Reclaimed barnwood wall- basement stairs - love this idea for a spot that is hard to decorate. [we're changing the varnished plywood wall next to the stairs, i wonder if we could do a bit of this idea. or a textured wall paper]
add wood wallpaper to the kick plates of the stairs. Those rolls are expensive but you would only need one. Not practical with white treads though, it will be stuffed up from black shoe soles in no time.