4 Creative Ways to Decorate Stairs

4 Creative Ways to Decorate Stairs

Personalize the often-overlooked staircase with our 4 simple — yet creative — decorating ideas.



By: Debra Steilen

Staircases offer prime real estate for showcasing your personal style. Check out these four creative ideas for adding a little sizzle to staircase risers (the vertical part of each step).

1. Wallpaper Whimsy: Introduce a wallpaper pattern you love to a space you traverse every day. Here’s how:

Materials
Wood putty
Putty knife
Fine-grit sandpaper
Paper towels
One roll of wallpaper in the pattern you desire
Ruler or measuring tape
Straight edge
Utility knife
Water-based urethane sealer
Foam or soft-bristle brush

Instructions

  1. As with any wallpapering project, careful prep makes all the difference. Using a putty knife, fill any cracks or holes in the risers with wood putty and let dry. Sand the filler so it’s level with the wood surface. Wipe each riser clean with a damp paper towel and let dry
  2. Carefully measure one of the risers. (The older the home, the greater the likelihood that each riser will be a slightly different size. You may need to measure them individually — use your best judgment)
  3. Partially unroll the wallpaper roll. Using a pencil and straight edge, plan your cutting lines based on the measurements you just took. Cut carefully and cleanly using the crafts knife and straight edge. Repeat as needed to create enough wallpaper strips to cover each riser in the staircase
  4. Starting at the top of the staircase, apply one wallpaper strip to each riser using the manufacturer’s directions. Let adhesive dry
  5. Using a foam or soft-bristle paintbrush, protect the wallpaper from damage with 2-3 thin coats water-based urethane sealer. Let dry between coats

Tip: Simplify this project by using double-stick tape to attach the wallpaper strips to the risers. 

Tip: For added interest, vary the wallpaper pattern between risers. (This is a great way to use up partial rolls.) As with mixing and matching throw pillows, the different patterns of wallpaper will look better together if they share at least one common color. 

Tip: For this project, use a bright or bold wallpaper pattern that you wouldn’t dare to use to paper an entire room.

2. Chalkboard Chic
Give everyone in the family an artistic outlet by coating staircase risers with chalkboard paint. Go old school with basic black, or use colored chalk paint to coordinate with other décor. Here’s how: 

Materials
Painter’s tape
Wood putty
Putty knife
Fine-grit sandpaper
Paper towels
Primer (mandatory for raw wood; optional otherwise)
Chalkboard paint in the color(s) you desire
Paintbrushes: a small, angled brush for edges and a larger brush to fill in
Wood paint stirrer (optional)
Chalk: white or colored
Felt chalk eraser
Clear spray fixative, available at crafts stores (optional)

Instructions

  1. As with any painting project, careful prep makes all the difference. Using painter’s tape, mask off any areas close to the steps that you do not want painted. Clean the risers and let them dry. Fill any cracks or holes with wood putty and let dry. Sand the filler level with the wood surface; lightly sand riser surfaces so paint will cling. Wipe each riser clean with a damp paper towel and let dry
  2. Starting with the riser at the top of the staircase, cover the front of each riser with a coat of primer (if needed). Let dry
  3. Using a paintbrush or paint stirrer, gently move the chalkboard paint around in the can
  4. Starting with the top step, begin painting the riser. Use a generous (but not sloppy) amount of paint on your brush. Make sure you overlap all brush marks and clean up drips in order to achieve a uniform surface. Repeat process for each riser. It may take up to three coats of paint to achieve adequate coverage; let paint dry between coats. Allow paint to harden and cure, which takes about three days
  5. Prepare the surface for your family’s creative efforts by lightly rubbing chalk over each painted riser and then removing with a felted chalk eraser
  6. Decorate the painted risers with calligraphy, doodles, drawings and more. Leave each finished riser as is for a canvas you can erase and redraw at will. Want the artwork to last a long time? Spray it with a clear fixative that prevents smudging

Tip: Use a damp paper towel to remove chalk dust from the top of each step to prevent slipping. Repeat every time you change the chalk design.

