One Step at a Time
Updated: Jun 12, 2021
The staircase is one of the most noticeable features of your home. Oftentimes, it is located near the entrance and is one of the first things people notice when they enter. Over time, it may begin to look worn, outdated, and can become a major eyesore. The idea of beautifying it with a fresh new look can seem overwhelming once you start considering the cost of upgrades. Most homes aren’t made of sturdy, quality materials like in the days of old. If you want quality materials, you will pay heavily for them.
That’s not counting the cost of experienced craftsmen to complete the upgrades. If you are brave, you can do this yourself and save a bundle on the overall cost. I am not saying it will match the quality of a professional craftsman who has spent years honing their craft. I have the utmost respect for our skilled professionals and have great admiration for their work. All I’m saying is, my budget can’t afford superior attention at the moment. Even so, I am not one to let that stop me from beautifying my home as best I can, with what skills I have, at a cost I can afford. You can do it too and I will show you how. *Let me add that I receive no compensation in any way, shape, or form for the methods or products I used for this restoration project.
The main things you’ll need to accomplish if you want to save on cost are time and patience. Depending on your budget, it may not take you near as long as it did me. It took me about 2 years to put together. I didn’t buy everything I needed all at once, I spaced it out. Time and patience were the keys for me to be able to do it. I started with the most expensive things I would need and that way, it got cheaper as I went. Then when I had everything together, I was ready to begin.
This old staircase has been around for a few lifetimes. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s about 116 years old, at least. It was sure looking every bit that old too. It had several layers of old paint and lots of dust and dirt. This is a two-story, farmhouse log cabin with no exposed logs on the inside. Originally, I believe the walls are what they call beadboard paneling. Good quality beadboard, not the new stuff that's on the market nowadays. They don’t make that good old quality beadboard anymore. Somewhere along the line, my family covered the beadboard with that 70s dark paneling which was all the rave back in the day. One day, when I am feeling super brave and adventurous, I may completely take down the dark paneling and paint the beadboard. Seems like too great an undertaking just yet. Plus, the cost of wood right now is outrageous should any sections should need replacing, not to mention trim work. Yeah, we will make do with what we have for the time being.
Before photos slideshow
If these stairs could talk
Taking on this project was one of the first things I wanted to accomplish when I moved back into our old family home. Not just so it would look better, sure that was a goal, but mostly as a way of giving back to this home that my family has taken care of for so many decades. This house is everything to me, I grew up here, this is my home. I slid down this handrail, I untied the bows from the newel at Christmastime as a child. I got my head trapped between the balusters. I watched Gran paint these stairs and lay down new treads. I ran up these stairs and hid when playing hide & seek with my brother and cousins. Restoring these stairs was as much a labor of love as anything else. I aimed to go beyond simply restoring the staircase but to also show it off in a way my family would be proud of. To see these stairs the way they should have looked all along, with extra class and style.
One good thing about living in an old farmhouse, you don’t have to worry so much about making mistakes. You can’t mess it up more than it already is where appearance is concerned. Anything will be an improvement. As you can see, my stairs have been in a serious state of neglect for quite some time. That’s a good place to begin but before you do anything, you’ll need to decide how you want it to look. My Dad had begun to strip some paint off the lower newel post. We were discussing the entrance area and talking about ideas and wood options. He had removed part of the ceiling in the lower hallway and some of the walls, and he replaced the front door too. Then sadly, he became ill and didn’t recover. It has been a few years now, it’s time to get this completed. We never decided on a color scheme though I had mentioned doing a dark cherry stain, it was an inspiration from a place I had visited. Now, with new eyes, I felt like after all the years of dark paneling, it was time to brighten things up in a big way.
So many options, so many styles
Everywhere I visited, that had a staircase, I took note. It was mind-blowing the many different styles out there. I browsed online, mainly Pinterest & Google images, searching for styles I liked, hoping something would strike my fancy. I liked the look of some of the wallpapered ones and kicked around that idea. Overall, though, I really didn’t want to fool with wallpaper. Having an old staircase, I was looking for something old and traditional. Turns out my tastes are very much English, big surprise there. After exploring what seemed an endless amount of stair photos for ideas, one thing stuck out in all of my favorite ones that simply oozed class, style, and tradition. Stair rods. Stair rods have been around since the late 18th century. They were used to hold a stair runner in place. Now that runners are tacked down, they aren’t really necessary to hold the runner. They are purely for looks and boy do they bring it. There is no better gift could I offer these old stairs than stair rods. They are elegant and made out of high-quality material, no need to polish them. Every staircase should be decked out in rods, in my opinion. You can score stair rods from many sites but they are not cheap. For the money, you’ll want some good ones, go to Zoroufy at https://zoroufy.com/ They have a beautiful selection to choose from and you won’t be disappointed in the quality. As far as I’m concerned, if you are going to do it all; do it right, do it in style, do it classy, or don’t do it at all.
