Easy DIY Ideas: Update a Stairway

Step up a staircase’s appeal by adding pumped-up patterns. With just a few DIY skills, a little imagination, and inexpensive materials, it’s relatively easy to turn an ordinary stairway into a statement-making set of steps.


Original stairwell

Plain pine stair risers lack distinction. Give them a lively lift and accentuate their flat-plane surfaces with prettily patterned panels cut from style-apt wallpaper (ours is Serenity Now from York Wallcovering’s Sure Strip collection but you can also use vintage fabrics or contact paper).

Tools for papering

What You’ll Need
  • Removable wallpaper
  • Yardstick level
  • Cutting mat with grid
  • Utility knife
  • Water-filled spray bottle
  • Smoothing tool or credit card


Cutting the wallpaper

Select a pattern that suits your style and looks good turned on its side (your steps are likely to be wider than your paper, so you will be cutting panels from the length of the wallpaper).


One cut section of wallpaper

Measure twice, cut once. Measure the length and height of each stairway riser—sizes may vary slightly depending on the age of your home—and add an inch to each measurement. Lay wallpaper face-side up on a cutting mat and use a yardstick and pencil to mark measurements for one panel on the paper. The grid on the cutting mat will help you properly align the paper’s pattern and make straight cuts. Cut out wallpaper panel. On the back of the paper, label it with a number that matches the step for which it was cut. It also helps to mark a top corner so you can place the wallpaper at the right orientation. Our stairs were rather irregular.

Repeat for each riser. Weigh down the pieces with books to flatten as needed.


Spraying the paper to activate the adhesive

If the paper is not self-adhesive, lightly brush wallpaper paste onto the stair riser (protect nearby surfaces with masking tape, if desired). For pre-pasted papers like Sure Strip, simply spritz water on the back of a wallpaper panel to activate the adhesive.


Lining up the wallpaper on the riser
Apply one panel at a time, working from the top riser down the stairway. Smooth paper with your hands, making sure pattern is straight.

Our cat Nyanko loves to help by knocking the tools I need down the stairs…


Smooth the wallpaper

Use a utility knife to remove excess paper; flatten edges with an old credit card or paper-smoothing tool.


In progress of adding wallpaper to the risers

Repeat to cover each riser, matching the numbered panels to the appropriate riser.


Finished bottom stair

Match the patterns from step to step as closely as you can.

It is helpful to step back and look at the pattern from afar to make sure you’re not incrementally shewing the pattern.

And you’re done! An easy afternoon project that brings light and pattern to a dim stairway. An added bonus: York’s Sure Strip papers adhere well but are simple to remove so you can change the look of your staircase on a whim.

Thanks to York Wallcoverings for sponsoring this post.


© Caruth Studio


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  1. Great job, Hannah!

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