Brownstones and row houses have a lot of stairs. And whether it’s a grand L-shaped center staircase, winding switchback stairs or a sleek stainless steel staircase, bare treads can be beautiful.
But a stair runner can make stairs safer and quieter, providing an attractive option for families with young children. And runners create a softer and warmer landing pad for bare feet that make multiple daily trips up and down the stairs.
“I recommend runners mostly for practical reasons,” said interior designer Liz Lipkin. “Stairs in older houses can be shallow and steep, and therefore somewhat treacherous to use. A runner can help by adding traction, reducing the risk of slips and making stairs a little safer and easier to use.”
Runners also add warmth, color, and personality to a staircase, Lipkin said.
“I love the way that a runner in a bold, unexpected color or pattern can give a townhouse a modern edge,” she said. “If you prefer a more quiet or classic look, a neutral color will blend in with its surroundings.”
When choosing a runner, Lipkin recommends natural fibers like wool, sisal, jute or wool blends because they’re durable and relatively easy to maintain with a vacuum and spot cleaning, she said. In a recent Carroll Gardens townhouse project, she used ten 12-foot synthetic indoor-outdoor runners from Dash & Albert to cover four sets of stairs and three small landings. The runners overlapped under the nose of the tread where it met the riser, hiding the seams.
That project cost about $5,500 — $2,500 for materials and $3,000 for labor. She recommends Aronson’s in the Flatiron district for custom natural fiber runners and ABC Carpet & Home’s 881 Broadway location for a large selection of natural and synthetic remnants at marked down prices that can be cut to size and bound at the edges.
“Experienced DIYers looking to keep costs down can take on a straight stair installation themselves, but curved staircases should be left to professionals,” she said.
At Better Carpet Warehouse on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, a synthetic runner starts around $2,500 for three flights of stairs comprising 45 steps, said owner Wayne McPherson. That includes installation and a simple synthetic binding.
McPherson said his most popular runners are wool and nylon because they are the most durable and easy to clean. A wool runner starts at $8 per square foot, compared to $4 per square foot for nylon, adding up to about $3,500 to cover three flights in wool, he said.
“Medium tone colors are what we recommend,” McPherson said. “Too dark and it picks up the lint and too light will show dirt.”
Gray, beige and blue, preferably with texture, a pattern or flecks of color are best for hiding stains and dirt, McPherson said. He steers customers away from natural fibers like sisal and seagrass.
“I recommend against it because it doesn’t clean up easily, but a lot of our clients they love it because it’s natural looking,” McPherson said. “Sisal, seagrass, natural fiber stains easily and you can’t clean it. Once it stains, that’s it.”
Durability and the ability to be cleaned are top priorities when choosing a runner for a high-traffic staircase, said Erin Curry of Williamsburg-based interior design and architecture firm Chango & Co.
“We like to use flat-woven material or a short tight pile,” Curry said. “This might be jute, sisal or wool. We also like to apply wide binding to many of our runners to give the runner a sort of punctuation.”
A cost effective and historic option is the 100 percent wool stair runners made by Family Heirloom Weavers of Red Lion, Pa., on vintage looms in the stripe and ingrain patterns favored by townhouse occupants of the 1850s.
Enough yardage to cover “an average set” of 13 steps, including padding, goes for about $400. The company, founded in 1983, supplies historic movie sets and house museums, including the Hunterfly Road houses at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights.
To achieve the look of a runner without the maintenance or expense, Lipkin suggests simply applying some paint to your staircase.
“I love the look of painted stairs,” Lipkin said. “They’re so graphic, and they’re a relatively easy and low cost alternative that still provides design impact.”
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