What should my hardwood floor stairs look like?
February 21, 2011 6:53 PM   Subscribe

May I please tap the Hive Mind for some advice about hardwood floor stairs? I'm not sure how to identify what I want.

I am replacing carpeting in my home with hardwood flooring, and this job will include the stairs that go from the living level up to the bedroom level.

I can have it done in a manner that the vertical part of each stair step is painted white, and the top part (that you step on) is a solid board that is the color of the floors. It would not be made of the actual flooring material, but a single piece of wood that would be stained to match.

Alternatively, I can have the whole thing (vertical and horizontal parts) covered with the same plank flooring that they're using on the floors.

I'm having trouble deciding which of these to choose.

I've looked at pictures online of both types of stairs, and my initial reaction is that the two-tone method is more traditional-looking, perhaps more suitable for a Colonial-style house or a Cape Cod, with "traditional" decor.

While my townhouse is not overtly "modern" (angular, glassy, low furniture, etc.) I do tend toward a less fussy aesthetic, and I don't aspire to decorate with Oriental rugs, heavy brown wood furniture, ginger jar lamps, etc. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not my thing ...)

For that reason, I'm thinking that the all-one-color stairs would be a better choice -- sleeker, a little more modern-looking, maybe they would recede a little more because there isn't that obvious color contrast ...

But then I wonder if it will look too overwhelming to have all of that same color, and I wonder if the "stripes" of the flooring material will look stupid on the vertical parts of the stairs.

I'm using Mirage pre-finished maple flooring with an auburn finish:

this is the flooring

This particular choice is non-negotiable because I'm matching what already exists on the living level of the house. Resale value is a future hypothetical, but I just moved in about a year ago and I don't plan to go anywhere any time soon.

I realize that you all cannot tell me what I like better, but what angle am I missing here? Is one of these choices very au courant and one hopelessly dated? Is one of those choices obviously wrong for some reason I can't think of?

I don't want to be over-thinking this, but it's a ton of money and I want to make the right choice.
posted by mccxxiii to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
I'd be inclined to go with the white riser and wooden tread, to break up the color monotony. And, as you mentioned, not sure if the 'stripes' on the risers would look odd.
posted by spinturtle at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

We went with your second option. Ours is gorgeous, but our floor guy was an artisan and it was clearly a labor of love. I have seen it done badly and it looks terrible. Ours doesn't even creak; I am told you must never expect that.

White risers are hard to keep clean from shoe scuffs and the like; that was our main motivation for opting against. I might point out that 'stained to match' is an approximate term; even if they get it right, sunlight and wear will never have identical effects on these two differently-finished species of wood.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 7:19 PM on February 21, 2011

If you go for the white painted riser, FYI every few years you will have to have it repainted -- or live with the black scuff marks that inevitably show up. These marks are disguised a lot better when you use the wood.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:19 PM on February 21, 2011

They are offering you all maple or, similar- no less trustworthy, risers and treads. Most likely poplar or birch. The risers are painted to hide the dissimilarity of the different wood. There is noting wrong with that.
posted by Max Power at 7:28 PM on February 21, 2011

What color is the baseboard, door trim and the trim where the wall intersects with the stars? It should be that color. Or change it all to white. You want to do something traditional. Doing something currently popular is going to look obviously dated in 5 years. Traditional won't. (Whatever that choice ends up being.)

Also, risers made out of floor strips would look silly, no matter what the color. It should appear to be one piece of wood.
posted by gjc at 7:29 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would (and did) go with the painted risers. But I wanted to point out that one choice gives you more options... If you go with the unpainted one's and don't like them, you can just paint them.
posted by d4nj450n at 7:38 PM on February 21, 2011

The solid risers and treads are definitely more traditional. I can't even picture how stairs would be "covered" with tongue-and-groove flooring... do you have a picture of this? With this method, do they just skip the bullnosed part where the tread normally overhangs the riser? IMO, you are right in thinking the strips would look funny on the risers (but again, I've never seen this done, so..).

If you want the stairs to recede, you could still do the traditional tread and riser without the white paint, if you can afford to get the risers in the same maple (or whatever) as the treads and then stain both to match the floors.

If you go with the unpainted one's and don't like them, you can just paint them

Not totally true, as the prefinished planks have a tiny beveled edge, so the finished surface doesn't look like a solid piece (also, I think it's be a pain to prepare prefinished flooring for paint; those finishes are solid and basically baked on).
posted by torticat at 8:31 PM on February 21, 2011

do you have a picture of this?

Sorry, I should have just googled.

I think you'd be happier with the solid risers and treads, but it's really just an aesthetic call for you. If you were going with the planks for the risers and using unfinished flooring, that would be better, because you'd end up with an unbroken surface at least (instead of having the beveled grooves). I wouldn't do it with the prefinished, but that's just an opinion.
posted by torticat at 9:47 PM on February 21, 2011

Using the flooring material for the treads would definitely require an applied nosing on the front of the tread. I think risers made from that would look odd and you'd be sorry you did it.

A hardwood tread with either painted or unpainted riser is the way to go. I prefer the white painted riser, it's a classic look that goes well with any decor. Although they will need repainting every few years it's really an easy job, the those magic erasures work great for removing marks between paintings.

The most important part of keeping the stairs looking good is to keep the treads free of dirt with regular cleaning, especially if the stairs are right by an outside door and get high traffic. The dirt will grind the finish right off the tread and require premature refinishing, not such and easy job.
posted by PaulBGoode at 10:00 PM on February 21, 2011

Remember that even if they're all one color, stairs are going to look two-tone anyway because of light and shadow. I'd go with the painted risers.

(Actually, TBH, I'd keep the stairs carpeted. Hardwood stairs are slippery in socks and loud in shoes; that's a lose-lose in my books.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:16 AM on February 22, 2011

torticat, not all prefinished hardwoods have the microbevel any more. (I am researching my own Flooor Refinishing Adventure, and this is one thing I have learned.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:10 AM on February 22, 2011

Our 1950s modernist house has all-hardwood stairs, and they're beautiful. It's not overwhelming at all, in fact it looks sleek and clean.
posted by statolith at 9:48 AM on February 22, 2011

torticat, not all prefinished hardwoods have the microbevel any more. (I am researching my own Flooor Refinishing Adventure, and this is one thing I have learned.)

Yeah, but it appears that the one the OP is using does. :)
posted by torticat at 5:09 PM on February 22, 2011

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