Expert styling advice on the nation’s favoured stair flooring
Different areas of the home tend to be better suited to particular flooring types. Practical materials such as laminate wood, tiles or vinyl are commonly used in kitchens, decadent carpeting is often used to provide additional comfort in the bedroom and exposed wooden floorboards can be a popular choice for high traffic areas such as hallways and family rooms.
One area of the home that is suited to just about every type of flooring material is the staircase. Wood, carpeting—whether wall to wall or as a runner down the central section of the stair treads—tiles, vinyl and cladding can all be used on the stairs to suit the décor of the home and its occupants.
The nation loves carpet
Despite the range of available materials, carpet is still the most popular choice of staircase flooring. This was revealed in our recent survey, where almost two thirds of the British public revealed that their staircase was carpeted. The second most popular staircase material was wood (11%), followed by carpet runners (5%). Cladding and tiles attracted the fewest votes with 2.8% and 2.5% respectively.
Styling your staircase
To find out more about how different types of flooring can be used on the staircase we asked a selection of interior designers to share their tips and advice…
Interior designer and owner of
Architectural & Interior Designer at
President of the BIID and owner of
Here’s what they had to say…
Advice on styling fully carpeted stairs
Steph: Fully carpeted stairs look fabulously neat and modern as well as being great if you’ve got an older staircase which can be draughty. Fully fitting a carpet can prevent it from being a trip hazard and in most houses there is a noticeable noise reduction.
As the staircase is a high traffic area, I’d recommend a hardwearing carpet such as sisal or coir. Style wise if the rest of the hall and landing is hard flooring then I’d be tempted to make the stairs the main feature. Stripes, patterns and statement colour can work well for this
Tom: Fully carpeted stairs are the default for most homeowners. They can provide a generally practical and hardwearing surface, comfort under foot and can offer immediate impact and a visual change for those seeking an update to their interior. However, carpeted stairs are somewhat ingrained in tradition when there are alternatives that can be just as practical and create a real wow factor in the home.
The first thing to consider is usage. Is your home a busy space? Is it full of teenagers, children, dogs and cats or is it a quieter environment? A carpet, just like other fixtures and fittings must suit your needs and lifestyle. Since stairs are a high traffic area any floor covering must be of robust quality. Spending a little more money on a stair carpet will undoubtedly pay you back with longevity. However, these don’t have to break the bank. A low, dense pile will offer longevity and is forgiving, hiding footprints and marks left behind from the hoover. Also, the colours and patterns available are endless. Whilst a cheaper Berber woven style carpet will not only give you durability but as a neutral covering with a gentle texture can be paired with most interior styles.
Gilly: The choice on whether to carpet your staircase or go for another type of treatment really depends on how the stairs have been constructed, the materials and the condition. Sometimes fully carpeting the stairs is the only option. If this is the case, then go for a loop pile carpet rather than a cut pile. If then the pile flattens over time, if won’t be so obvious. A stripe in the carpet gives a pleasing finish and makes the stairs more of a design feature.
How to style stair runners
Steph: Stair runners do look fabulous and work particularly well in period properties. Their nod towards a bygone era can give a gorgeous vintage feel. They are more expensive and can take more cleaning than a full width carpet, something worth thinking about if you have a busy family home. Runners add character and with the use of stripes can add the illusion of length to a staircase.
Before deciding on a stair runner, make sure that the condition of the staircase is good enough to be exposed. Consider the colour of the wood, are you staining, varnishing or painting the wood? How will that work with the carpet? Will it be noisy? If you have hard flooring in the hall and landing then a stair runner will look better than full carpet if the colour of the stairs ties in with the rest of the flooring. Consider the width of the runner, how much do you want each side? Will you fit stair rods?
Tom: Stair runners can bring a sense of grandeur to interiors with sumptuous colours and patterns. They certainly can look the part but for a stair runner to really work it should be part of a more considered scheme. Whereas a carpet can instantly fit with an interior scheme, a runner is trickier. It must be in proportion with the stairs, the condition and finish of the exposed timber of the stairs needs consideration along with the style of poles that need to be thought through. Runners can look fabulous, but the end result highly depends upon their context.
I would advise keeping a stair runner free from pattern and opt for either a bold colour in a generally muted stairway or opt for a plain neutral runner and allow the wall coverings to do the talking. Alternatively, keep the runner neutral and minimal and paint the exposed timbers in a dark grey or even black to create a stylish look.
A runner will need more maintenance than a fully fitted carpet. The exposed edges can be prone to ‘cat attack’ and you’ll have to hoover the runner and wash or polish the timber making cleaning a more drawn out process.
