Pass-through spaces like stairways often get second-attention -- or no attention at all -- during the decorating process. But as a main thoroughfare and focal point space in your home, the stairway is due for some style love.
A stairway guarantees a captive audience -- at least as long as it takes to ascend the steps. Don't waste the opportunity to show off a collection on the walls or in built-ins. This center-hall stairway hovers over tall bookcases stocked with colorful glassware collections, books, and potted plants. Directed library lights illuminate the wares and create a warm mood when daylight fades. If you don't have similar millwork, you can still use a stairway as display space: Show off platters in a plate rack mounted to the wall. Suspend artful mobiles from the ceiling. You can even hang vintage ornaments from ribbons tied to the banister at the holidays.
A common use for stairway wall space is to feature framed family photos. To keep them from looking like an unorganized mishmash, unify the theme of the photos (black and white or color) and frame style. You don't have to stick to just boring black, however. These colorful frames pop against white walls and draw attention to the photos. The same shade of Kelly green is repeated in a painted runner up the stairs, which fills the house with energy and fun. The key to success is to space the photos close together and piece them like a puzzle, with some suspended horizontally and some vertically, and with large ones interspersed with small ones. Lay them on the floor before you get started to play around with the arrangement.
In many homes, the stairway leads directly out of the entry, making it a good idea to decorate the two spaces cohesively. For open stairwells, wall color extends from the front door to the second floor, so the shade should be easy to live with but not too dull. The sky blue used in this stairway gives a bright and cheery first impression, and it's pale enough not to seem overpowering. A carpet runner in a neutral taupe complements the warm tones of the wood flooring. The bench is a hardworking storage piece, but the jaunty striped cushion and decorative pillow keep it from feeling too functional. Finally, a tall piece of art draws attention to the height of the wall, making the entry seem more spacious than it is.
Trapped in the middle of the house and often without windows, stairways can easily feel dark. To banish the gloom and bring in bright illumination, use the combined power of lighting and mirrors. Start with a luminous paint in a light-refracting sheen, such as satin or semigloss. The creamy shade in this stairway boosts the feeling of daylight. An open-iron railing keeps the space feeling airy. A trio of lighting sources -- a wall sconce, a candelabra, and an oversize chandelier -- provide loads of wattage that can be controlled by dimmer switches. Finally, the sparkly mirrors bounce light from nearby windows into the space, and create a luminous display that shifts throughout the day.