene Gunter of Gunter & Co, where this runner is paired with an abstract wall for a cool masterclass in clash. 

A tactile wooden handrail grounds the scheme. A patterned runner is an easy way to inject color and personality into a hallway, while having the effect of guiding the eye upwards

Taking brightening things up more literally, it’s important to look at lighting. Both practical and visually creative, lighting a staircase shouldn’t be left as a last-minute add-on to a project. 

Traditional staircases can be lit with a dramatic pendant down the central well, while contemporary designs suit small step lights set within the skirting. Don’t forget to consider what the lighting will look like from ground level, from the side and when walking down the stairs. 

‘As well as lighting the staircase, think about illuminating the visual end point – something to walk towards – such as a beautifully lit painting at the top of the stairs,’ says Sally Stephenson of Owl Lighting.

What is the best color for stairs?

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(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Staircases and the hallways they are connected to offer an ideal opportunity to make a color statement; as it’s a space you merely pass through, you can afford to be a bit bolder with your choices. 

Blanket coverage with a single paint color makes a bold design statement. This dramatic look uses Black Blue Estate Emulsion from Farrow & Ball.

What do you put on top of stairs?

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(Image credit: Alexander James)

Create a focal point at the top of your stairs with artwork, an impressive chandelier or a lovely window area. Contemporary or new build homes work well with skylights, as they allow light to flood through the house during the day.

This Hám Interiors design used orange binding on the stair runner to draw the eye right up to the piece of art that was chosen for this space.

See: Hallway decor ideas – to create a stylish first impression

How do you arrange pictures on a staircase wall?

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Gallery walls are going nowhere, this personality laden trend is a wonderful way to decorate a staircase. In this transient area of the house you can get away with using mismatched works of art that might otherwise overwhelm the eye in a living room or bedroom scheme. 

Mix and match sizes and styles for an eclectic look, although if you’ve got a bold runner like this Masai Emerald design from Roger Oates, make sure to stick to a restricted colour pattern with the artwork.

lIf you’re looking to achieve a more traditionally elegant result, use the dado rail as a marker point – the area below can remain restrained and sophisticated, while the space above can be a creative contrast of color, pattern and framed images.

Do stairs need to match the floor?

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(Image credit: Alexander James)

Ceramic tiles laid in a graphic pattern look wonderful and are a hard-wearing solution for a high-traffic area. Since tiles aren’t the most practical material for actually taking up the stairs, use the colours of the tiles on the treads, bannister and balustrades to create a striking look.

Practicality really has to be considered when choosing your flooring materials. Timber, painted or otherwise, can be noisy so an obvious solution is to fit a stair carpet or runner. 

‘We’d always recommend sisal or wool,’ says Emma Hopkins of Crucial Trading. ‘Sisal is a hard-wearing, durable option, while wool is softer and easy to clean. If going for a runner, you can add a personalised touch with a customised border in cotton, linen, leather or suede.

’As well as protecting your base material, a stair runner will reduce noise; look to sisal for the most hard-wearing option, or wool if you prefer something softer underfoot.'

Thea Babington-Stitt
Content Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is a Content Editor at Future. She has been an interiors journalist for nearly 10 years and has held positions at LivingEtc, Country Homes & Interiors and Homes & Gardens. Currently, she is writing for Ideal Home and Style At Home's websites and magazines.