Monday, March 14, 2011

Stair Runners: A Review Of Both Types

Last year we continued making progress on our (on-going) whole house renovations. It's been maddening at times and then other times the breaks in "action" have been a welcome respite from all the craziness and construction mess. Mostly, we took care of necessary improvements such as a new roof and gutters, as well as a much needed makeover for the garage and basement storage room. And, the deck spruce up and new furniture did yield prettier outdoor living that we will enjoy again this year!

I think this unique runner is fantastic!
This year, we plan to focus, once again, on the interior. And, after much deliberation about what to do with the hardwood floors in our house, we have decided to refinish, rather than replace. I selected these floors when we bought the house in 1993 (the best choice of the very small upgrade offerings from our builder) and though I would choose something very different now, they are in good shape and refinishing is the best option to allow for an update and put the money saved (which is significant) into the stairs and a custom runner.

I love everything about this foyer! Who says small can't be spectacular!
The black steps, railing and newel post are gorgeous...wonder if there is a runner?
After a four year absence, one of the first things we did upon our return was to remove the builders yellow oak staircase. I had loathed the style and color for years. We had re-stained the railing and newel posts years ago and that definitely helped make it much more attractive. If you find yourself feeling the same way about your builders' special, another option/consideration is to paint it black. A great "fix" that  I have recommended to friends and clients without the budget or interest in a staircase replacement.

Currently we have fully carpeted stairs like this.
I still think this is an attractive option with an interesting or textured carpet choice.

After a very long search, I found the ideal parts for our new staircase railing, balusters and newel posts. Then hired an expert in staircase installations to cut and install each part. We mixed a blend of two different stains to get something that resembles mahogany. The 3 newel posts with their acorn finials made me crazy happy. This design is French in origin according to the company who made them.

A little glimpse. Sadly, poor lighting and my mediocre camera doesn't capture the beauty and detail.

We did not have the treads and risers finished because we didn't have the luxury of time (pressing issues such as bathrooms, kids rooms, etc...were the priority) required to sand, stain and dry the wood with two kids in the house. Then we got a dog. The same went for the floors. We pulled up and replaced damaged floor boards(courtesy of our renters), but that's it. Thank goodness for beautiful rugs.

One of the most beautiful staircases and foyers I've seen recently. From designer Barry Dixon.

The entire main floor is hardwood (except the powder room is limestone tile) and we took out the existing broadloom and re-carpeted the upstairs in a Ralph Lauren diamond patterned wool. The staircase currently has this carpet too. Some of you have previously asked for details: the pattern is Clayton and the color is Toffee (very close in color to sisal or older seagrass). It was installed in August of 2005 and has worn well and is so soft and luxurious underfoot.

As much as I love the beauty of wood, I know we are going to want to feel something soft underfoot for the numerous daily trips up and down the stairs. A runner also is good for safety, noise control and a bum knee! So as you might imagine, I've had runners on my mind for quite awhile.

Wood stair treads and black railings.

There are 2 basic types of stair runner installations. The first is waterfall and I would say, the most common. This is where the carpet runner cascades over the stairs and is attached at the base of each riser. Often it is thought to be be more casual, but I think the runner material, pattern and style are a more determinant factor than the layment choice. One drawback:  you can see pockets from the side where the runner doesn't touch the riser. I am also thinking dust and pet hair would find it's way here. Worth Noting: bold patterns and stripes often look best with waterfall runners.

Here is a side view of the "pockets" a waterfall installation creates.

Stripes often look best installed in the waterfall method.
A textured waterfall runner doesn't distract from  X motif detail on the iron railings.

A waterfall runner in charcoal gives depth and interest to a narrow staircase.

Subtle pattern on a waterfall runner.
Bold patterns also look best with a waterfall runner. Designer Eric Cohler's house.
 Monica Rich Kosann's book,  Living With What You Love.

The second is called upholstered or Hollywood. This makes no sense to most people.  I refer to this style as fitted or bull nose because it is fitted/wrapped under the nose of each step. It looks like the bull nose profile edge of natural stone counters or a bull nose brick. In other words, it curves under the lip of the tread. Worth Noting: A fitted stair runner will show wear faster on the nose of the step and does not look  good with certain patterns. 

Designer Barbara Barry sitting on the staircase of her LA home looking chic as always-2004!

Another one of my favorite saved images from 2005. All the details from this private
 little landing to the master bedroom to the curved wall are the sort of things I dream about!

Here is an example of a fitted runner with a small pattern. I think in this case,
a waterfall runner would have been a better choice. 
This vibrant orange looks great as a fitted runner. In lieu of the painted stripe on the wall,
stair rods would look great here.
 The last consideration is stair rods. Many people think you need these to keep the runner in place. That's actually incorrect. Not since the Colonial days has this been the case. Staples are now used for securing the runner. Rods do protect the carpet from wear, specifically from the scuffs of a shoe, but they are primarily for decoration. They add interest, elegance and shine to the runner. Much like a beautiful curtain rod adds glamor to curtains.

Stairs rods always seem appropriate in traditional spaces, but there are now
 modern versions being seen more frequently.

Brass stair rods that compliment the unique and stunning brass newel post and railing.

Another example of stair rods adding a bit of glam.

While I ponder what to do with my own stairs, I'd love to hear your thoughts about stair runner styles and I am also curious how many of you have and like the feel of bare wood steps?

