Ideas for Painting Interior Stairs

Interior stairs are a canvas for an imaginative paint makeover.
Interior stairs are a canvas for an imaginative paint makeover. (Image: Wooden Stairs image by Towards Ithaca from

If your interior stairs are boring or worn, a coat of paint offers an inexpensive solution. A painted staircase is visually arresting, protects the wood, and adds an original design element to a typically overlooked space. Create a custom look with a minimal investment. Choose specific paint colors and patterns to reflect your own sense of whimsy or the decor of the adjoining rooms and hallways. Finish your work with clear, non-yellowing polyurethane to guard against scrapes and scratches.

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Stain-Paint Combo

Combining stained and painted looks creates a contrast on interior stairs. The most common option is to stain the treads, the horizontal areas that you step on. The risers, or the vertical part of the stairs, may be painted white enamel -- a popular choice -- or sophisticated shiny black, or a shade that picks up other colors in the decor. Olive green, barn red, pewter or slate, or adobe are alternatives to more conservative riser colors.

Constrasting Colors

Another option to create contrast is to work with two different colors, one for the risers and one for the treads. Consider the color scheme of the area when selecting the stair colors. Choosing contrasting colors makes the difference between the treads and risers more pronounced. Paint the stair railing in one of the colors for additional accent. Sunflower yellow and cornflower blue will brighten the back stairs in an old farmhouse. Ivory and white are subtle on the main staircase but the pairing defines the steps for easier navigation and a focus on the architectural element of the staircase.

Painted Runner

If you don't want to use a carpet runner, paint the runner. Paint is much more affordable than installed carpet and you get the option to customize your look for a faux carpet or a romantic or fantasy pathway. Paint or stain the entire staircase and mark off the center of the stairs for the painted runner. Use a stencil for a repeat abstract design; paint fragments of poetry, individual words or numbers on the risers; color in a Persian carpet as if the pile could be felt underfoot. Shade ombre stairs, beginning with the deepest intensity of one color and gradually making each step lighter and lighter as you reach the top.

Tape and Templates

Craft stores sell a variety of stencils that work well for stairs, or you can make your own template. Ideas include ivy or similar vines, floral designs, a checkerboard pattern or hearts. The most visible painted figures are on the risers but you can create designs on any part of the stairs including the treads, banister and stair rails. Try a little painter's tape for a sharp stripe up the sides. Measure and block off a center section for solid color. Add two strips of painter's tape at either side to define a narrow stripe you will paint in the same color. Remove the tape to reveal a wide runner flanked by matching stripes -- coral or black against glossy white, green or blue against stained wood.


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