The Ups and Downs of Stairs

October 20, 2015

By Marlie Bilbruck-Boerger

There are few things that add impact to a person’s perception of a home’s value like stairs do. Whether it’s the stairs leading up to the front door or interior stairs from one floor to the next, they speak volumes about the care and maintenance of the residence.

Think about the last time you were someplace and noticed the stairs. Were they rickety, chipped and should have had a caution sign across them or were they large, well-polished, grandiose, and welcoming?  Did they say, “You can trust me to take you to the next level” or were they rather whispering, “You can try me, but I make no promises you’ll arrive in one piece”?

The fact that stairs are so important, not only for the aesthetics of the dwelling but also for the safety of the beings using them, truly means we should pay more attention to these architectural wonders.

The following is a well-rounded, brief study of what our stairs are composed of.

The Parts:

Stairs, as with everything else in this world, are often looked at as merely the sum of their parts, but rarely are those parts thought about individually. If we are to have a greater appreciation of the stairs in our homes, we really need to know more about what comprises them.

There are six primary components to stairs:

  • Treads: The flat part we step on.
  • Riser: The vertical part/space between the treads.
  • Stringers: The sides that keep the treads and risers together.
  • Balustrade: The vertical parts that hold up the handrails.
  • Handrails: The part we hold onto when we are ascending/descending the stairs.
  • Landings: Large sections of flat areas between flights of stairs.

The Styles:

Stairs are not a one size (or in this case, style) fits all component. The variety of stair styles are as diverse as the Stairspersonalities of the people using them.  Picking the right stair for your home can be both fun and challenging all at the same time.

First off let’s talk about the difference between Standard, Custom and Designer stairs.

Standard stairs are the stairs we find in most new construction.  They are built from stock parts and are utilitarian at best.  They have all the standard parts, but are not unique.  Typically builders use stairs like these in homes as they are inconspicuous, are non-offensive and serve their purpose.

Custom stairs are constructed from non-standard parts to achieve a more custom look.  These are usually used in higher-end new construction homes, built by builders who want their homes to appeal to buyers with more refined tastes.  These finished stairs generally have a more upscale look about them as they are built to the space and not to a generic plan.

Designer stairs are stairs that have been designed to add a unique element to the space and are usually comprised of high-end components and finishes.  They are used in homes that are being built by a builder for a specific homeowner and are typically designed by an architectural designer.

Some General styles of stairways are:

Contemporary: Stairs with well-defined lines in a solid light colored material or a combination of materials.

Modern: Stairs with clean lines in a style that is minimal and straight forward.  These stairs can be designed from any material as long as in the modern style.

Luxury: Stairs that are usually designed with higher-end materials.  They are custom designed to fit the space and style of the home and are usually wider than traditional staircases.

Traditional: Stairs constructed of a traditional all wood approach.  Often this style is found to be finished with square newel posts and painted balusters and risers.

Glass or metal: Stair cases made of glass or metal are increasingly popular right now.  They can either read as modern or industrial and are frequently found in high-end homes, condos and apartments.

The Finishes:

We all know that the devil is in the details and stairs, again, are no exception. There are so many different finishes we can add to stairs that it would take a small book to cover all of them.  For the sake of this blog we will only cover some of the most popular ones.

Carpet: Carpet on stairs was extremely popular for the better part of the 20th century.  As we headed into the new millennium, we saw less and less carpet and more hard surfaces being used.  Well, as with all things, carpet is coming around again.  It might not look like the wall-to-wall variety we remember from our childhoods, but it is growing in popularity.  Whether it is just a stair runner or actually a permanent low-pile Berber, you can expect to see carpet being used again.

Hardwood/laminate: As we just mentioned, hard surfaces have been the preferred stair treatment for builders for a number of years now.  The beauty of a hardwood/laminate finish on stairs is that they are easy to clean and won’t show the wear that carpet will.  The downside to this treatment is that it can be noisy if not installed correctly.  However, if you use professionals who know how to properly install hard surfaces of stairs, a high-end product with a quality underlayment and have a solid substructure, this is a great option.

Glass: Glass stairs are a unique way to get the function of the staircase without losing a line-of-sight.

Metal: Metal stairs again can be noisy, but if you opt for a heavier gage metal they can also be one of the quietest options.

Painted Wood: Painted wood stairs are seen frequently in contemporary and traditional style homes.  We often times see a painted riser and a natural stained wood tread or vise versa.

Tiled: Tiled stairs are most frequently found in areas of the world with warmer climates.  Tile remains cool to the touch and can help give some comfort to bare feet.  Tile is also easy to clean and, as it is actually adhered to the substructure, less noisy than some other options.

The Handrails:

Handrails can be anything from a piece of heavy ship rope threaded through brass grommets to a polished piece of extra-long driftwood to a standard big-box store stock handrail. Handrails are the ‘necklaces’ of the staircase.  They are long and elegant or fun and whimsical.  They can say, ‘We are here for business.’ or ‘We just want to have fun.’  They may be more traditional or a lot less traditional.  The importance of the handrail is not in what they look like, as much as, that they do their job and are stable enough to provide balance for people walking down the stairs.

The ‘Accessories’:

We’ve talked about all of the main staircase details, but what about the details that will make the stairs unique to our home? Here are a few to ponder.

Paint: Instead of painting your risers white, why not paint them a color or a variety of colors.  Have you heard the term Ombra?   It’s a color technique where you use the same color but it gradually gets lighter as it goes from one end to the other.  So you may want to use this idea on your stairs.  Paint the bottom riser a dark hue and then the next riser a lighter color and the next a lighter hue yet, etc.,  all while using the same color, but just adding white to it before painting the next riser.