Gilly: If the stairs are in a condition to take a stair runner, then they work well. I do think they only really work in a period property and not in a new build. Stair rods are a nice finish to this type of treatment. There are a lot of options and colours of stair rods available. The edges of the treads and risers can be painted if they are not wood which makes a good compromise between a fully carpeted staircase and a hard finished staircase.
Making the most out of wooden stairs
Steph: Wooden stairs are aesthetically pleasing but unless designed to be plain wood are often noisy. Painted stairs can make an economic colour change if done well and runners can be painted on to make a fabulous design feature.
Make sure it’s right for your home and the people living there. A plain staircase can be more slippery than carpeted and therefore not so suitable for very young or older occupants. Style wise it works really well in creating a seamless look from hall to stairs to landing if they’re all in the same colour and texture.
Tom: Personally, I love timber stairs, they create a simple but rich basis on which to create an interesting and stylish moment in the home. A gentle sand and wax can bring out the raw texture and create a rustic bohemian style. Alternatively, a stained and gently polished stair creates a sleek and sophisticated space. Timber floors can be more forgiving than carpets, it’s easy to wipe up spills or mud from small children and household pets.
A durable finish is always best for stairs unless you don’t mind re-finishing them every few months. An oil finish or a stained and lacquered staircase will endure constant use. If you’re opting for a timber staircase try experimenting with painting the handrails and spindles a contrasting colour. If you’re feeling bold then paint the stairs for a more individual look and accessorise the walls with artwork or photography prints. A gloss or satin finish will offer good protection against dirt and scuffs. Just make sure you prime the timber and use a good undercoat.
Gilly: Wooden staircases are beautiful, the possibilities are endless. With wooden staircases, any shape or style is possible. A combination of woods can be used to great effect but the downside is that this type of staircase is expensive but a really great place to put a large proportion of the budget. A staircase is the centre of the house and in most cases the first thing you see when you open the front door. Wood changes over time with use and light which makes it an almost living part of the house.
Styling a staircase using tiles, cladding and vinyl
Steph: Vinyl, tiles and decoupage are making a comeback particularly on the risers of stairs. These can make a fabulous feature for quirky homes. Tiles should only ever be applied by an expert due to the nature of applying ceramic to wood. Vinyl and decoupage are great for keen DIYers to create a unique look. These work really well for Victorian and Edwardian properties.
Thomas: I’d only recommend using tiles over a small area in domestic properties as they’re generally cold and harsh. Tiles are often most affectively used when a change in level is required for example between a kitchen and a breakfast room or extension. A natural stone or neutral tile provides a sense of warmth and is ideal for deep steps. A wide, deep stairway can create a good stage for arranging objects such as vases and larger ornaments to create a sense of theatre in the home.
Gilly: I wouldn’t personally recommend tiles but have seen them used to great effect. Vinyl is a brilliant material for commercial buildings and I use it often in this type of environment as it is easily maintained and repaired. I have not used vinyl in a domestic situation but can see its appeal in a home with children and animals. The different finishes available now are really lovely and can be used to great effect. Cladding is a brilliant way to revitalise a staircase. Stone and wood can be used but do make sure that the existing staircase can take the added weight and you are not compromising the integrity of the staircase.
Choosing stair flooring to suit your needs
Steph: For a family home with young children I would always lean towards a fully carpeted staircase for noise reduction, safety, warmth and ease of cleaning. Anyone with a toddler or elderly relative will want to reduce trip hazards as much as possible.
A stair runner is the more stylish option but with additional cost, cleaning and noise this will only suit quieter homes with the right solid staircase.
Tom: My advice for families would be to think practically. A stair carpet is an investment, so I’d recommend fitting a high-quality carpet that offers durability and longevity. Due to cost you do not want to be replacing these every few years. But durability does not have to mean dull and boring. Striped carpets in muted colours can often hide the odd scuff and stain that comes with family life whilst also offering a vibrant aesthetic to hallways and staircases. Likewise, a textured Berber will divert the eye from any pulls or snags that can occur over time and will work with almost any interior scheme.
Just like families, young professionals should be looking for a flooring that is durable that doesn’t come with a high price tag. As young people spent more time working and less time tied to a hoover, I’d recommend a hardwearing jute or timber finish to transcend personality and style. Be bold and play with painted colour finishes or strip back for a bohemian carefree style.
When it comes to elderly individuals’ thoughts turn to a practical and safe finish that provides anti-slip qualities and a good level of comfort. A hardwearing, low pile anti-slip carpet with good quality underlay would provide a safe and durable finish. In this instance I’d avoid timber finishes as these can be slippery and provide little comfort under foot.
Gilly: Some of this covered above but I would add that a lot of this is down to personal choice and the available budget. Fitting is important if you are going for a pile carpet and I would not use a very deep pile, especially for clients who are elderly.