Interiors 101: Stair Runners

A stair runner can make an impact as soon as you walk through the door – but they can also be quite practical in such a high traffic area. Like most things, it pays to know which materials, patterns and finishing touches are best, and the common pitfalls to avoid. To help, we asked a range of flooring and interiors experts to answer some key questions.

First, what is a stair runner and where is it appropriate?

“A stair runner is a narrow carpet fitted to the middle of your stairs, leaving some of the woodwork exposed on each side. Stair runners offer endless opportunities to introduce bold splashes of colours, stripes and geometric designs or a combination of both into your interior space – and they’re also practical in terms of protecting the surface of the staircase, which is often a high-traffic area in your home.” – Julian Downes, MD of fibre flooring

“A stair runner is a good option so long as you’re happy to see the edges of the stairs and the treads and risers are in good condition – otherwise it might be worth carpeting the entire area instead. As for the build, it’s not worth installing a runner on a very narrow staircase – it can give the illusion that it’s narrower than it really is and shrink the space further.” – Anna Hewitson, interior designer

How much does a runner typically cost to buy & fit?

“There are three main costs to consider: the chosen material; the ancillary fitting costs; and the labour costs for the installation. The installation costs vary depending on the speciality of the material being installed and the layout of the staircase and landing. For example, are winding steps present? Are mitres required? Is it a traditional runner or intended to run wall-to-wall? A ball park figure for the supply and installation of a Roger Oates flatweave runner using our fitting services is approximately £1,700 for a flight of stairs with three winding steps. We can also provide a full quote following a professional measure, the cost of which is reimbursed against the supply and installation of a runner.” – Jane Armstrong, managing director Roger Oates Design


Are there any materials or patterns which work particularly well?

“Sisal is a great material for any stairs. It’s a natural product yet highly durable, ideal for one of the most used areas in your home. Last year the trend for natural materials exploded and this plant-based option is available in a variety of colours and patterns, allowing you to use a bit of texture in an otherwise neutral scheme. A chevron or herringbone design also adds a bit of natural direction to a staircase – it’ll flow beautifully out of wooden or stone floors.” – Julian

Any you should avoid?

“With any stair runner, you're putting textiles on the floor so it should be treated with respect. Roger Oates runners are all made from a British blend of 100% wool and the natural oils within the fibres mean that any spillages sit on the surface longer, allowing you a little more time to tackle the problem. With traditional pile carpets, the pile will compress over time, but a flatweave construction will avoid this. Also worth noting, seagrass or sisal can become slippery over time. Also, avoid patterns that make it difficult to see the edge of the tread – with this in mind vertical stripes work better than horizontal ones.” – Jane 

How can you use a runner to make a statement?

“Runners aren’t purely protective – they’re also decorative and can add a welcoming touch to any hall or stairway, transforming a dark space into a warm one. Multicolours and patterns are a great way of adding vibrancy and fun to a scheme, so if you’re looking to make more of a statement with the runner, it goes without saying to stay away from light or plain colours. It’s worth bearing in mind these shades can be much less forgiving in terms of wear and tear, too. The average life of a runner is approximately ten years in high traffic areas, so keep that in mind to avoid any financial surprises down the line.” – Emma Stevenson, interior designer

“A brightly coloured runner could help you carry colour all the way through the house, if that’s the effect you want. Stripe runners are especially versatile and can often complement decorative and geometric floor tiles or patterned or floral wallpaper. Staircases are transient spaces, and a runner can be used to link different rooms and interior themes throughout the property.” – Andy Guard, creative director of Roger Oates Design

What if the stairs are winding – are runners still a good idea?

“A good flatweave runner will have a woven structure with a natural-finish selvedge edge, which means it can be fitted onto almost any staircase with any number of winders. You should also consider how you’re going to treat the landings – do you want the runner to run along the landing or finish at the top of the stairs? If you have quarter or half landings, the runner can be fitted with mitres or overlays or, in some cases, joined by hand and fitted wall to wall.” – Andy 

Is there such a thing as a fixed width for stair runners?

“It’s recommended you have a minimum margin of 5cm between either side of the runner and the edge of your staircase. Our flatweave is woven in three standard widths – approximately 60cm, 70cm and 85cm – and several of the designs are woven in more than one width. Designs can also be customised in extra wide or narrow widths on request. When fitting a narrow width runner, there’s usually no material wastage and the natural woven selvedge edge requires zero additional finishing.” – Andy

What should stair rods be made out of & when should they be fitted?

“Stair rods can be made out of a variety of materials, including satin steel, polished brass, wrought iron and antique bronze. Rods aren't functional, they're purely decorative, so it's a design choice. They can be chosen at the beginning of the project or added after the runner has been laid – it's up to you. Quite often people will choose the finish to co-ordinate with the rest of the ironmongery, i.e. the door knobs and light switches." – Jane

Do you need to treat the woodwork at all?

“One option is to paint it. Give careful consideration to the colour of the paint – you can add drama and contrast to neutral-coloured schemes or use complementary colours to enrich the stair runner. The choice is yours.” – Julian 

“In my opinion, the stairs and the surrounding skirting boards should be painted or at least varnished before the runner is fitted and always with a wider margin than the runner size. The installation of the stair runner should be the last thing that happens in a renovation project.” – Andy

What if you buy a house with tired-looking runner – can you improve the look of an existing one?

“A runner can be given a new lease of life by getting it professionally cleaned. Wool cleans well, however do use an experienced cleaner who's used to handling woollen products. If the runner has been laid without an underlay, arrange to have it uplifted and installed onto a good quality underlay. Runners should always be installed onto an underlay as this will improve their lifespan and provide added comfort underfoot. Stair carpets are subject to the most extreme wear, but life expectancy is affected by the quality of the fitting and type of underlay used. If a worn swivel point occurs, the affected material should be replaced before it becomes a trip hazard. Roger Oates recommends buying an extra 50cm of fabric as an individual step can then be replaced in isolation.” - Jane

Finally, we’ve heard some runners can be slippery – is there a way to prevent this?

“Stair runners made in 100% wool with a woven texture shouldn’t be slippery. Flatweave is a specialised material and fitting it is rather like upholstering the stairs, so it’s important you employ someone experienced to fit the product. A good fitter will deliver a high-quality installation which will ensure the runner performs better over time. A runner should always be fitted with good-quality underlay which, in addition to offering more comfort, will soften the sounds of feet running up and down the stairs.” – Andy

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