Patterned Carpet On Stairs

An interesting question from a member came up on The Floor Pro Community forums (it happens all the time) and deserves a detailed answer. First, the question paraphrased:

I got into a discussion with a designer about running matches in patterned carpet on steps. She said the pattern should be in the same spot on each step. The designer suggested that every installer should know this. My belief is, if the carpet is left in a continuous piece, the pattern matches, but if cut to align a pattern on each step, the run of the carpet will not match. Which way is the right way?

While the customer is not always correct, they do deserve to have things done to fit their desire or definition of correct despite whether we believe it to be obtuse or ugly. That being said, in terms of design there are several factors to consider.

One is the repeat. When a pattern repeats, it does so with a very specific cadence or rhythm. In technical terms, we know this as the repeat. However, in aesthetic terms, how a repeat plays out over a distance is an essential element of the design itself.

Another tool used in design that illustrates the relevance of the rhythm of a pattern is the drop match. While a pattern will play out in the length and width, dropping the match enables the patterns design to also play out diagonally. Adding another dimension to design itself.

Carpet with straight match pattern Carpet with drop match pattern

The first photo above illustrates the effects of a straight match; the second depicts the benefits a half drop.

Carpet with straight & drop matchAnother fundamental of a design is scale of the pattern. It is important not to confuse the scale of a pattern with its repeat. A repeat is the point in the design where an exact point in the design begins again. While scale is the size of the patterns that make up the design. Such as large scale floral or small scale trellis, etc… Jumping back to the difference in repeat and scale; we could have a medium scale trellis pattern made up of 6″ diamonds and a 36″ pattern repeat.

This third photo shows a medium scale pattern made up of various motifs of similar size with a large repeat and an even larger drop match.

When working with pattern material that is contiguous or is to be fabricated to present as contiguous, such as with stair runners, the repeat, rhythm and scale pattern should remain unbroken; meaning, it is what it is and it falls where it falls. That’s what patterns do.

Straight & drop match on stepsTo force a pattern to hit on an exact spot on a step is forcing the pattern to do what it does not want to do. It’s unnatural and while the look may appeal to certain individuals, it breaks the rhythm and cadence of the carpet design. The fourth photo shows the pattern from the third photo fabricated and fit as a runner with the pattern falling where it falls.

What I want to add here is a source of confusion on this issue. My desire is to help the reader understand these special nuances. Please read on carefully.

When a designer is specifying the use of a pattern fabric to cover, lets say a three cushion sofa, they will correctly specify the pattern on each cushion to be identical. And they’re correct. The difference between pattern placement on a three cushion sofa and a stair runner is, the cushions are not intended to present or read as a single contiguous piece where the runner is.

Another comparison would be draperies. Expecting the carpet to hit on the same place on a step is like asking the drapery installer have the pattern hit the same point on every fold. While it’s possible to force such a result, doing so requires additional material and labor and bastardizes the entire design.

Even still, in the end, it ultimately comes down to whatever the customer wants. The real challenge for the true floor pro is not “is the customer right”. The real issue is, even though this carpet is in their home, it’s still our workmanship, and if the customer’s request is in conflict with our mission statement and the quality workmanship we want to leave as a testament of our services, then it’s time to graciously pass on this particular opportunity.

You are invited to comment below, or join the discussion on this in the forum.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. NIck

    Can anyone tell me what the carpet on the stairs is please, well who it’s made by. Thanks

  2. Stefan Volosen

    Great article. I don’t really like rugs on stairs personally. Tend to be a high traffic area and maintaining them clean becomes a hassle sometime. For the right setting however, carpeted stairs could work out really well.

  3. Ken Frango

    Mr. Hunt’s theory makes sense when dealing with larger repeats on straight staircases with right or no angles. When it comes to curved staircases and/or small scale or linear designs, et. al., step uniformity is aesthetically more pleasing.

  4. andrew laws

    Its all down to the right product being put in the right place. .large pattern repeats dont alqays show well on a narrow multiple direction staircase ,but if thats what a customer wants then we as installers should only offer an opinion if asked for by them !! P.s. we install probably in excess of a hundred per year

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