A stairwell is a good place to make a big statement. One common strategy is to hang a collection of family photographs or small works of art on the wall beside the stairs.
“There are two schools of thought,” says Michael F. Ingbar, the owner of New York’s MFI Art Company, an art consultation and picture-hanging firm. “Most interior designers will try to get all the frames and mats to be the same size and colour, and everything will look very uniform,” he says. “The other end of the spectrum is what an art collector or someone with a growing family would do—it’s a very eclectic arrangement, and you might have all different sizes of frames in different colours.”
Ingbar has used both approaches. For an installation in a stairwell, he hung evenly spaced, similarly sized artwork that followed the incline of the stairs. The centre of each piece was 62 inches above the stair beneath it, in keeping with the practice of most museums, he says, which “hang pictures 60 and 63 inches from the floor, measured from the middle of the image, to match the average person’s eye height”.
For his part, though, Ingbar says he prefers more casual-looking installations. “If you want to make it more intimate and homely, frame every piece as you get it and make it a hodgepodge,” he said. Use a variety of frames and mats, and start in the middle of the wall, adding to the arrangement over time. The local art supply store will stock a wide range of pre-assembled frames that will get you started. You can also hire professional help.
A bolder option would be to create a strong graphic element using wallpaper with a large-scale pattern and a big repeat.
You don’t have to settle for just one pattern, either. In renovating a Manhattan townhouse, the New York-based interior design firm, D’Aquino Monaco, used no fewer than 27 different wallpapers in the stairwell and connecting hallways. The rolls of wallpaper were cut in varying widths and hung vertically, creating seemingly random stripes that ran up the stairs and down the halls.
“It transformed a classical townhouse interior into something truly different,” said Carl D’Aquino, one of the firm’s partners, who described the client as “a young, exuberant, stylish family”.
D’Aquino also suggests making the stairs the focal point. In one project, he took what he called a patchwork approach to carpeting the stairs, using dozens of different remnants to give each step its own colour. And in a more traditional house in New Jersey, he put a nautical mural on the risers. Each one was painted with a section of the mural, which could be seen as a whole from the bottom of the staircase.
“That was a very unusual application, but the mural matched the period of the rest of the house, which included 18th-century American and English furniture,” he adds.
If you have trouble settling on a decorating strategy for your stairwell, trust your instincts. “It is a simple matter of designing to suit your personality,” D’Aquino says.