Staircase materials: Part 1

The public’s most desired staircase

grand staircases

As the first thing your visitors see when they step through your front door, the staircase is the perfect place for you to make a statement. Far from simply providing access between two floors, your staircase can serve as a design feature and ultimately set the tone for the rest of your home.

Although it can be tricky to move or reconfigure a staircase, it isn’t difficult to refresh or replace a tired balustrade, and the end result will be well worth your efforts. You can create striking effects simply by incorporating a different material, and the options are endless!

We wanted to know what styles of staircase the public coveted most, so we asked them! Here’s how they responded:

If you could choose any style of staircase balustrade, what would be your ideal choice?

diagram

The results

  • Light wood was the most popular balustrade material, taking 24% of the votes
  • 21% chose a combination of materials
  • Dark wood received 18% of the votes, followed closely by glass with 17%
  • One in 10 people surveyed chose white painted wood, while 6.4% preferred metal
  • Only 3.6% opted for coloured painted wood

The experts’ opinion

Over a quarter of people surveyed favoured a light wooden balustrade, while coloured painted wood was the least popular choice.

To find out more about current staircase trends, and whether the survey results reflect the latest designs, we spoke to five leading interior specialists:

katy aston

Katy Aston

Designer at Fison Zair Studio

Fison Zair is a creative design studio specialising in interiors, styling, colour and handcrafted products.


evette hudson kaiser

Evette Hudson-Kaiser

Director/owner of No 91 Interiors

Evette is an interior designer and property developer stylist. She also runs ‘Elements of Design’ workshops for interiors enthusiasts and courses for investors looking to stage their spaces.


victoria rogers

Victoria Rogers

Director of VMR Home Staging

Victoria works with home-owners, property developers and investors to prepare their properties for the sales and rental markets, resulting in them selling or renting faster and for a higher price.


louisa de paola

Louisa De Paola

Louisa De Paola Interiors

Louisa is an architectural interior designer who specialises in timeless residential and commercial interiors for both private clients and developers within the North of England.


charlotte robinson

Charlotte Robinson

Freelance lighting designer and technician

Charlotte designs and builds custom chandeliers and lighting installations alongside working in theatre and live events.


We asked the experts:

Light wood was the public’s preferred choice of staircase material. Why do you think it’s so popular?

Katy: A light wooden staircase is a more modern choice but also something that’s not going to date with time. It has longevity. An oak wood adds warmth and the grain of the wood helps to add a touch more texture. It’s a choice that’s easy to live with and leaves the homeowner with a neutral palette that they can add to with almost any paint colour and material, whether it be carpet on the stairs, tiles in the hallway or wallpaper running alongside the staircase.

Evette: I don’t think it’s surprising that the survey favours light wood, as people are much more connected to the idea of space, light and contemporary styling. Light wood lends itself very much to this trend and goes with a wide variety of wallpaper patterns and colours.

Victoria: Light wooden staircases are incredibly versatile and often more cost-effective than other materials such as glass and metal. I suspect this will be the reason behind their popularity.

Unlike dark wood, they can be used in small spaces without being overbearing. The warm wooden tones of materials such as light oak can be less clinical and stark than some glass staircases. The light nature of the wood also lends itself to be painted in future years if styles alter or the owner fancies a change.

Louisa: I think it’s because light wood is back on trend and therefore it’s everywhere. People are inspired by images in magazines and other media such as Pinterest.

Charlotte: Light wood gives a good balance between classic and contemporary. Using wood makes the staircase feel substantial and classy, but the lightness gives it a contemporary feel. It’s also relatively easy to style the rest of the room to ensure there’s plenty of light.

staircase with blue balustrade

Coloured painted wood was the public’s least favoured finish. Could you suggest ways in which coloured paint could work effectively?

Katy: A painted staircase takes slightly more commitment to a certain style—it requires the homeowner to be a little more daring and definite in their decisions. Admittedly this style probably works better when you have a larger hallway and more light, so it won’t lend itself to every home.

Working a dark painted staircase in a colour such as Little Greene Basalt could look stunning with patterned tiles in the hallway and a light off-white shade on the walls. Equally, in a more traditional home, painting the staircase could give a lovely (slightly more) contemporary twist. Perhaps even leaving the handrail in its original wood colour would help modernise slightly, while obviously keeping traditional features in place.

Evette: Coloured painted wood can make such a statement that it can confuse the surrounding space. Monochrome interiors can lend themselves well to this aesthetic and even then the palette is tight. Classic colours like Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe and Railings work well paired with off-white painted walls, and steps and risers painted in the same colour. Light wood and painted risers look particularly inviting in a country home as the painted riser kicks some light back into the space, which is useful if the stairs are enclosed.

Victoria: If you’re working on a tight budget, reviving your wooden staircase with a new coloured paint can be incredibly effective. I’ve worked on many property renovations where a fresh lick of paint has brought the once boring and tired staircase back to life.