Images courtesy of House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Traditional Home, Martha Stewart, BG&H, Living Etc.  and my miscellaneous(somewhat old) tear sheets!


  1. i do.
    i love stair runners.
    i am doing a classic one at a clients house right not.
    your examples were terrific

  2. Gosh, who knew stairs were so complicated. I love what you did so far. I never noticed the fitted stair runner before (a la Barbara Barry). I like the waterfall - with a great carpet choice, this looks spectacular. I love the rods but they seem too formal somehow...
    What do I know? I just know what looks good...thanks for bringing this to my attention! ; )
    We have hardwood stairs with no runners and I have fallen down stairs once..(in sock feet and slippery yoga pants). I always hold the rail now!
    xo Terri

  3. Wonderful informative post. And very propitious since I've been trying to decide whether to get a runner. We have bare staircases at the moment and with the dog it has seemed the best solution but I'd love something more interesting visually. Love your new acorn finials on the newell posts!

  4. I have both. We have a rear stair from the family room to the kids' bedroom that is carpeted and a more formal wood stair in the entry. It is, unfortunately, builder's orange, yuck. From a cleaning point of view, I prefer the wood steps. I despise vaccuuming carpeted stairs but a quick dusting of the front stairs is so easy.
    One day I would like to paint the steps black and install a runner.
    Nice images--my fave is the short curved steps and landing outside of a master bedroom.

  5. I wanted hardwood
    for our second level,
    upstairs hall and
    the stairs themselves.
    Mr. Privet wanted
    carpet everywhere.
    We compromised with
    carpeted stairs and
    carpeted kid's rooms
    and wood in the master
    and hallway. He has
    actually slipped a few
    times running up or
    down the stairs even
    with carpet, so it was
    probably the least dangerous
    option!! I love runners but
    don't like the need to use
    two types of vac attachments
    to keep them clean {one for
    carpet and one for bare floors}.
    Looks like you are off to a
    great start ~ love the finial
    on the staircase!
    xx Suzanne

  6. Wow what a showcase of stairs/foyers! I keep scrolling up and down..way too many pretty ones to name a favorite but that Barry Dixon foyer is dreamy! Love having some of the wood show on either side and now my mind is racing with what I like and don't have opened me up to some other options....another perk of being in blogland!
    Glad to have discovered your lovely blog...please visit mine,
    its about the building of our home and my passion for decor/design..hope you will stop by:)

  7. I love stair runners.....soft on barfoot feet and gives a little punch of design to an area often seen from the front door.

    I have some challenges in my entry that you've touched on above, so always looking for ideas. Mine is small, short ceiling and I have a curved wall up the staircase. So far, nothing on the staircase wall....but I do have a runner I adore and I think it makes the entry.

    Good luck with nailing yours!!!
    xo E

  8. If you didn't like stair runners before, you will after seeing this post. Great job. this was a very impressive line-up. Fabulous inspiration.

  9. OK, first off, I am all for runners, hard wood stairs might look nice, but the safety factor of runners cant be beat. I also feel very strongly about waterfalls...DONT like it, don't do hair, dust, uch! I adore the clean tailored look of the other option so much more...and I really don't care for those bars at ALL! They remind me of hotels, but not in a good way. One thing I don't think you touched on, that I am considering is a decorative nail head trim...big and bold (and pricey...) which is why I haven't done this yet.

    1. Honey, if stair rods are good enough for Buckingham Palace they should be good enough for you. Of course, you may not have the "formal" purse for them. LOL! Those of us in the know, just adore them.

  10. Stair runners are my favorites and I love the designs you show here!
    I have received two awards from Charlotta in Sidney, which I would like to pass on to you. Hope you will accept them.
    You can find them at this address:

    Have a nice evening!

  11. To all,
    It's great to read about everyone's preferences on this topic and to hear what you have or would like to have in your own homes. I couldn't agree more on the safety concerns of bare steps. I think it's possibly worse for dogs than people.

    Good point about vacuuming and funny!

    You know I share your obsession with nailhead trim and I have 2 examples of the runner you described. I remember the first time I saw it...completely smitten! However, I thought it would be best not to add details about trim or tapes for fear it would be too much information in one post.

    Thank you for the thoughtful gesture...very much appreciated!

  12. I like Barry Dixon's design. The rug gave it a beautiful feature. I'm planning to redesign our wrought iron stairs and install a thick rug. Thanks for sharing these ideas. They're all lovely! ♥

  13. That orange runner is so fun and by far our favorite.We also like the runner with banding or tape.

  14. Great post on the stair carpeting!
    Way to go! I loved the examples!
    Jamie Herzlinger

  15. Very interesting and informative. I will be posting on our new stairs and those of a couple good friends and would love to link back to this. I like your description of upholstered versus waterfall. Great job. Following you.

  16. Please we let me know where I can get the runner on the very top! I love it!! or any similar runners. My colors on the wall and curtains are brown and blue.

  17. Thank you for sharing great stair runners' photos. I love the photo of “subtle pattern on a waterfall runner” the best as for its great combination with the color of the house.

  18. My staircase is currently bare wood and I assure you, I do not like the cold hard feel or the "clomping" up and down with the disturbing sound from hard dress shoes. I will be going with a waterfall runner, fastened with stair rods. It is a beautiful and delightfully formal look.

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