Murals/stencils: You might want to get creative and stencil a pattern on the riser or try your hand at a mural.

Tiles: We talked about tiled treads, but what about just tiling the riser.  You can either use small mosaic tile or larger tile.  This gives the stairs a great finished look and provides opportunity for you to customize them.

We hope this has been a helpful overview of stairs, what they are comprised off, their styles and finishing options. You may want to try some of these ideas in your home.









By Marlie Bilbruck-Boerger

Couples start to plan for their weddings at least a year in advance.  They select photographers, florists, caterers, the officiant, seamstresses, tux rental shops, D.J.s, etc. for a single day event.  They worry and fret about every little detail, yet when it comes to major construction on their homes Remodelpeople often times plan hastily and expect it completed in just a few weeks.

We often have clients calling us to inquire about a remodel project and frequently they want to start it sooner rather than later.  Remodeling is not a quick fix—just to get ready for it to begin is a long process and the actual construction can last for a much greater duration of time.

When planning a remodel think of it as you would a wedding.  Line up all of your contractors, get on their schedules, line up your materials, price them, adjust the budget, etc.  Here is an easy to follow At-A-Glance timeline when preparing for a remodel.

6 Months Before:

–Start to think about the parameters of the project.  How much do you want to do? Will you be replacing flooring? Removing walls? Reworking the roof line? Will there be hardware that needs to be purchased? Appliances to select? Etc.?

–Establish a relationship with an interior designer (if you don’t already have one).  The benefit of having a designer on the team is that they have already vetted contractors and can bring an entire docket of professionals to you.  This is nice in the fact that it makes the process run smoother and affords project relationships that are already established.

–Select your general contractor.  Your designer most likely has a general contractor they work closely with and would be happy to share with you their information or you may want to research and secure your own contractor.  Either way most contractors only work on one or two projects at a time.  It is always recommended that you get your job on their schedule as soon as possible.  Your initial meeting with your contractor will give them and you a good idea of how much time the project will require and what they estimate your completion date to be.  It is always nice to include your designer in the meeting with your contractor as they will be working closely together throughout the project.

–Select the other professional contractors. Again ask your designer if they have recommendations, do your own research into specialized contractors or ask your general contractor if they have sub-contractors that they prefer to work with.  However you go about finding your painter, plumber, drywaller, etc.  you’ll need to schedule your project with their schedules as soon as possible to ensure your project has less of a chance of delays.

4 Months Before:

–Find some inspiration. Start to look online, in magazines, on Houzz.com, etc. for inspiration as to what kind of flooring you want, what paint colors attract you, what hardware you like, what appliances you might be interested in, etc.  Compile a file of these items to share with your designer.  This will make your likes/dislikes clearer and direct the shopping for these items.

–Set a date to meet with your designer You’ll want to make sure you get on your designer’s schedule to have a meeting about the design direction of your project.

3 Months Before:

–Meet with your designer.   At this meeting you will be able to discuss how you want the space to feel, what you want to use it for, what style you envision the area to portray, etc.  You will also set a date(s) with your designer to shop for all the products needed.  Depending on the project this could include flooring, paint colors, counters, cabinets, backsplashes, lighting, hardware, tile, furniture, etc.

–Collect Bids.  After the selections are made then the product bids will start to come in, as they do so, a budget will start to take form.  Once all the bids are submitted and the budget established then it will be time to decide if the budget is viable or if more shopping for alternative products as a lesser rate needs to take place.  The budget can always be altered either by increasing the homeowner’s actual monetary budget or by decreasing the cost of the materials.  It does, however, take a little time and that’s why it needs to be several months in advance.

–Order Materials. Once the budget is agreed to and the items selected then they are ordered.  We encourage homeowners to 1.) have all the items needed arrive prior to the beginning of the project and 2.) to plan a location (preferably on site) for the materials to be stored.

2 Weeks Before:

–Come up with a ‘during construction’ plan. Decide what you will be doing to accommodate for the loss of the space being remodeled.  If it is a bathroom, will you need an additional facility brought in (I.e. a porta-potty) or is there another bath in the home you can use while it is not available?  If it is a kitchen, where will you prepare and eat meals?  Is there an area you can set up a makeshift kitchen or will you be eating out for the duration of the remodel?

–Stage your new temporary area. Start to get everything together and setup in the new location so you won’t need to rush the day prior to construction beginning.

Construction Begins:

–Have Patience. Once the project starts it can take a minimum of five weeks, but depending on the size and involvement of the project, it could take considerably longer.

–Communicate, communicate, and communicate.  Open communication between homeowners, general contractor, designer, etc. is very important.  Daily calls between all parties is not unheard of.

–Problems may arise and delays may happen.  Until a wall is actually removed, a tub taken out, or flooring torn up it may be impossible to tell what will be found.  There may also be family or personal emergencies faced by the contractors themselves that are unforeseen and, unfortunately, will delay the job.

Yes, a remodel is a big undertaking and, just like a wedding, it requires a lot of planning and budgeting and will get messy before it is done, but also just like a wedding, the finished product will be beautiful, rewarding and change your life for the better.  Enjoy!


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We have a client who is embarking on a kitchen remodel. Demo for this project takes place in one and a half weeks.  So, many decisions have been made, products have been ordered, and now the “mess” of it all begins!  She asked me for my top 5 ‘tips’ to remember when starting a remodel. […]

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Clutter Out! Focus In!

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Submitted by Marlie Bilbuck-Boerger Happy New Year!  Woo Hoo!  2014 is going to be AWESOME! Wait a minute!  What do you mean 2014 is almost over?  Wasn’t it just yesterday we were heralding in the New Year?  What?  It’s Christmas 2014 already?  Huh?  Yikes!  Mom and Dad were right; the older we get the faster […]

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