Friday, February 13, 2009

Stair Decor

A designer I once worked with told me that it is better not to have anything on the wall than to have the wrong thing, but it seems like I have had nothing on my stair wall for many years now. I have always loved the look of a series of framed intaglios, which inspired my last post. Some of my readers were in favor of the idea, others thought that intaglios were not quite the right thing as they often work better in a space where they can be inspected and appreciated. A designer friend commented that intaglios also work best in a space where they are well lit, and my stairs are not particularly well lit although they do get a fair amount of indirect light. I did go ahead and purchase the intaglios yesterday, as I have several places I could put them. And although I am currently leaning against putting the intagIios on the stair wall, I would like to thank each and every person who commented or emailed me! I loved reading everyone's perspectives, it is the best thing about blogging.

So, as always, I turned to my inspiration files (which now contain over 5,000 images!). Although stairs are often a prominent architectural feature in homes, they are not always featured in the design magazines as they serve as a passageway from one place to another. I did, however, find a few images that might be of interest. This image above is from the former home of Suzanne Kasler (she has since moved). I adore the collection of watercolors and etchings in this picture, with the different sizes and styles of frames. I think this is what some of my readers had in mind when they suggested a collection of art with frames that would provide a good contrast to the wall. It is interesting to see how low the pictures are hung above the stairs - I should have studied this before taping off my stair walls! Clearly I taped off too high. This is the perfect stairway arrangement to me - it is interesting to look at but not too heavy.

I read an article about hanging art in groups on Apartment Therapy, and immediately thought of Kasler's stairway gallery. I have always dismissed the idea of doing this in my own home because it looked too difficult, but the Apartment Therapy article breaks down the composition and explains how to achieve the look with good planning. Good planning is great, but collecting interesting items to hang is another challenge, not to mention picking frames! Kasler has an expert eye, and despite the fact that she uses all sorts of frames and art styles, it all works beautifully.
My favorite store, Mrs. Howard, has beautiful stairs that connect all three levels, and Phoebe Howard always has interesting framed series on the stairs.
The stairs at the 2008 Christmas showhouse had beautiful framed artwork in a dramatic series. Interiors by Bob Brown.

A lone dramatic painting is the focus on this unusual stairway. Interiors by Frank Babb Randolph.

One reader suggested a beautiful architectural element in the stairs, to add interest without putting art in the space (as it is such a high traffic area, and when you have children and a dog there are so many hands and tails hitting those walls!). I love the look (this is from James Michael Howard, who is a master at architectural design), but with housing values plummeting every month, I can't justify putting any beautiful architectural detail into my current house. Plus, I am hoping to move within a year (although, the financial crisis and uncertainty in the world is making me appreciate what I have instead of longing for what I don't have).
Another James Michael Howard space, with a series of botanicals in the stairway. I suppose the bontanicals are hung so high because of the scale of the space, and so that they can be seen over the beautiful iron on the stair rail.
Another James Michael Howard. Although this space has its own unique architecture and challenges, I love how Howard has used the framed botanicals in a staggered pattern on the right, then carried through to the left size of the stairs. I also love a striped rug on a stair!
One final picture from James Michael Howard. He seems to like stairs as much as I do, perhaps because stairs provide such a great place for architectural expression. In this stairway, he uses a single line of framed items (photographs perhaps), perhaps because he is working with the architectural constraint of the ceiling.
A picture from Houston designer Ginger Barber's house, via Cote de Texas. She used a small series of framed botanical specimens to lead the eye upstairs.
This stairway is actually similar to mine, in that there is a window at the top of the stairs, a large wall on the left, and a small landing at the top. I can see the edge of something framed (look at how low it is hung) and at the top of the stairs is a large piece of art. Another recommendation that came from quite a few readers, both through email and comments, was that the contemporary piece that I have at the top of the stairs is a bit small for the space, and the overwhelming consensus was to either put a larger, taller piece of art there. One reader even recommended a Swedish or barometer clock, which immediately got me thinking about the mora clock reproductions that I have admired at a local Swedish antique store. Image via Traditional Home.
One of my favorite rooms by Phillip Sides has a large object on the wall of the stairs - it doesn't look like a tapestry, but it doesn't quite look like a painting either. Whatever it is, the scale is large.
I have always found this picture to be interesting, with the lone small framed item at the bottom of the stairs. Design by Thom Felicia.
This home in an Atlanta real estate listing has been in the market for quite a while. The owners have filled the blank space on the stair wall with a variety of paintings gallery style, with paintings both large and small. I must admit, this is not the look I am going for. It comes across as way too heavy and formal to me. Also, the scale of the space needs to be grand in order to support this look, and although my space is a fine size, it is not grand!
A large painting anchors the wall in this space designed by Kerry Joyce. I certainly do not have the scale or proportion in my home to carry this off, but I appreciate the look!
A painting at the top of the stairs in Max & Company, Mrs. Howard's more casual/contemporary store.
Another picture of the stairwell at Max & Company. Everything is sold off the floor, so the scene changes every month, but I remember when these medium size framed prints were on the wall of the stairs at Max & Co. Although it is a bit hard to see them in this picture, I remember that the size of the framed prints and the soft colors of the matt and frame made them a really beautiful choice for this space.
Finally, a reader sent me an email that really touched me, and I wanted to share it with you. She said that her late father was an artist, and in art "blank spaces are just as important (and sometimes more important) than the drawing/painting part of the artwork. I didn't REALLY understand what he meant until I went to a Cezanne drawing show at the Met about 20 or so years ago. He's right. I also think this rule applies to interior design. Used judiciously, empty space/blank space is powerful and dramatic, and lay people (and some decorators) don't know it/utilize it". I was so thankful to her for imparting this wisdom from her father, and it really got me thinking. What I gravitate to in interiors are clean lines, uncluttered spaces, where every piece is selected with care. I do love a contrast of positive space and negative space. So maybe it is OK to keep this wall open until I find just the right thing, or maybe just the right thing is nothing. I will post what I end up doing, and I do think that moving the contemporary piece at the top of the stairs is a good idea. Again, I would like to thank my readers for their feedback, and feel free to email me any time - I really loved hearing from so many of you yesterday.
Please visit Quatrefoil Design for more inspirational images.

