There’s no question that stairs are a major home decor challenge! I wish I’d taken a picture of my front staircase before I stripped the seven layers of dark wallpaper and painted the plaster walls. The newel post and balusters, in rich native maple, make the stairs a real turn-of-the-century beauty — and I’m quite happy with the warm peach colour of the walls in the stairwell, though I do wish now that I’d been bold enough to go one shade stronger… The real challenge, however, is in the narrow steep “back stairs” that lead up from the kitchen, which I’ve yet to find the courage to redecorate!

Stairs, Stairwells and Colour

By Courtney Beard

Choosing colours for narrow spaces such as staircases is quite challenging. The big problem is that colours do not have a chance to diffuse between walls. Any strong colours you pick will become concentrated and more powerful, which is not always a bad thing.

Stairways are often dark and poky. The trick is to use colour to reduce the sense of enclosure. Light and shadow are used to emphasise angles and features.

If you own an older staircase such as an 18th century one, don’t mess it up. Plain colours accentuate the generous width of the stairs and subtly ornate banister.

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Light shades are preferable for dark and narrow areas that need all the help they can get. A staircase painted entirely white can be to minimal and clinical, but if you vary the colours a tone, you are able to emphasise the woodwork against the plain white walls.

The background for stairs and corridors needs a certain blandness because you can work on it like an unassertive canvas.

Halls and stairways are areas where it is possible to be rather more decoratively adventurous than elsewhere in the house. For example you can use strong combination of colours of equal weight such as a rich red and yellow. You could also use the same colours as on your doors and doorways on the staircase.

An old stair that has been updated can be made charming by bleached stair treads. A lovely pale gray allows the grain and knots to be visible. A soft blue wall contrast wells along with monochrome pictures.

Wallpaper doesn’t always work on staircase however it can be used on the walls between the flights. Well chosen wallpaper can make a ground floor entrance hall welcoming and help to divide it from the stair. However there should be a connection between the two – a major colour in the wallpaper could be matched to the plain walls of the stair or the pattern could be copied to curtains higher up.

Colours should also have continuity on the stairs. It is not a good idea to start the ascent with grey and then suddenly burst into pink.

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