Stairways to style

After Leslie Turner bought her three-story house in Vinings, she wanted to make some changes. At the time, the stairway wasn’t in the plans.

For help with various projects, Turner turned to Bryan Kirkland of Atlanta-based BAK Designs. In the house’s once-empty lower level, the team created a bar and media room – with a contemporary fireplace as a focal point.

Throughout the house, walls were painted and light fixtures were replaced. Eventually, new furniture and accessories were added to create the classy, elegant and inviting look that Turner wanted.

Even the Craftsman-style bungalow staircase received a second look – and a touchup. The traditional dark wood on the newels, balusters and railings were painted “Wrought Iron” by Porter Paints. The painted stair parts tied in with the silver-sheered draperies and the contemporary chandelier on the stairway.

“From the moment you step into her foyer,” said Kirkland. “Your eye is drawn to the details of the staircase.”

Since most stairways are centrally located and visible the moment you open the front door, a stairway can make a design statement, according to David Cooper of the Stairway Manufacturers’ Association, a trade group.

Most of us can’t rip out the stairway in our homes and start over. But there are ways to give it a new look. Consider some these tips and trends from Kirkland, Jim Lewis of Vision Stairways & Millwork in Woodstock and Dennis Chamberlain of Stair South in Eatonton.

Stair lingo

- Baluster. A vertical post used between the railing and tread (or floor) that adds safety, support and stability to the balustrade. There are often made of wood or wrought iron.

- Balustrade. A system of balusters, handrails, newels, panels (such as glass) or other ornamental components used to separate two areas.

- Handrail. The railing used as hand support in balustrade systems. Often found and the top and bottom of the stairs.

- Newel. The post to which balustrade system is attached. It is also used at vertical and transition points on the stairway. A firmly anchored newel post is critical to making sure the railing is secure. These posts can be decorative as well.

- Riser. The vertical board between the treads.

- Runner. A carpet with woven edges that covers the middle of the treads and risers. It protects the stairs and makes them less slippery, reducing falls.

- Tread. The flat horizontal component of a stair step.

Simple updates

Painting the handrails is an easy and inexpensive fix. But changing the balusters alone will give you an entirely new look. Single balusters range from $15 to $20 and up. New newels and treads, while popular, are more costly and involve more labor than balusters.

Safety first

Thousands of people trip, slip or fall on stairs every year. If you are remodeling for aesthetics, give your stairway a safety check. Improper or uneven stair height or depth can make a stairway unsafe. So can worn or torn carpeting. Here are some other stairway safety updates.

- Add a handrail or a second one. Make sure handrails are the right width and height.

- Add safety gates at the top and bottom of the stairs if you have small children.

- Replace loose railings or balusters.

- Add recessed step lights along the wall. Lighting focused on the treads allows you to illuminate the stairs without over-lighting the rest of the space.


Depending on the style of the house and stairway, wrought iron, wood, glass panels and stainless steel cable are go-to choices for balusters and possibly handrails and newels. Tread materials include various woods, tile and concrete.


- Painting the handrails (and newels) with a high-gloss paint. Black and charcoal gray are current top choices. Even if your taste leans toward the classic, you can still make your home feel more updated and contemporary by adding a bit of black, said You can also paint the newels. Avoid painting treads, which will get the most wear — and show it.

- Wrought iron balusters in a variety of styles, ranging from Old World and Craftsman to bungalow’s clean and classic lines.

- Wood balusters with transitional designs

- Glass panels for balustrades

- Polished or satin metal handrails and balusters

- Baluster embellishment to visual interest, such as a circle between every third baluster.

- Dark vs. lighter wood stains for treads

- Stainless steel rods for balusters and balustrades

- Cable for balustrades

- Removing carpet from stairs

- Custom, hand-forged iron railing and balusters by local artists.

- Stair runner to inject color or pattern into the area — and to protect steps. Other runner choices include sisal or sea grass.


- Stairway Manufacturers’ Association ( Find information on stair safety and stair professionals in your area.