These days, some homeowners are getting a bigger rise out of the risers themselves. This is not unusual in the Southwest or in countries such as Mexico, Morocco, Greece and Turkey, where decorative tiles often are installed on the non-tread parts of stairs. No matter what the background — terra cotta or white stucco — ebullient patterns, usually strong geometrics or stylized florals, positively pop and add to the architecture even in the plainest of applications.
Tile in sizes close to the height of the risers effectively frames its entire pattern. But smaller scale, even mosaics can work. We’ve seen mosaics in iridescent hues, such as watery blue greens, that add unexpected luster. Mirrored mosaics lend a glam vibe, in the same way silver and gold leaf do on ceilings.
Patterns on risers are especially dramatic when the backdrop is simple, clean and modern. One of the most striking catalog covers in recent years is from Serena & Lily, a home decor site with a retail store in the Hamptons. The company is known especially for its fabrics and bedding. In an all-white setting — stairs, railings, wainscoting and walls — designers cut from lengths of eight graphically patterned fabrics in a palette of deep blue and white, one with vivid accents of coral, and adhered them to risers. Effect: totally original and artistic.
So the DIY quotient, not surprisingly, has ramped up an amazing range of creativity, often with results posted on Pinterest or websites like Houzz (www.houzz.com) or Apartment Therapy (www.apartmenttherapy.com). One posting of a creative spruce-up featured four modern patterned wallcoverings leftover from projects. The homeowner, Vancouver designer Jennifer Scott, took it a step further: She added vintage address numbers as a whimsical way for her daughter to interact with the space while learning to count. One tip: Scott used double-stick tape instead of glue.
Or check out removable wallcoverings, which some call ”slipcovers for walls.” Libby Langdon’s Chic Chevron pattern for Casart Coverings (www.casartcoverings.com) is an attention grabber. It comes in sailor blue, totally teal, orange fire and silver gray. Brewster’s WallPops (www.wallpops.com), especially the “happy chic, groovy graphic “ designs from Jonathan Adler, also would rock the risers.
Clever installs include using leftover patterned linoleum, chalkboard paint, house numbers, decals, text (from inspirational quotes to Bible passages to just funny stuff), and even metal grates. Years ago, some magazines featured the use of anaglypta as a riser cover. The embossed patterns, which come in a range of motifs, mimic tin ceiling tiles often employed at the dawn of the 20th century. Come to think of it, you could actually cut vintage tins to fit.
Nailheads could be another cool, fashion-inspired idea, one replicating the studs so prevalent on handbags, shoes and leather jackets. Several years back, one imaginative woman took a bottle cap collection in a rainbow of colors and painstakingly applied them in perfect rows to risers, a look that well suited her eclectic Arts and Crafts-style Chicago home.
One craft gaining a lot of attention is stenciling, mostly because companies such as Royal Design Studio are providing stunning patterns, and dishing plenty of how-to advice. Whether it’s simply black on white or complex combinations of colors that really resemble those multicolored ethnic ceramic or concrete tiles, the possibilities are pretty much limitless when you factor in your fave color schemes.
Pretty much the sky’s the limit, from smart tailored motifs to bling-y to pop and from op-art graphics to rustic, country or elegant traditional. Heck, you could even go a little romantic with an old-fashioned hydrangea floral or even a toile.
Put on a happy stair face. As long as the colors and patterns complement spaces in the same ZIP code, it should be a stairway to style.