An Artful Staircase

A staircase is a workhorse. It’s a functional, structural element that moves people and pets from floor to floor and provides a neutral zone that separates a floor’s multiple levels and its public and private spaces.

But staircases can be both functional and beautiful. The experts at Brainerd Hardwoods, Inc., in Brainerd and Sharp-Edge Hardwood Floors, LLC, in Pierz offer their take on the biggest trends in staircase design and provide tips to inspire new building projects and give a fresh look to existing family homes.

Solid Wood

The days of automatically carpeting a staircase or adding a carpet runner are waning. Many homeowners are choosing to echo the region’s natural beauty by incorporating hardwood into their homes, including their staircases. New anti-slip products allow customers to extend the rich, warm look of hardwood to their stairways without worrying about safety.

“The one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is there’s a lot more solid stairs and treads being used,” said Greg Tax, owner of Sharp-Edge Hardwoods, LLC. “A lot of people will want the carpet runner for looks, or primarily for allowing people to get up and down the stairs without any hazards. But we have products available now where they can finish stairs with anti-slip finish products. They try it without the runner, and never end up putting the runner on.”

The anti-slip products are both functional and National Green Building Standard™ certified, a must for environmentally conscious homeowners. The wide range of wood on the market — from walnut and ash to maple and hickory— offer consumers a variety of options to choose from.

Open or Floating


This modern stairway look omits the risers and downplays the stringers that support the staircase, which make it appear as if the stair treads are hovering in space. Designers often use ultra-slim dowels, metal balusters or the sleekest of columns to contribute to the airy, ultra-modern look. Sometimes they forgo balusters in favor of just a handrail or (if building codes allow it) reduce or omit the handrail entirely.

The result is a decisive step away from tradition and toward a sleek, contemporary design aesthetic. An open stairway honors both the positive and negative space and forces the eye to consider the elements of the staircase separately. A floating staircase can seem as much like a sculpture as a functional part of the room.

Butcher Block

Sturdy butcher block staircases, with treads that mimic wooden cutting boards and countertops, take a functional look out of the kitchen into the rest of the home. The treads have no stair nosing, just crisp angles for a clean look.

Weighty butcher block treads look ultra modern as part of an open staircase. The open space where the riser would be stands out in especially vivid contrast with the perceived heft of the butcher block tread. Try a natural wood finish for a calming effect or go graphic with black or white. Treads in a neutral color allow carpets, accent walls or a great art collection to take center stage.

Spiral Staircases

The most striking of staircases is making a comeback. These twisting, turning stairways are as glamorous as they are functional. The compact nature of a spiral staircase makes it extremely space efficient, freeing up precious square footage for relaxing and entertaining below. Just be aware that spiral staircases can be harder for the oldest and youngest (and the four-legged!) members of the family to navigate.

A sharp eye for interior design—your own or an expert’s—is a valuable asset when choosing materials and finishes for a stairway of this type. A spiral staircase functions both as an architectural feature and an art object, so it’s hard to ignore. Use it to inspire the colors and mood of the room.

Contrasting treads and risers

To give a time-worn stairway a facelift with paint or to install something new that offers a twist on the traditional, try treads and risers in two different colors. For a quietly contrasting look, choose similar tones based on the same shade (soothing variations of a neutral like gray or brown, for example) or select two different varieties of wood for a subtle variation. To increase the drama, go for analogous colors (shades located near each other on the color wheel) or choose contrasting complementary colors for a vivid look.

For a wild-card take, paint the nosings a third color. This look is sometimes required in commercial or industrial spaces as a safety precaution, so it’s unexpected in a residential setting and plays well with an eccentric design aesthetic. Painting or staining the railings or newel posts is another option. To tie the stairway into the rest of the room, make sure the dominant color echoes the trim or wall color of the adjacent living space.

The Rustic Look

Reclaimed wood is having a bit of a renaissance. Timber sourced from barns, warehouses and other structures adds historic character to a modern home. Brainerd Hardwoods, Inc., general manager Joe Paine’s customers are gravitating towards simple, farmhouse-style elements in their staircases. They’re opting for details like rustic newel posts and treads and railings with simple lines and less polished finishes for a well-loved, lived-in look.

“People like the reclaimed look,” said Paine. “But if they don’t want reclaimed wood, or if it’s out of the budget, there are faux reclaimed wood options.” Offering rustic elements at a variety of price points makes this comfortable, laid-back style accessible to all customers, no matter their budget.

Urban Evolutions of Appleton, Wisc., brings a wealth of knowledge and experience within the realm of reclaimed wood projects (see photos below and right). Their expertise includes using hard and soft woods from barns and factories to revitalize aspects of any living space, including staircases.

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