We give lots of thought to decorating rooms but often overlook the staircase, despite the fact that in many homes it's the first thing people see when they walk in the door.
Staircase areas can be "a great spot to introduce your personal style," says Brian Patrick Flynn, who designed HGTV's "Dream Home 2016," the design network's annual house giveaway.
A bold paint colour that might be overpowering in a large living room can be perfect used on the tiny risers between steps. And a rug pattern that "might seem kind of wild in a room" can add a nice pop of style when used as a slender runner down the centre of a staircase, says Bethany Willard, lead designer and founder at the Pittsburgh-based interior design firm Studio 1049.
"The simplicity of a staircase allows for a bit of fun," she says.
Here, Flynn, Willard and designer Roric Tobin of the New York design firm B&T Global share advice on creating an inviting, stylish staircase that blends with the rest of a home's decor.
ASSESS THE BANISTER
It doesn't have to be expensive to replace a boring bannister with something snappier.
"If it's something historical that has beauty, there's no sense in ripping it out," Tobin says. But if it doesn't serve the space, change it.
Or consider painting or otherwise updating the banister.
"Just putting some thought into that detail, Willard says, "can really personalize the space."
SHOWCASE YOUR FAVORITES
"Stairwells, often considered dead space, are ideal for showcasing collections," says Flynn. "I prefer to mix different frames in a variety of wood finishes and metals, and then throw in three-dimensional objects as well to break up the rigid lines.
"When all else fails, I say stick with black-and-white photos, and if you're using art, pay close attention to how palettes play between each piece. If you have 11 pieces and eight of them have similar palettes, maybe use the other three in a different room."
For an entrance stairway, Tobin suggests aiming for a look that's appealing but not overpowering. Perhaps three or four prints by the same artist, he says, that form "a cohesive, pared-down collection ... not too distracting."
EMBRACE BOLD PATTERNS AND COLORS
Tobin recommends using bold, large-scale print wall coverings to "really draw your eye up the staircase." Homeowners often assume that small-print patterns will look best, he says, but they can be boring.
One option he likes is a flocked wall covering with some metallic sheen, which offers warmth and classic style but can also look contemporary if the print is modern.
Bold patterns are also great for stair risers (the portion of the stairway perpendicular to the steps). You can stencil a pattern on the risers with paint, which can easily be painted over if you decide the pattern isn't for you. Or paint them one or several rich colours.
Willard has a client who chose to paint her risers in various shades of green — lightest at the top and darkest at the bottom, in a sort of ombre effect.
Flynn is a fan of wallpapering risers, then covering each one with a sheet of clear acrylic for durability.
And if you're sure that patterned risers are for you, go for an even more permanent approach by adding ceramic tile work in a pattern you love.
BLEND STYLE AND FUNCTION
Runners and stair treads are another place to add colour or pattern.
"Stairwell runners in masculine prints are becoming popular in all sorts of homes," says Flynn.
And they serve a practical purpose: Bare wood can look good but be noisy and slippery. Most of Tobin's clients opt for stair runners or treads to eliminate noise.
These are traditionally made of carpet, but Tobin suggests considering other materials. For a client in Mexico City, he added leather stair treads.
Make sure lighting fixtures are right for your staircase and that the light is flattering, Willard suggests. "That can be such an inexpensive change and an update that makes a lot of difference," she says.
And you don't have to wait for the winter holidays to add decorations. As summer ends, consider "adding a touch of fall with baskets at the end of the stairs in autumnal tones," says Flynn, "then keeping sweaters and knit caps out as accessories."