When we think of upholstery we typically think of furniture such as chairs. We see how nice the upholstery looks on the furniture we sit on, and even automobiles and recreational vehicle seats are getting more customized.

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So what about stairs? We typically walk up and down them but don’t consider them as anything upholstered, right? Well, I believe when an installer installs carpet on a staircase, it is considered custom upholstery. The reason is that not every carpet is the same and installers must use different techniques in order to make stairs look presentable.

There are several variations of steps: Completely wrapped open steps, spindled, pie shaped, radius steps, etc. And yes, there are staircases enclosed on both sides that are installed in what we refer to as a “waterfall” type of installation, which is pretty basic as far as installing the steps goes.

Over the last few years we have seen a change in the way stairs are being installed, with more “contoured” steps that follow the contour of the stair nose, giving more of a defined appearance (Photo 1). These have been given several different names such as Hollywood, New York and other regional terms. The proper name is actually cap and band for this type of step.

What we commonly see is a continuous run of the riser (vertical), and tread (horizontal). Installers crease the carpet under the stair nosing and then use an electric/pneumatic tacker to fasten underneath the stair nose. This is considered a production run that can be done fairly quickly. However, this is also where an upholstered step and a production step can differ.

How many times have you walked up a contoured flight of steps and noticed the dimpling from staples or fasteners? An actual “cap” and “band” step is just that—the tread is installed first, and then the riser is installed separately. By proceeding in this method, the installer can either glue or tack the underside of the stair nose, minimizing the visibility of any fasteners. Then the riser material can be glued on, so there are no fasteners whatsoever. This method takes longer, but gives the step a very defined appearance where the riser and the underside of the stair nose meet.

One concern I have with the “contoured” steps being installed is that installers do not roll the cushion over the stair nosing. Many times installers will cut the cushion short of the stair nose because of issues with trying to attach the cushion over the nosing (Photo 2). It is very difficult to staple and many times, if they are able to roll the cushion over the nosing and get staples in, it tends to curl on itself when the installer stretches the carpet.

The problem with not rolling the cushion over the nosing is that the carpet will wear prematurely. Where does carpet on a step wear the most? On the nosing. Without cushion to act as a shock absorber, the carpet takes all the abuse.

The problem with not rolling the cushion over the nosing is that the carpet will wear prematurely ... Without cushion to act as a shock absorber, the carpet takes all the abuse.

One method that can maintain the cushion over the nosing is the use of duct tape. Roll the cushion over the nosing and cut just over the nosing—don’t allow the cushion to wrap underneath the nosing as it will not allow the use of adhesive, and fasteners will dimple the carpet. Once you cut the cushion, use two strips of duct tape. One should wrap around the cushion and attach just under the nosing. Take the next strip of duct tape and use this on the top of the cushion, running it just barely over the nosing.

The duct tape does a few things: it helps attach the cushion to the nosing, it gives the cushion reinforcing to maintain the integrity of the cushion where it is needed the most, and if you need to use a stapler, the duct tape makes it easier for the fasteners to hold (Photo 3). It also allows the carpet to slide over the nosing easily when stretching, and you won’t have to worry about the cushion curling up.

Now you can attach your tread and use either a high watt/temperature glue gun, contact adhesive (non-flammable), or fasteners (Photo 4). Once this is done, glue the carpet to the riser. Now remember, this is NOT a production type of installation and needs to be priced accordingly, so that the installer can be rewarded for his or her professionalism (Photo 5).

Another type of step is one with spindles; sometimes on one side of the staircase, sometimes on both sides. The International Certified Floorcovering Installers Association (CFI) has a how-to on upholstering a spindle step with the true cut method on their website at www.cfiinstallers.com.

Remember, stairs can be a challenge. Especially if it’s a patterned carpet being installed, use a professional and pay them for doing a good job. Don’t be the one who underbid the labor and regrets it afterwards.