3. Ombre Attitude
Transform a staid staircase into a trendsetter by painting stair risers in an ombre color scheme — one that transitions from a solid color to a lighter color, one a step at a time. 

Materials
Painter’s tape
Wood putty
Putty knife
Fine-grit sandpaper
Paper towels
Paintbrushes: a small, angled brush for edges and a larger brush to fill in
Wood paint stirrer (optional)
Primer (mandatory for raw wood; optional otherwise)
Satin or semi-gloss latex paint in colors that range from dark to light — one quart per color/tint
Water-based urethane sealer

Tip: Choose consecutive colors on the same paint strip rather than mixing your own tints and shades.

Tip: Plan on using the same tint intensity on three stairs (or the number of stairs that makes sense for your staircase), and then change it for the next three stairs, and so on. This process will reduce the number of paint colors you need to buy and save time cleaning paintbrushes between color changes. 

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Instructions

  1. As with any painting project, careful prep makes all the difference. Using painter’s tape, mask off any areas close to the steps that you do not want painted. Clean the risers and let them dry. Fill any cracks or holes with wood putty and let dry. Sand the filler level with the wood surface; lightly sand riser surfaces so paint will cling. Wipe each riser clean with a damp paper towel and let dry
  2. Decide whether you want the risers to start with the lightest tint at the top of the stairs or at the bottom. Organize your paint colors so you are ready to use them in the right order
  3. Starting with the top step, begin painting the riser. Use a generous (but not sloppy) amount of paint on your brush. Make sure you overlap all brush marks and clean up drips in order to achieve a uniform surface
  4. Repeat the process for each riser, taking care to use the right shade of paint in the continuum. The last riser should be the lightest or the darkest color of paint, depending on your plan
  5. Once paint is completely dry, cover each riser with a thin coat of clear polyurethane sealer to protect the stamped designs from scuffs and scratches

Tip: Do you favor a rustic decorating style? Skip the sealer and allow the painted risers to develop a weathered patina over time.

4. Stenciled Style
Give your staircase a high-style decorator look with stenciled designs that can be as simple or complex as you like. 

Materials
Painter’s tape
Wood putty
Putty knife
Fine-grit sandpaper
Paper towels
Primer (mandatory for raw wood; optional otherwise)
Paintbrushes: a small, angled brush for edges; a larger brush to fill in; an artist’s brush for touch-ups
Stencil in the allover pattern you desire
Stencil adhesive
Primer (mandatory for raw wood; optional otherwise)
Satin or semi-gloss latex paint: one color for the background and a second color (or colors) for the stencil
Water-based urethane sealer

Instructions

  1. Using painter’s tape, mask off any areas close to the steps that you do not want painted. Clean the risers and let them dry. Fill any cracks or holes with wood putty and let dry. Sand the filler level with the wood surface; lightly sand riser surfaces so paint will cling. Wipe each riser clean with a damp paper towel and let dry
  2. Starting with the riser at the top of the staircase, cover the front of each riser with a coat of primer. Let dry
  3. Starting with the riser at the top of the staircase, paint each riser with the background color. Let dry
  4. Spray the backside of the stencil with spray adhesive. Starting with the riser at the top of the staircase, apply the stencil to the painted surface. Smooth the stencil to make sure it is completely attached to the riser; this step will help paint from seeping under the stencil’s edges
  5. Using the stencil brush, apply paint over the surface of the stencil. Let dry before stenciling a second color or reapplying the same stencil to continue the design
  6. Repeat as needed until staircase is complete. Using an artist’s brush, touch up stenciled designs as needed
  7. Once paint is completely dry, cover each riser with a thin coat of clear polyurethane sealer to protect the stenciled designs from scuffs and scratches

Tip: Protect your knees by wearing garden foam kneeling pads while you work.

How do you decorate your stairs? Share your creative ideas in the comments below!

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