Q: An old but colorful Oriental rug covers our entrance hall, which leads to a wooden stairway, which is also in need of some kind of floor covering. We can't afford to buy antique Oriental carpeting for the stairs. Can you make an alternate recommendation that won't involve frequent maintenance?
A: The category of "Oriental rugs" covers a multitude of styles as well as colors, so I'm not sure exactly what your rug looks like. I'll assume, though, that it's done in a large and geometric pattern with colors ranging from beige or red to deep blue, a fairly typical motif.
If this is the case, my advice would be to install a runner, as opposed to a full carpet, on the stairway.
Runners usually come in a 27-inch width, which should allow part of the wooden stairs to serve as a border on either side of the treads and risers. As a maintenance bonus, it's possible to turn a runner around when wear begins to show along the edge of the steps.
Patterned carpets are usually recommended for stairways, particularly because they're good at disguising wear and soiling. But since you already have a decorative rug in the entrance hall, it's important that the runner not be seen as a competing element. This means that a pattern can still be used as long as its scale is different and its colors are roughly the same as what appears on the hallway rug.
For example, if your rug has a geometric pattern, the runner might feature a smaller diamond-shaped design. A trellislike or even a pin-dot design might also be appropriate. The runner's colors should emphasize two or three of the shades found in the existing rug.
Wool, of course, is an excellent yarn for heavily trafficked areas. Less expensive nylon, when it features warrantied static, soil and stain protection, can be an equally good choice.
Here's an example of Worryfree nylon carpeting by Galaxy used as a stairway runner. In this case, light beige carpeting continues from the entrance hall. It's accompanied by a separately applied border in a dark taupe shade, which makes for a subtle and attractive combination. Designers Allen Scruggs and Douglas Meyers decided on this approach because they wanted to complement a decorative floor treatment in the entrance hall.
The carpeting was upholstered to the staircase in a way that shows the actual delineation between the central part of the runner and its border. In a more traditional installation, the taupe-colored border would have been sewn directly to the main beige runner. Another possibility, with a non-upholstered installation, is to attach a brass rod as a divider between the tread and the riser.