Stenciling a detailed pattern on your stair treads and/or risers can instantly dress up a plain staircase.

How to Stencil Stairs

by Jennifer Blair

A staircase lets you do more than go from one floor of your house to another -- it's also an opportunity to add unexpected color and visual interest to your home decor. But while painting your staircase in a bright shade can definitely be striking, stenciling a design on your steps can provide an even bolder look. Using stencils on your staircase is easy so it's an ideal project for novice do-it-yourselfers, and you can even get older children involved.


Using stencils to decorate surfaces in your home is a fairly straightforward process -- you use a brush or sponge to fill in the openings in the stencils to create a pattern or image. When you’re stenciling your stairs, though, make sure you use low-tack painter’s tape or stencil spray to hold the stencils in place, especially if you’re stenciling the risers, so they don’t move when you’re painting and ruin the stenciled image. To make stenciling the risers even easier, you can cut plywood pieces that fit them exactly to create covers and stencil your design on the covers instead of directly on the risers. When the covers are completely dry, use carpet tape to attach them to the stairs' risers.


When it comes to choosing stencils for your stairs, a detailed pattern can give them a bold look that instantly dresses them up. Stencils come in a variety of striking patterns, including lattice, fleur de lis, tiled, chevron and herringbone, so choose a design that complements the rest of your decor. If you use a patterned stencil just in the center of both the treads and risers, you can create a faux runner for your staircase. You can also cover all of the risers and treads to mimic the look of a carpeted staircase. For a more subdued look, use your patterned stencil on either the risers or the treads and leave the other surface with a natural wood finish or in a solid color.

Words and Numbers

If you prefer a whimsical decorating style, you may want to branch out from traditional patterns and use letter and number stencils to give your staircase a uniquely playful or elegant look. Try using lettered stencils on the risers to add a line from your favorite book or song or a quote that you find meaningful. Stenciling a few simple inspirational words, such as joy, hope and love, in the center of the treads can also be striking. If the staircase leads to your children’s bedrooms, you might stencil their names on ascending risers. Numbering the risers with stencils is another fun option.


When you’re trying to decide on paint colors for the stencils, consider the hues in the surrounding area and the effect you're going for. If you want a subtle look, you can’t go wrong with basic black and white -- they’re neutrals so they’ll work with virtually any color scheme. You can also borrow accent colors from the adjacent hall or room to create a cohesive look. For example, if a nearby room has a neutral wall color but bold tangerine accents, use an orange tone for the stairs. If you want a bolder look, choose a shade for your stencils that contrasts with the adjacent room by selecting one with an opposite undertone. For example, if the surrounding walls are blue, opt for peach or orange paint for the stairs' stencils. If the walls are a sunny yellow, go with a bold purple or soft lilac.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo Credits

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