Life By Design: Blank Stairs

The staircase is the mouthpiece of the home, speaking volumes about what’s in the private quarters and how much attention you’ve paid to the overall look of the place. 




Stair runners: a topic on everyone’s mind?  Maybe.  To almost quote a humbling adage, ‘you can only make a first impression once’.


Runners can’t work where the stairs are too inferior or dilapidated to show off.  In such cases, full carpeting may be the only way to go.  But where the treads are stained and the risers are painted, or the whole step is stained, there are good reasons to invest in a runner.


Noise.  Bravo if you have created a shoeless spouse and children, but what about your tap-dancing dog?  And you will probably wear out the stain on those steps faster than you do a carpet.


Comfort counts too.  The feel of a cushioned carpet really does help you to avoid wiping-out on your steps, not to mention contributing to a bad back.


But the top reason for getting a stair runner is aesthetics.  It adds punch to your foyer, or sophistication, or whimsy.  The options are limitless.


One of the premier runner makers is Stark Carpet.  I recently spoke with Shirli, a 30-year veteran at the Stark (Old World Weavers) showroom at the Decoration and Design Building (D&D) in New York.  The showroom sells only to the trade and is known to custom weave carpets for people I certainly have never met.  Shirli said she recently oversaw the installation of a silk-wool blend custom runner on a four-staircase townhouse in Manhattan where the cost to the owner was $90,000.  This included labor, which can be close to a third of the total price if the stairs are particularly curvy or have excessively broad landings.  Like most smart businesses, Stark has paid attention to the economy, and is offering a more substantial set of stock designs that may now be affordable to the average rich guy.


If you aren’t inclined to hire a decorator, you can drive to the Stark Outlet in Norwalk.  The outlet started as a weekend sale where samples and remnants could find a home.  In the last two years it has become a successful showroom (trade only) duplicating the wares of the D&D.  But it also has, for the self-starter, an extensive line of special carpets (for runners or area rugs).  Or look for a real bargain on the remnants floor–according to Tracy, the manager, most are overstock and discontinued dye lots.  Be prepared to spend a lot less, but in the case of remnants, they may not always have enough of the product you need.  The selection is large and the product top-notch, so you won’t feel like you’re compromising.


You’ll pay $175 to have someone come measure your steps and give you an estimate.  Like any reputable business, you’ll eat this if you change your mind.  But I wouldn’t buy remnants without measuring first, as only a specialist will be able to tell you how much you really need to buy for those windy steps in your house.  Note: the labor costs tend to be lower ordering from the Norwalk location.  While you’re at the outlet, check out the overstock fabric room.  They have everything from mohair to embroidered fabrics that were as much as $400.00 a yard and are now anywhere from $5 to $55.00 a yard.  Now would be the time to have an opinionated friend along, or a decorator.  And best to go in with an open mind and an open checkbook as even marked down luxury items can come with a too fancy attitude.


ABC on Broadway in New York is another choice for a carpet experience.  When choosing our stair runner, we first tried the ABC outlet in the Bronx, and although we

felt it was hip and convenient, we had a problem.  The Bronx outlet has a large selection of ready-made runners, mostly Oriental in style, with borders.  Because we have a large curve in our two consecutive staircases, it was not possible to install that type of runner since the steps broaden by a number of inches at the curves, requiring a carpet to be hand cut from a piece with adequate width—good thing the guys who came to put it in knew this because the showroom didn’t.


Back downtown, we ended up in the basement of ABC where the remnants are kept.  Talk about no frills.  It ran us about $50 a linear foot which is a decent price for 100% wool.  A textured broadloom at the Stark outlet may run you around $100 a linear foot.


Over at Carpet Trends in Rye, their highest priced Wilton construction loom carpets can cost up to $130 a linear foot (all runners are priced by the foot versus by the yard).  But according to John, buyers are after the modern design associated with this tight pile, which tends not to wear as well over time if you actually have people using the stairs.

The best sellers that can last up to 20 years are a striaded pattern (subtle lines) and a bit of pile so the carpet moves as the foot hits the stairs. (Starting around $30.00 a linear foot)  Although some of their products can be pricey, I’ve found that Carpet Trends knows their merchandise and audience: no job is too small, no price considerations too petty. 


There are pre-made runners, normally 27’’ or 31’’, or you can choose any carpet in the store, have it made into a runner and then surged, like the edges of an oriental rug.

I almost got John to admit that purchasing stair rods, usually shown in brass, was akin to wearing a crown and carrying a scepter.  He did agree that it’s an extra $1000 or so and the rods are actually noisemakers when knocked against the step.


To install your own stair runner, check out This Old House on-line to find out that you’ll need to first purchase the carpet and felt padding, which is remarkably heavy and cumbersome.  Then, tools like sheet-metal snips, a hacksaw, something called a knee-kicker, industrial strength staples and a rubber mallet.  Hide the last tool from your spouse, who may be tempted to knock you on the head with it for attempting this yourself (or making him do it).



Kim Berns is a writer and interior designer in Rye Neck.  She can be reached at



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