Interior designer Caroline Rafferty shares her best tips.

By Caroline Biggs
January 17, 2020
Courtesy of Roger Oates

Your home's stairway is rife with design potential—all you need is the right stair runner. Not only do stair runners allow you to dress up this small space with interesting textiles, but they also safeguard your floors from damage and help prevent falls. "Since a stairway is a heavily trafficked spot in your home, using a runner here is a great way to lend warmth for your feet, protect your treads, and add a layer of non-slip safety," explains interior designer Caroline Rafferty. "It also introduces a sense of cohesiveness, visually connecting one level of your home to the next."

Not sure if a runner is right for your own stairway? We asked Rafferty for her best tips when selecting one for your home—here's what she had to say.

Related: Fresh Ways to Paint Your Floors

Don't feel like you need a stair runner.

While these accents offer a stylish solution for protecting your floors, Rafferty says they're a choice—not a necessity. That's why you shouldn't feel obligated to invest in one if they're not your thing. "Your home doesn't necessarily need a stair runner, but it can make an otherwise forgotten area stand out and feel distinctive. Your outfit doesn't necessarily need jewelry, but once you put on those earrings or that necklace, it suddenly becomes an entirely new ensemble that feels tailored and complete," she explains.

Experiment with fabrics.

Searching for a functional way to play with an unexpected color or print somewhere in your house? Stair runners come in an array of shades, patterns, and textures—metallic suede and hemp, included!—that won't compete with the surrounding décor since they're reserved for the stairway. "Details make the design, and that goes for your staircase, too," Rafferty says. "Stair runners provide a special opportunity to make a statement with texture, color, or pattern."

Measure before you buy.

When it comes to time to actually install your stair runner, there are two popular methods you can choose from: waterfall and wrap. As the name suggests, the waterfall technique involves attaching the runner to the edge of the tread (the flat part of the step) so it goes straight down the riser to the next step or tread—without being secured to the riser—to forge a cascading effect.

For a wrap installation, rather than cascade down the tread, the runner wraps tightly around the front edge of each step and is then stapled under the stair nose to create a more custom, tailored look. No matter which install style you choose, Rafferty recommends measuring your staircase so you can select a runner that allows for two-inch margins on either side. "This creates a clean look that allows a sliver of your floors to shine through," she notes.

Go custom.

"When I incorporate stair runners into my interiors, I like to have them custom made using carpet," Rafferty says. "That way, they can be cut specifically to the shape of the stairs and I can continue the carpet onto the landing on the second level." If you can't get your hands on a bespoke runner, don't worry. Sophisticated retailers such as Ben Soleimani, Dash & Albert, and Serena & Lily offer a solid assortment of stylish, ready-made options that are every bit as beautiful as they are readily available.

Consider an artful alternative.

Love the look of runners but unconvinced that a carpeted stairway is right for you? Rafferty suggests painting your steps instead. "While I typically have custom stair runners made using carpet, I've also commissioned an artist to create a mural on the stairs in lieu of a rug," she says. "It allowed us to let the wood grain of the stairs shine through while still adding a decorative embellishment to them."

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