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If you break down the anatomy of a stair runner, it really just comes down to a single strip of color that tells you where to walk. When you’re working with 20-plus steps, fabric (the most popular choice of coverage) can get expensive. What do you do when you want to cover your worn hardwoods but aren’t up for shelling out on an extra-long rug? Paint them. 

It’s as easy as it sounds. Pick the color you want to use for the treads and risers, add a few coats of sealer on top, and you’re in business! (For the cleanest edges, use painter’s tape.) The idea sounds bare-bones, but it’s really anything but—especially considering you can riff on it endlessly. We’ll let these four colorful staircases do the convincing.

The Dramatic Black

In this restored Pennsylvania townhouse by the Chris and Claude Co., designer Claudia Beiler added a modern black strip to emphasize the charm of an old wood staircase. 

The Breezy Blue

If your stairs are already painted white, they’re the perfect place to test out your color theories. (Don’t like your first pick? Just paint over it!) For a classic, ever-so-slightly nautical feel—as seen in this Jenny Keenan Design home—pit the neutral against a crisp cornflower blue. 

The Inverse White

Another option: Don’t paint the steps at all! Look to Sarah Madeira Day’s 290-year-old Maine house; stripping previously painted steps down the center can really bring out the character of a historic home. 

The Black and Navy

Design by Fawn Galli Interiors | Architecture by Douglas C. Wright Architects photography by costas picadas

Black provides a dramatic contrast to a vibrant stairwell, as this red, white, and blue design by Fawn Galli so effortlessly showcases. By using two different hues for the treads and another color for the risers, you can create some welcome depth on a shorter staircase.

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