Two toned wood staircase help please

ontariomomAugust 8, 2012


We are replacing two half staircases and railings as a part of our reno (split-foyer entrance). We want to use maple on the treads, but want a contrasting color on the riser. We have discussed doing either a painted riser and wood tread, or even a natural maple color for the riser and a darker maple for the tread. However, I am not sure how the two tones of wood would look, as I don't recall seeing that done before. Also, I do worry that if we paint the risers that the paint will easily get scuffed. Also, we would follow suit with the maple railing (i.e. part paint, and part maple OR a light and dark stain of maple).

To give you a bit of a visual, we will have a medium shade of maple hardwood in the adjoining rooms from stairs going up and ceramic from stairs going down. In our kitchen that can be seen in the area there will be painted cabinets (perimeter) and dark maple for the island. I would post a picture, but the house is at the framing stage so no finishes yet.

Please give me your thoughts on the finishes for the staircases.



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Annie Deighnaugh

I can't really picture 2 tones of wood...I'm afraid it might look like a mistake. I have seen painted risers a lot and they do add a safety factor as well as a look. But you are right, they can get scuffed. But usually not too badly, and they could always be repainted....

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 8:33PM
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Fori is not pleased

I don't have pictures but I had a house (~1929) with oak floors and something dark on all the trim. The stairs followed that pattern with the dark stuff on the risers and oak on the treads. It looked nice, but of course it was somehow appropriate for a gloomy Tudor revival.

It seems logical to do the treads the same as the flooring.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 9:15PM
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Mixing wood colors is my "latest kick." I have done it in my bathroom with wainscoting, and on a set of built-ins in our library. I actually like the look. It is a way to use a lot of wood in a room without it becoming overwhelming. (We have a craftsman house.)

And if it makes you feel any better, I get the most compliments from the younger, more hip, generations that pass though our house. ;-)

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 9:15PM
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Our home was built in 1908 and has orangeyish wood floors and darkly stained quarter sawn oak trim and staircase. I absolutely love the 2 tones of wood. Can't say 100% how I would feel if it were on our staircase though since it is all the dark stained oak but I at least wanted to give you my .02 on 2 tones of wood in a home.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 8:09AM
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When we bought our house the only HW floors inthe house were the DR, LR the stairs and the upstairs hallway. The stairs had a runner on them and when we took off the runner, they had faded badly and looked odd on the risers.

We wanted HW floors throughout the house, but did not want to rip out what was existing, tht seemed wasteful. So we ended up with Dark walnut floors for all but the areas mentioned above that already had HW floors and we ended up staining the risers to match the darker new floors. The treads match the older floors. Hope that makes sense. HEre are some pics....

Not the best to show what I mean, but they were taken for other purposes and what I had on hand in photobucket. :)

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 9:50AM
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I think it would look fantastic! I love two-toned staircases and think that doing something creative and interesting, especially in a split-level home where the staircase is so prominent, is a great idea.

Have you looked at for some inspiration pictures? Here are a few that I found...

Many of them have very light painted risers and stained wood treads...

Traditional Staircase design by Newark General Contractor Anthony James Construction

Modern Staircase design by Photographer Elad Gonen & Zeev Beech

Here's the look with dark painted risers...

Traditional Staircase design by Nashville Interior Designer Stacy Jacobi

And some two-toned wood...

Contemporary Staircase design by San Francisco Interior Designer InterDesign Studio

Traditional Staircase design by Minneapolis Interior Designer Talla Skogmo Interior Design

Modern Staircase design

This one may just look two-toned in the picture but I think it shows the look pretty well...

Contemporary Staircase design by San Francisco General Contractor Conrado - Home Builders

I like the way they carried the foyer tile up the risers on this one...

Mediterranean Staircase design by Austin Interior Designer Richens Designs, Inc.

Good luck with your build! I hope you'll post pictures of what you decide to do.

Here is a link that might be useful: 10,000+ staircase design photos

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 10:42AM
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Thanks for all the feedback! You guys are so helpful. After looking over your links and more from Houzz, I think we are leaning towards painting the risers white, and having the treads be the same mid tone of maple as the floor (as closely matched as possible as the floor is pre-finished engineered and stairs will be site finished solid wood). I so wish we could have done tile on the risers, but the depth of the stairs are minimal depth so don't want to spare additional thickness for ceramics versus paint. My only concern is I don't want all the white to appear too stark.

