Carpet design

A complete guide to staircase renovation and design

When it comes to design elements that perfectly combine form and function, nothing comes to mind faster than a staircase. Over the centuries, residential stairs have evolved beyond their functional appeal into a veritable design powerhouse, offering professionals and homeowners alike a chance to bring architectural interest, personality and enjoyment to spaces. , young and old.

Whether you’re tackling building a home from scratch or you’re undertaking a renovation and looking to inject visual interest into your staircase, there are endless ways to do it and some important lingo items to consider. understand before you start dreaming. ideas. Below, we recap the basic anatomy of a staircase, plus all the ways you can show your personality through design. Since building codes can vary widely depending on the project and location, we haven’t really covered that here, but that doesn’t mean you can overlook it. This is still a good idea to contact a professional in your area (whether a contractor, inspector or architect) before starting a project to ensure that the stair changes you are considering will be both elegant and sure.

Stair Anatomy 101

In this California home, designed by owner Carolyn Espley-Miller, a traditional stairwell commands the entrance.

David Tsay

Perhaps one of the most complex architectural designs and details in a home, stairs have a surprising number of components. Learn the lingo below to chat with contractors and design professionals.

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A stringer is the support board that runs along each side of a staircase. It provides the necessary structural support for the entire staircase and acts as a point of attachment for other elements, such as the treads and risers. In most cases, one side (the inner stringer) is attached to a wall, while the other side (the outer stringer) is the side of the stair open to view. However, this can vary depending on the design of the staircase and the layout of the house.


In their most basic definition, steps are what you walk on to climb your stairs. These horizontal pieces are usually a standard depth – 10 to 11 inches at a minimum – to allow for easy (and thoughtless!) use of the stair.


Risers are the vertical surface of a staircase, where your toe kicks as you climb the steps of a staircase. While risers provide both stability and a place for a decorative upgrade (more on that later!), they can also be left completely open to give the staircase an airy “floating” effect. Like treads, risers are most often seen at a standard height (about 7 inches) to make climbing stairs second nature.


A handrail (also called a banister) is what you hold on to when going up or down stairs. It provides much-needed stability and can appear on one or both sides of a residential staircase.


In staircase lingo, a baluster refers to the vertical posts to which the handrail is attached. They act almost like a “railing”, preventing people (and objects) from falling from the side of the stairs. Balusters are also often referred to as spindles and can be a great place to add a design element to your staircase to better suit your personality or the style of your home.


Located at the very top and bottom of your staircase (often at “ground” level), a post refers to thicker support pieces that hug your handrail and balusters to anchor the staircase to the rest of your home. .

How to improve your staircase design

For many homeowners, the staircase offers an untapped opportunity for design customization. From colonial-inspired balusters in an 1800s New England home to an “invisible” stringer in a mid-century modern abode, incorporating the right elements into your staircase design can immediately enhance not only your entrance or your hallway, but your whole house. Here are some fun ways to upgrade your staircase during your new renovation:

stair design runner

Rustic white interiors

Add a runner

Stair runners (i.e. the carpet that runs down your stairs) are not only a practical solution to reduce slipping and slipping, they can also add a design element. Go for durable sisal to add timeless texture to your space or experiment with colors and patterns to really stand out. In the stairwell above, creator Brian Watford posed a gray and white graphic design to add a subtle touch of modernity.

american colonial revival home by interior designer jeffrey alan marks near butterfly beach in montecito, california lindsey adelman runner custom stairwell chandelier, mitchell denburg collection


Invest in decorative balusters

As long as they pass inspection, there’s no rule that your chosen stair balusters have to be boring. Opt for a richly turned wood design to add a touch of tradition to your space, or opt for wrought iron for a look that blends timeless techniques with modern sensibilities. In his own family home (see above), creatorJeffrey Alan Marks leaned into the vicinity of Montecito Beach with sturdy rope balusters and tied with boat cleats.

stair design wallpaper risers

Robert Peterson

Opt for ornate risers

Do us a favor and take a look at your front staircase – what do you see? Most of your field of vision is likely directed towards the risers of your stairs, making this a great place to add some funk. Because most of the design additions you add to your risers won’t affect the integrity of your stairs, you can really have fun with your options. Customize them with a coat of your favorite paint color or add decorative tiles for a bit of old world appeal. Another great option? Wallpaper! In her own family home in Texas (seen above), the HGTV star Grace Mitchell used scraps of wallpaper to animate the risers of a back staircase.

a frame cottage in collingwood, ontario designed by sarah richardson design and murakami design thirty-six knot locker room bench basalt flooring, ciot cabinetry barber millwork

Valerie Wilcox

Make something “invisible”

When it comes to breathtaking staircase design, glass elements are a great way to trick the eye and create a scene that looks truly trippy. From tempered glass steps that feel like you’re walking on air, to paneled glass “balusters,” this design element is a clear winner when it comes to lending a bold, modern touch to a space. Prime? It can also be practical! Example: Designer Sarah Richardson used sleek glass panels on the stairwell of a client’s Ontario home (above) to give an airy look and avoid detracting from the large windows behind the stairwell that reveal the surrounding ski slopes outside the cottage.

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