Tricks of the Trade

These Designers Make the Case for a Boldly Painted Staircase

Behold the power of a colorful step.

June 17, 2021
The ups and downs of everyday life don’t have to be pedestrian. For proof, look no further than these inspired paint jobs. A few colorful cues from designers illustrate how you can turn an ordinary trip between floors into a rather extraordinary journey—with nothing more than a humble can of paint. Here, our favorite examples showing how to transform even a utilitarian staircase into a major design moment.

Add details to create magical moments.

Artist Nathalie Lété began adorning her French country house with hand-painted flowers during the pandemic, changing a narrow stair into a poetic turn. The now-magical passageway feels like a hidden world, filled with imagined species that invite inhabitants to pause and reflect on the charming flora rather than sailing straight upstairs.

Paint treads in a contrasting color.

In his family’s Hamptons home, designer Tom Scheerer kept the risers white but gave the treads a spirited coat of coral, effectively turning the stair into a graphic punchline. The vivid contrast creates a jaunty surprise that injects personality into the classic surrounds.

Don’t be afraid of abstraction.

There’s some serious cool factor underfoot in designer Clare Corrigan’s home thanks to the Vorticist-inspired stripes she painted on her stairs with artist friend Tasha Amini. The abstract, machine-age shapes play off the series of black- and-white David Hockney photographs lining the walls, giving the whole hall an avant-garde edge.

Highlight architectural details with a bold hue.

Instead of letting the pretty sweep of this staircase recede in white, interior designer Summer Thornton highlighted it with an ebullient yellow. The bold and surprisingly jaunty shade accentuates the architecture and draws the eye as effectively as a piece of Pop Art, creating a joyful contrast in an otherwise neutral ground.

Go monochrome to unite a space.

Drenching every surface—walls, ceiling, stairs, trim—in a sea-inspired shade gives this grand double-height stair an atmosphere matched to its coastal Maine location. By painting almost every inch of the stairwell this vibrant marine hue, Peter Pennoyer Architects infused trips between floors with the spirit of a seafaring journey.

Add a playful touch with a rainbow of colors.

A whimsical color story connects the main living room and a children’s playroom while adding a bit of fun to this Northern California home designed by James Huniford. Neither primary nor pastel, the striped stairs signal a shift from the adult world upstairs to one built for kids.

Produced by Hudson Moore