Two empty nesters gave their staircase a nostalgic twist.
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staircase with artwork on walls
Credit: Photography by Suzanna Scott

As parents of three adult children, the owners of this Spanish-style home in the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco were used to changes and new phases. They had been through the diapers and dioramas, the first-job applications and long-awaited graduations. But the phase they hadn't yet experienced was something rather bittersweet: What happens after all three of their kids moved out. 

"They're enjoying a new phase of life," says Regan Baker, the principal of a namesake design firm. "It became a great juncture to evolve their home and tell a story of the family's time together over the years."

The original staircase was encased in a dark wood trim with an off-white paint on the walls that tinted yellow. Traditional sconces, a runner, and a bench matched that more subdued palette, and although sunlight streamed through, the space was mostly shadowed. The couple set forth on a full house renovation that prioritized bright patterns in a contemporary design, pulling color inspiration from the city's famed Golden Gate Bridge and sparkling bay below. The staircase might have been an afterthought considering the scope of this project, but Baker and these owners weren't going to let it fade into the background.

"Transitional areas are important because they are where design components come together in one visible space, making them a natural focal point," Baker says. "It's usually where architectural elements shine."

Baker and her team painted the walls and stair risers in Benjamin Moore's White Heron and covered all of the wooden trim in the slightly darker Tapestry Beige. They picked out black Pottery Barn frames in various sizes to match the raven-colored rails, and then stained a nearby bench to bring out its metallic details. Finally, modern sconces incorporated a sculptural element to the walls. "The decorative bench and updated sconces invited conversation," Baker adds.

As for the photos, they filled the frames with the only images that felt right. "We added the family's lineage to these walls," Baker says. "There are ancestry photos of grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents. We loved the idea of using a gallery wall for their guests to have talking points as they climbed up the staircase."

Baker is proud to have refreshed the home without losing its heart, and when it comes to this staircase in particular, she's glad she gave it the attention it deserved. "Adorning the walls with their history unexpectedly activated this transitional space and created a 'room' with a point of view," she says. "This staircase really helps to weave a story from floor to floor."

Wood and Brass Dresser at Top of Staircase
Credit: Photography by Suzanna Scott

Get the Look:

Pottery Barn Black Picture Frames
Credit: Pottery Barn

Gallery-Worthy Picture Frames

From $40, potterybarn.com

To give the multi-floor gallery wall a cohesive look, Baker stuck with one style frame in various sizes. Especially if the art you are displaying covers a range of styles, keeping the frames consistent will help the arrangement hang together. 

Wood Dresser with Gold Inlay
Credit: Lawson-Fenning

Work in Extra Storage

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Stair landings tend to be wasted space in many homes, but for this renovation, Baker wanted to sneak in storage wherever possible. A beautiful wooden dresser with inlaid brass details lends style and storage to the top of the stairs. 

Pottery Barn Entryway Bench with Shelf and Cushion
Credit: Pottery Barn

Provide a Soft Landing Spot

$399, potterybarn.com

When searching for an entryway bench, look for one topped with a cushion so you'll have a cozy spot to put on and take off your shoes. Even better: a shelf below for stashing those shoes. 

Gold and Fabric Sconce
Credit: Urban Electric Co.

Simple, Chic Sconces

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Since photos and artwork are the focal point of this area, elegant sconces that complement the design, without drawing attention away from it, make the gallery wall shine.