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Flights of Fancy: Taking Your Stairs from Boring to Brilliant

By on Nov 08, 2013

The dull, lifeless carpeting. The outdated, unflattering paint job on the banisters. The gloomy lighting. The colorless, shapeless throw rug on the landing that persists in crumpling up.

If any of these common stairway design complaints resonate with you, your stairs are probably ripe for an update.

Here’s the good news: it’s not that difficult to turn a ho-hum staircase into a spectacular design element. A well-performed staircase refinishing can help you transform the area into a gracious -- even glamorous -- a focal point, one that complements and enhances your existing décor.

Stair Refinishing

In addition to improving their appearance, proper staircase refinishing can make your stairs safer. Identifying and correcting such hazardous conditions as worn, uneven treads and shaky handrails can help prevent falls and their often dangerous consequences.According to The National Safety Council, 12,000 people lose their lives annually from falls, many of which occur on stairs. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that roughly 1 million stair-related falls occur across the country each year.

(The magically crumpling rug back at the beginning? It’s not boring; it’s dangerous. And that kind of excitement, you don’t need.)

Hardwood Stairs: Timeless, Classic

Staircase Refinishing Toronto

The presence of hardwood stairs in the home helps to create an impression of permanence, stability and value. Hardwood is renowned for its durability and luster; whether you choose to sand, stain and refinish the existing wood, or have new wooden treads installed, the end result should appear rich and luminous.

For a “natural” finish, wood is sanded and coated with polyurethane; for deeper, more intense colors, a stain is applied before the polyurethane.

Lighter woods, such as pine, white oak and red oak, tend to create an airy, casual look, and pair well with traditional homes. Red oak, by far the most popular choice for stairways and landings, features a pronounced grain and a luminous pinkish glow; white oak displays a honeyed, yellow tone. Darker shades, such as dark walnut and ebony, strike a more dramatic, sophisticated note, and can work beautifully in contemporary homes. A lime wash, also known as a ceruse finish, mimics the soft, silvery, weathered look of beachside cottages.

Painting Stairs: Over the Rainbow and Beyond

Although it’s hard to beat the gleam and richness of hardwood, neatly-painted stairs in well-chosen colors can be a stunning design choice.

Staircase Painting Toronto

One classic technique involves alternating snowy white-painted risers and skirting with darkly stained refinished treads. The resulting contrast is clean, precise and dramatic, and offers the added benefit of increased visibility. Balusters are also painted white to play up their pleasing shape; banisters and handrails are finished with rich, dark stains, such as espresso or chocolate, to draw the eye and create motion. Snowy white skirtings and risers have the added advantage of making designer colors, such as muted blue, plum, and indigo batik, really “pop.”

A stairway that is blessed with abundant natural light is an ideal candidate for a drenching in pure, crisp white. The unbroken whiteness of risers, treads, balusters and railings creates an almost-ethereal sensation of airiness and lightness. To avoid the impression of sterility and to anchor the look, place a crisply designed desk or chair in the landing or foyer.

Color variations on stairs are limited only by your imagination. Contrast risers and treads in unexpected color juxtapositions, or apply steadily-deepening gradations of color as stairs ascend.

A small flight of steps leading to a child’s bedroom could be whimsically painted in bright, cheerful primary colors. A bright, kid-friendly stripe running up the center is an easy and inexpensive option to a runner.

Keeping It Safe

To prevent dangerous falls, Home Institute recommends that thestair treads feature a non-slippery surface, particularly at the leading edges. A good-quality, well-secured carpet runner,can provide secure footing, while still affording visibility of the gleaming hardwood at the sides. Natural sisal is a particularly good option. If you choose to leave steps bare, use a slip-resistant paint or finish.

Proper use of handrails is perhaps the single most significant factor in preventing falls.Examine them from thetop to bottom to make sure they are easily graspable, splinter-free and consistently shaped. Although elderly people, those with physical disabilities and children are most vulnerable, no one is immune to slips, trips and spills; remind family members to always use the handrail, and do so yourself. Even if you consider yourself the most surefooted of athletes, using the handrail can help you ensure that you save your one-and-a-half gainer for the gym or pool, where it belongs.

Proper lighting is also crucial to stairway safety. Make sure working light switches are located at both the top and bottom of stairs, and consider adding night lights for extra visibility after dark.

After all, you’ve taken your stairs from boring to brilliant; you will want to show them in the best possible light.

About the Author:

Molly Hilton is the owner of Renaissance Painters in Toronto and has devoted more than 30 years to home renovation, painting, and custom home building. Her unique design concepts bring homes to life with colours and unique pieces that are artfully placed to draw attention to the most powerful and distinctive features of a home.

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