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  1. Wow what great images you found for this post! I need to start collecting them as you do. I love stairs too, my favourite type of entry would be a large one with a round table in the middle with flowers and a gorgeous curved staircase in the background!

  2. I have been searching for pictures of entrys for ever! Thanks to you I have a great reference. This post is going in my saved file. Thanks for all the hard work!!!

  3. What a wonderful collection of photos. From what I can see, if you have a grand stairwell, there are many wonderful options. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that you like negative space and art that is carefully considered. I have so many blank walls in my house, and sometimes panic to fill them, but I prefer having special little things, even if they are not expensive, they reflect my deep tastes.

    I have no suggestions for you - I think you have enough insights of your own! But I have learned a lot here also! I have enclosed stairs and have nothing on the walls, because it feels a little claustrophobic, but I am starting to consider options.

    What I did want to say was first I was in love with Suzanne Kasler (thanks to you pointing out her name, I see her work everywhere now in HB and TH mags). But now I am in love with James Michael Howard. I love all those pictures, especially the last of his, with the single frames up the stairwell. There is something about that look that truly resonates with me - white walls, great architecture, and a certain academic, scholarly quality to a space. I don't know how to describe it -

    Great post, as usual. And I'm so excited you got the intaglios! Did you get 6 or 8?

    xo Terri

  4. What about a quilt? Less formal than a tapestry and could be modern or not. Another look I love I stole from my mother-in-law: a collection of mirrrors. It adds light to a not so light space.

  5. Lots of great inspiration in all these pics. Fun to see the Mrs Howard stairway - I'll be there next week! I rather like the idea of hanging the intaglio's on the stairway wall. Something unexpected - might cause guests to stop and linger.

  6. A breathtaking group of photographs. I love staircases, and the negative space is important ( within a painting that is also a term used)

  7. This is a great post! It's so great to see what other people do in these spaces that can be so tricky.

  8. Thank you for the comments, everyone! Luckily I had a stairwell post already halfway crafted, so I was inspired to finish it after posting about my own stairs yesterday. It is a bit tricky to collect images of stairwells as they don't seem to be featured that often!

  9. Your image collection is fantastic!
    For me it depends on how the stairway is approached...is it a transitional space or a stop point for a big work?

  10. You put together such a beautiful collection of images. I enjoyed seeing all of the different approaches.

  11. Although those photos are very lovely and inspiring , I can just imagine how these pieces would tend to move. I think your stairs would look lovely with wianscotting or trim work , how your window sil is placed it seems to be calling out and with that turn at the top it would be stunning , I think if you do that there would be no desire for art , you have such pretty green romans , they already do so much . My vote is for trim , hey you could even do a whole grid pattern on all of the staircase walls .
    Adding trim to my stairs changed them completely , they are one of my fave features in this house now.

  12. I love the mirror on the landing of "the stairway is actually similar to mine(yours)" It really throws the light around and offers many changing views in a vertical space. It's big too. It fills up wall over the landing and the last few stairs.

    Wouldn't it be great to have some sort of subtle / decorative structure on the wall that would make it easy to change out art / pictures based on mood or season? (In the garage, it would be a pegboard.) In the home, well, I wouldn't know how to do it. You see that sort of thing frequently in lofts.

  13. Lots of wonderfully creative ways to hang artwork and dress up a staircase :-)

    I especially like the Philip Sides room, with the grid-like wainscoting on the staircase wall. And the ceiling in the Max & Company staircase is amazing!!


  14. I love what your reader e-mailed you about negative space and I totally agree. There s a space in my current home that I think will look best left alone. I just have to resist the temptation to put something there.

  15. Beautiful staircase images but none with any wallpaper :o(
    Perhaps this can be an idea for your stairs :o)
    Love the leopaerd print carpeting on the stairs

  16. I love your description of the blank space, and sharing the thoughts of the reader who inspired you.
    xo xo

  17. Whatever you decide to do, it will be an informed decision! Nice collection of options.

  18. wow -that mrs howard store looks FANTASTIC!

  19. Lovely blog you have here! I wanted to comment that on the Michael Howard staircase the botanicals are hung too high on the left side because it creates a gentler slope. If you cover those and look at the stairs without the botanicals the space feels a lot more tense because of the steep slope and the harsh contrast of the metal and the wall. His composition makes the space feel more relaxed and comfortable.

  20. I had seen your post on stair decor and both Willow Decor and Velvet and Linen sent me here with my quandry of what to do in my own entryway. It is hard to decide just what is right going up the stairs. The architectural interest is nice too.
    Did you see the entry from the Bayou Contessa on Amanda Talley, I did not know of her work until I read it...she does fun stuff. If not here is the link.

    BTW...where are you in Atlanta? I am in Canton (new in town, less than a year from DC).



Thank you for your comments! I strive to make my blog positive in tone, and appreciate the same courtesy when comments are made. Thank you!


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