Staircases Extraordinaire: A Deeper Look at Trends and Growth in Transitional Tread Surfaces

Photo Courtesy of NWFA

Today’s living quarters for most homeowners include some form of a transitional stairway. While many of the once traditional carpet steps still exist, dozens of design trends and hundreds of material options are establishing new trends and gaining traction in the residential and commercial world.


One trend, which has cemented itself into staircase design, is the white riser. Versatile, yet somewhat more labor intensive, white-painted risers usually are finished/painted on the jobsite. Most tread/riser manufacturers only provide a white-primed riser. White-painted generally is accomplished aftermarket, meaning you or your end-user will be painting the risers. I caution anyone doing this procedure after the risers are in place. Moisture from the paint can cause damage to existing wood treads. Also, be extra careful with enamel paint and don’t use any lacquer thinner or paint thinners for clean up on the treads or risers. This will cause finish damage.


Open staircase designs, often referred to as floating staircases, also are growing in popularity. Floated stairs also can add to the cost of the project quite significantly. Generally, thicknesses on the treads range from 1.5” to 4” thick. Usually, a stacked construction method yields the best price (seen in illustration), but many projects require a complete one plank look per side.

Open Staircase Construction Illustration
Photos and Illustration Courtesy of Bill Treiber | Artistic Finishes Inc.

Staircases_treiber_bill_3Notice the end sections of each tread in the images to the right. This is a method designed to increase the look of a solid block of wood, while the actual construction of the tread can be made up of several layers of staves. Staves are the individual planks of wood glued together to complete the tread’s overall dimensions.

Set of floated steps with a metal-plated stringer.
Centrally located, it adds to the term.

Floated stairs also can create a special openness and are usable under spaces that normally would be framed in for storage or other use.

The number one characteristic of a floated staircase is the absence of any risers. The method of attachment is to either a central stringer or end stringers – usually part of the railing can be used with brackets or pins that attach to a glass railing (shown at right). Combining the open staircase with the original open staircase design, a spiral staircase, as shown in far right image, combines the open float and space-saving attributes of a modern-looking masterpiece.

Other trends more tied to the flooring world are the specific shapes of the bull nosing used for the treads.

Staircases_treiber_bill_5The bull nosing is the finished front of a tread or stair nosing. Landing treads also have a bull nosing that is finished and can vary from a full radius round to a square edged bull nose. Heights or the rise of the steps are increasing from 7” to 7 ¾” ” with 7.5” being the more-common. Tread depth also is increasing from once a 10” to now 12” with 11.5” being the more-common.

International Residential Code states that the nosing overhang cannot project greater than 1 ¼”, and no less than ¾”. A nosing overhang is not required where the tread depth is greater than 11” (279 mm). With the modern square-edged nosing look, many staircases now are designed with no bull nosing overhangs at all, assuming they meet the minimum 11” depth requirement.


Stair runners remain a staple for many houses. Having children in a home leads the owners to want a safer surface than a hardwood or vinyl. Hence carpet runners have grown in popularity, satisfying both the modern tread look and a softer and safer surface to navigate.


Staircases_treiber_bill_7As these are generally a fabric purchased from a different location, be prepared to involve another installer or vendor for the completion of the runners.



Staircases_treiber_bill_8In the photo below, you see a near-perfect blend to the flooring, and this becomes more apparent once a landing with the flooring material is used. Focus on style and design, but always keep function at the highest standard.

Overall, the trends of today will continue, and with exponential growth in wood floors, different bull nose shapes and more color options will become more readily available.

The next time you explore the tread and riser options for your customer, ask these questions for a suitable criterion:

  • What are the limitations of the job? Open, closed, landings. Start with the wish list.
  • What is the design most wanted? Modern, floor-focused, older style rounded bull nose.
  • Determine durability? Use wood for the longest life cycle, or carpet for the shortest life cycle.
  • How can you coordinate with the floor? Look for a similar medium used for the finish.
  • What are the manufacturer’s design capabilities? Returns, sizes, thicknesses need to be confirmed for job application.
  • What is the installer’s experience level? Discuss the options you want.

Bill Treiber is the technical sales and education manager at Artistic Finishes Inc.
He can be reached at


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