You can either make a statement by choosing a colour that contrasts the walls and floor or aim for a seamless look with a colour that complements its surroundings. Whatever your budget, you can achieve some wonderful results!

Louisa: This look can seem a bit daunting and difficult to commit to. A contrast can work beautifully—go dark but pale on the walls and flooring. This scheme would look great with wall-mounted, dark-framed black and white photos or prints. To add ‘colour’ I’d suggest displaying colourful glass vases on a simple console table and laying a bright runner in the hallway.

Charlotte: A painted banister is the perfect opportunity to add some different colours into your home. By using subtly different, complementary colours, you can make the banister into a real feature of the room. As always, it’s important that you don’t end up with too many features competing for your attention! Don’t forget that painted wood doesn’t just have to be gloss finish—you can use matt or satin finish.

In your experience, have you found that particular styles are more popular with people of a certain age or at a specific stage in life?

Katy: I find that many styles of staircase depend on the era of the house. A staircase isn’t generally something whose style you change very often, unless you’re completely renovating a home or building from scratch. We completely renovated our house from top to bottom and the only thing we kept was the staircase, although admittedly we did change its look. We pulled off all the hardboard panelling, which let much more light up the staircase, and painstakingly stripped off many layers of gloss paint to reveal a slightly more rustic-looking wood underneath, but this adds lovely character to the house.

Evette: I’ve found that families tend to go for hardwearing and safe materials, wood, white-painted banisters and spindles, and wallpapers or tough paints from which they can wipe away sticky fingers! In newer-build properties a mixture of glass panels and wooden handrails is proving more popular. Young families tend to opt for plain carpets and statement lighting and use mirrors to open up the space.

Victoria: The darker wooden staircases tend to be more popular with the more mature homeowner whether that be in modern or period homes. I find the glass staircases tend to be favoured by people who prefer architecturally designed homes or a more minimalistic finish.

In my experience, families with young children tend to avoid glass staircases, which is understandable considering all that potential for fingerprints and smears. It would drive me mad and I’d constantly be on my knees polishing! These families tend to choose either a combination of wood and glass or a light wooden/painted staircase.

Louisa: Older clients don’t always go as traditional as one may expect—they tend to want a classic contemporary look, a timeless feel with a modern twist in terms of colour schemes. Young families are mixed in terms of preference but always require practical finishes and storage, usually for coats and boots etc.

The space under a staircase can store lots of things—my personal favourite is a wine store! Space-saving staircases (using alternating steps) are a great way to access mezzanine levels, kids’ bunk beds and so on. Young professionals tend to choose contemporary schemes, strong on architectural features and feature lighting, that if designed well can be a real showstopper. Lots of glass and wood with natural paint colours and clever architectural lighting. When factoring in feature lighting, it’s always important to get the design right before the work starts, to avoid extra cost and compromises on-site.

Charlotte: Generally, young professionals favour more contemporary styles—for example, metal or glass banisters—whereas young families need practicality. That doesn’t preclude style, but it does throw a few different considerations into the mix! In my experience, older people tend to gravitate toward more traditional, classic styles of staircase.

black staircase

If budget wasn’t an issue, how would you style your ideal staircase?

Katy: I love the Georgian era, so if I had this style of home I’d definitely be making a feature of the staircase. The banister would be a continuous curve in the original wood of the house contrasted with painted treads and a sisal runner up the centre. I’d complement this with a generous hallway with a tiled or parquet floor.

By contrast, my second home would be a barn conversion in the countryside! But with an urban industrial staircase, perhaps made of steel or something that shows you all the construction joints. I love the idea of contrasting old and new or city and country… rustic gnarled wood against clean strong metal… just perfect!

Evette: My ideal staircase would be in a Scottish lodge house. Highly carved in the most amazing wood. Mixed with a sisal edged runner, an amazing vintage chandelier and some beautiful framed black and white photography of my family and friends.

Victoria: I love period properties with a refreshed light and bright interior. So my dream staircase would be a mixture of light wood and decorative wrought iron which continues onto a light and airy gallery. Combine this with some lovely chandeliers and I think I’d be in ‘stair heaven’!

Louisa: My dream style would be a large, double sweeping staircase with a simple rectangular metal spindle and metal handrail. A pale polished plaster feature wall, pale walls, marble flooring, feature lighting and a statement chandelier!

Charlotte: I’m always torn by these kinds of questions! I love traditional sweeping staircases and ultra-modern glass numbers. I think I’d combine the sweep of the traditional stair with the aesthetic of the glass stair to create a grand entrance hall. I’d use indirect recessed lighting to light the majority of the room, but use downlights to add some texture to the lighting by increasing the illumination levels on the stairs. I’d set LED tape along the top and bottom edges of a smoked glass balustrade, and diffuse the light through it for an exciting effect. I’d probably use RGB tape, so that I can subtly change the colour depending on my mood.

Read how the experts suggest styling staircases according to material in Part 2 of our staircase materials series.