Types of Materials and Finishes Used to Design the Best Staircase

July 26, 2022

Materials and finishes work together to celebrate the spirit of the stair – its beauty, power, and emotion. Details make or break a design, which is why focusing on the finer points helps to ensure that the initial “wow” of the staircase continues every time it is being climbed. Stairs should never be an idle structural element; they are a continuous source of vitality.

Materials and Finishes:

Paint & Powder Coating

Paint can be applied to any number of materials in a wide spectrum of colours, providing a smooth finish at an economical price. With paint, even a thin layer of colour is possible, and touching up mistakes can be easily done after installation.

Powder coating is very durable and retains its colour but when it is scratched or chipped, touching up is much more difficult; the piece would need to be removed and re-coated which is very expensive and time consuming.

For projects that require an environmentally friendly solution, know that powder coating produces minimal waste.

Feature Walters is not only your custom architectural fabrication partner, we also have a 1,300-square-foot paint booth/bake-oven that allows us to apply a high-end finish to your pieces in a controlled environment.

Stainless Steel

This low-maintenance metal has countless finishes from which designers can choose. One could opt for a low-reflective (non-directional) finish in areas where light reflection may be an issue or use a mirror polish to highlight elements. Stainless steel treads can be perforated in many patterns and be any weight and thickness you seek.

Stainless steel is stronger and can be less expensive than aluminum or steel, but you should weigh the benefits of each.

Architectural Bronze

There are more than 60 different types of copper-zinc alloys available in endless shapes and sizes. Architectural bronze (also called brass) is often used in balusters and railings, and because of its beautiful lustre, this material is making a comeback of sorts, especially when used with an antique patina finish.

Architectural Bronze can be easily dirtied and will require time and energy on the part of the owner’s maintenance team to preserve the polish and shine, but when it is effectively incorporated into a staircase design it can add radiance to spaces in unique ways.

Keep in mind that there are no engineering standards for welding architectural bronze, so engineers are unable to stamp it as a structural member.


The beautiful, natural grains of this durable resource help to add warmth and beauty to feature stairs. Oak is popular due to its plentiful supply and versatility but depending on the application (whether structural or accent) and budget, any wood can heighten the staircase experience, whether Brazilian cherry for its deep colour or maple for its consistent grains.

Dream of interesting ways to weave wood together: dovetail, mitered butt, tongue and groove, and more.

Although wood has its benefits, designers must also consider the potential for wood cracking, warping and shrinking. Consider not only the immediate beauty that wood gives to a project, but also the long-term upkeep required to ensure its beauty for decades (or centuries!) to come.


Light plays a lead role in space design and the versatility of glass makes light every designer’s friend.

Glass has load-bearing capabilities and when tempered and laminated, can be used as balustrades or even the stair treads themselves. As a tread or a glass floor insert, note that there is a minimum thickness of 21.5 mm (approximately one inch), and treads should have a surface pattern to minimize slips. Consider pairing with stainless steel step supports which can be brushed, coloured or polished.

Glass in any application can be coloured, textured, frosted, cut and etched with patterns. It can also be fritted, allowing the material to control how light affects the staircase’s space.

There are regulations regarding the spacing of glass balustrades as well as their size.


Banisters can be wrapped with soft and natural leather, or it can be used as an accent in stair elements, other than treads. Like many materials, the types of leather vary, as do the thickness (up to 10mm in width), dyes and finishes. Even accents for leather, such as the style and size of stitches, can accentuate the feel.

With any material comes maintenance. Consider what would need to happen if a piece of leather is dirtied, ripped or stained.

Mild Steel

Architects appreciate the freedom that steel gives them – a material that’s malleable, has a unifying look, and possesses structural integrity. This inexpensive and versatile material allows for more freedom in design, whether it’s used as the treads, balusters, railings or as structural elements beneath or behind the stairs. A large variety of paint finishes can also be applied.


Benefit from the strength and durability of steel while achieving glare reduction and distinctive patterns and colours with blackened steel. A clear coating can be applied to give the surface a rich finish, while ensuring longevity and easy maintenance.

Corten Steel

One of today’s most popular materials is this weathered, strong and durable metal. Used as building accents, acid-etched corten doesn’t need paint or finishing (and very little maintenance!). Although it can be an accent in both indoor and outdoor applications, it’s best use is outdoors since it has long-lasting corrosion resistance. Each piece of corten is unique from one to the next, and pieces can be overlapped, separated, bent, welded and drilled into.

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