So is the rule to match the stingers and risers with the rest of the white trim in the house? Is it best to have the handrail the same color as the treads, with the spindles white like the risers, house trim etc.

More input, answers, etc greatly appreciated.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 1:35PM
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Yew, you have it just right, in my view.

It's very harmonious to have all the surfaces in the same plane be the same. So the treads, which are really a continuation of the floor, would match the floor, and the risers would match the trim (which includes all those vertical things like baseboards and door and window trim).
Following that pattern, the stained handrail and white balusters are perfect.

It won't be stark. Trying to make everything in the house into a design statement is tempting, but not a good idea. There are a lot of treads, a lot of risers, and a lot of balusters in a typical staircase, and to keep it from looking too busy, simple and consistent is good.

Remember that once you're done, and moved in, and living your life there, those things are background. Your things and your family are the life of the place!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 3:38PM
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laura mcleod

If you want something less stark, there are tons of creative things that have been done to stair risers (painted, stenciled, wallpapered) - some of the painted ones look exactly like tile.

Just google "painted stair risers" - there might be some inspiration out there for you :)

(Ours our wallpapered and they show tons less scuffing then when they were painted white)

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 9:14PM
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Thank you Bronwynsmom for your words of wisdom. Tonight I read some older GW posts on staircases and read some of your other contributions on this topic. Do you still recommend the wax treatment on painted risers to reduce scuffing? Luckily, we remove our shoes in the house, so hopefully scruffing will be less of a problem.

Hi Laurainlincoln and thanks for your idea. I did some searching, and I believe I found your staircase. It looks awesome! Do you find the wall paper peels away? What kind of wallpaper did you use?

One compromise might be to start with white paint, and then seek out another covering (i.e. go to tile and lose a bit of depth, stencil, durable wallpaper or even a paint treatment) if we grow tired of the paint or find it scuffs too easily.

Any other thoughts on stair risers? I do appreciate everyoe's help!


    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 11:12PM
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Boop - that looks so rich and collected. Looks great!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 7:47AM
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Thank you, and yes, I do recommend wax, but only if you remember that it's there, and strip it off if you want to repaint or paper!

I like your idea to start plain, and then add something more decorative when you're in, and your first-tier choices are made. Some of the decorated risers we've seen are lovely and interesting, and you might decide to do one later.

Stair risers are among those surfaces that you see multiple times every day, so you might tire of something that looks fresh and fun at first. As long as you make it fairly easy to change, like wallpaper or paint, for instance, rather than tile or stain, you keep your options open.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 9:55AM
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" Trying to make everything in the house into a design statement is tempting, but not a good idea."

So, so true!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 2:49PM
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laura mcleod

I agree that it is smart to wait - I don't think you will regret that.

We had white risers for 5 years until we busted out for wallpaper (and it is literally the only patterned thing in our entire house, which is one of the reasons I love it).

Once you have all of your stuff in and have lived with it for a while, you will be able to see what you want to do with that space, if anything.

Enjoy getting settled, that is so fun!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 3:44PM
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Re: consistency of finishes, we have white risers and balusters with wood floors and treads, but a painted gloss black handrail. It was like that when we bought the house over 20 years ago and I love the bit of black.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 5:25PM
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Hi everyone,

So thanks to all of your help, tips, photos, etc I have settled on starting with painted risers (and wood treads), and will go to wallpaper for the risers later on if we want a bit more pattern. Today I talked briefly with my interior designer, and also went to a high quality paint store to talk to one of their color experts. At the store they can match the stain of engineered hardwood with the stair treads. We also settled on having the handrail and newel post of the railing in a slightly darker version of the hardwood (picking up on the darkest tones from the hardwood). The spindles, stringers and risers will be Ben Moore Cloud white (I think). At the paint store it was recommended I use the BM paint line called Advance as it is their most durable paint so the risers will resist scuffing more. If you see any mistakes with this plan, please let me know.

BTW, a few of you mentioned that when we get settled into the new house, etc. You may be surprised to learn that our family of 6 has, so far, lived through significant demo and rebuild of our original house since we started in November. We even lived under tarp, had propane heaters and shoveled snow out of our home too! Good times for sure (NOT). Of course, when it is all done we will enjoy re-settling into our bigger home and to welcoming back lots of our furniture and belongings that have been safely stored off site during all this construction.

Thanks again everyone for your help!


    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 7:54PM
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Carol, my hat is off to you.
All 6 of you.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 10:20PM
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