Using paint to jazz up a staircase

In 2009, a Swedish ad agency modified a staircase in a subway station to make it a little more fun. The stairs were given a piano appearance, and each tread would play a musical note when triggered by the weight of a person. The goal of the campaign was to encourage more people to use the stairs as a healthier alternative to the nearby escalator.

While you might not want to turn your staircase into a working instrument, this part of the home is open to a number of creative uses. Homeowners have built storage into the side of the stairs or even into the risers. Motion-activated lights built into the staircase let you ascend or descend more safely, and create an interesting visual effect to boot. Some people have even incorporated slides into spiral staircases.

These overhauls might not be right for you. But one of the simplest ways to make your staircase more interesting is to repaint it with a more vibrant color scheme.

Decide how much of the staircase you'd like to paint. Barbara Milner-Mangoni, writing for the home design site Houzz, says you can emphasize certain parts of the staircase by leaving them unpainted. This can be particularly effective with features such as the handrail.

Paint can be used to create the illusion of a runner heading down the stairs. One possibility is to leave a swath of unpainted wood in the center of each tread and riser. Another option is to paint a runner using a second color, which will either contrast with the color on the sides or offer a more neutral complement to it.

A painted-on runner can also be used as part of a color scheme using more than two hues. For example, you might have one color for the runner, one for the sides of the risers, and one for the sides of the treads.

Painting a runner can be something of a tricky process. The home improvement professional Bob Vila says you'll need to use an angle to make sure the lines of the painted-on runner are straight. You may also want to measure carefully to make sure the runner is centered.

A simpler alternative is to come up with a pattern for the treads, risers, or both. Deborah Baldwin, writing for This Old House, says one option is to combine a variety of shades of one color. She gives the example of a cottage where white paint was used for the treads, but five different blue colors were added at random to the risers.

You can save money on paint by limiting the number of colors used on the treads to two alternating hues, or even just one color. If you want a truly eye-catching pop of color in your home, however, you can create a rainbow effect by using several different colors.

Another possibility is to incorporate more of a theme into your staircase. Milner-Mangoni says one option is to use stencils to number the steps as they ascend. Stencils can also be used for a variety of other patterns, or to add words to create a phrase on the stairs. If you are talented with the paintbrush, a staircase can be a good palette to create an optical illusion.

Put down a coat of primer before you start painting the stairs. Vila says painter's tape is helpful for creating stripes or other patterns as needed. You might want to paint every other step so you'll create a dry platform to stand on, or add an additive to provide more traction.

If you are using white paint, you may start to notice more scuffing or other marks on the steps. Baldwin says a melamine sponge will do a good job of removing these blemishes.


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