Picking a Colors
I had no color scheme in mind at first, but I realized that I would need three colors. 1) For the stair risers, balusters, and the wall. 2) For the treads, trim, finials, and handrail. 3) For the stripe and highlights on the newel. But what colors? Well, since I decided I must have stair rods, I would definitely need a runner rug. So, I started there. My thinking was; when I find a rug I like, I’ll pick out the paint to match. The rug I fancied the most only shipped within the UK. Which is just as well, I never would have been able to afford that one anyway. Even so, it still served its purpose because now, I knew what I wanted. Maybe it wouldn’t be exactly that, but the framework was there. All I needed now was to find something less expensive but high quality that was similar, which I did. I scored a beautiful stair runner rug at https://www.runrug.com/us/. It is baroque light gray, a darker gray border with a lighter gray down the middle. I love how depending on the lighting, it can appear more blue or more grey. This is perfect. Immediately, I could picture the walls, balusters, and stair risers I pictured a bright white and dark gray on the handrails and treads. For the stripe going along the wall, I wanted a light blue/gray color. All three colors would be brought together on the bottom newel post. The dream is taking shape. I didn’t order anything yet, I was still in the process of developing a plan and making a list of things I would need and where to find them when the time came.
Let’s Get Started, here are the tools you’ll need:
· Sturdy paint tray
· Paint can opener & stir sticks
· Paint remover/brush cleaner
· Cleaning products; cleaner/rags/sponge
· Painter’s tape (several rolls)
· Drop cloth – at least 2
· Brushes – various sizes
· Stair rods
· Carpet runner rug
· Tread padding
· Staple gun & staples
· Small nails
· Drill and a small bit
· Ruler/measuring tape
· Basic math skills
· Utility scissors (if cutting treads by hand)
· Paint roller and extension pole (an adjustable one is a plus)
· Some old clothes
· Small bag for clean-up
· Wood Epoxy, sandpaper, & gloves
· Replacement wood
Where to even begin?
Let’s begin by understanding the parts of a staircase. Here is a diagram I found so you will know (in case you don’t) the terms used to describe staircase parts. The terms baluster & spindle are practically interchangeable as far as I can tell. It’s mostly in how they are attached. For all I know, my staircase may have spindles, I’m not sure. I have always called them spindles myself but for the sake of clarity in relation to the diagram, I’ll call them balusters. Another difference is, the diagram has ‘newel caps’ on the post. In my house, these are called ‘finials’. I don’t if there is a difference in terminology but if so, I imagine a cap as being a simple/plain sort of flat cap. Whereas, newel post finials are larger and more decorative. Finials don’t have to be in relation to staircases though. My curtain rods and stair rods have decorative finials too.
Runner & Rod Size
As I mentioned earlier, I bought the things I needed one thing at a time and spaced them out. I started with the stair rods. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. So, I’ll suggest to you that you start with the runner. I should have ordered the runner first because the rug I wanted didn’t come in the width I would need for the stair rods I had ordered. I ended up needing to get the rods cut to size. It wasn’t a big deal, just noteworthy to save you the trouble of figuring it out the hard way.
The first thing you will need to do is measure your staircase to determine the length and width of the runner, and also to figure out the length of your stair rods that you’ll need and how many. Plus, the tread padding that goes underneath the runner. You have the option of buying individual tread pads or a large section to cut to size yourself. I found a nice one on Amazon made by Mohawk which was 5’x8’ and ¼” thick. It was more than enough and super comfortable! Here is an excellent website I found to help you figure it all out https://www.rugsdoneright.com/pages/measuring-stair-runners One thing I did to double-check my math was take a roll of string and tape one end to the top of the stairs and tape it all the way down from riser to riser to the bottom. Cut it off (or mark it), take the string, lay it out, and then measure the length of it. I had the length I would need measuring correctly within one inch. When I ordered the runner, I added about three extra feet just in case. It’s always better to have more than you need than to be left shorthanded. *Don’t forget the landing in your calculations.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
With the orders underway; it was time to begin the prep-work. There was a small gap between the lower newel post and the handrail that looked like it could use some repair. Luckily, nothing was wobbly at all, still super sturdy, just needed minor repair work.
I donned some gloves and mixed up some Abatron wood epoxy putty (part A & part B) and pressed that into the gap all the way around. *Follow instructions for use. It’s a great filler because it takes on the likeness of wood when it hardens. When Dad had taken down part of the ceiling, there was a piece of trim that went with it. I have no idea what happened to it, it likely was broken and tossed. Unfortunately, they don’t make this style anymore, and honestly, my great grandfather likely made it himself. I measured the size I would need and found a suitable replacement at Home Depot. Once I had it screwed into place, I used some of the wood epoxy to fill in the gap where the ends meet. It’s difficult to measure anything pertaining to this house because it is nothing is exactly straight. Once the epoxy dries, roughly thirty minutes, give or take, you can take some sandpaper and smooth it out.
Pace yourself and don’t forget to breathe
Little by little, I had everything together that I would need and the time came to really get moving on this project. I’ll be honest with you; it took longer than I thought it would. Some things required a couple of coats, and of course, touch-up work. It all worked out though. I spaced out the painting every other day. This gave everything a chance to dry and also gave my body a chance to rest up for the next round. It’s important to not overdo, you need to pace yourself. Painting a staircase is not very forgiving where the body is concerned. You’ll need to get yourself into positions that are no longer comfortable as they used to be in youth.
Ok, the first thing you’ll need to do is clean. Even if you don’t paint the walls, clean them anyway. You wouldn't want dust to fall on your hard work. A good clean surface will ensure the paint will adhere. If I was super adventurous, I would have properly stripped all the paint first. After weighing the pros & cons, I decided I could get by without it. Stripping the paint seemed like a major undertaking. Can you imagine dealing with those balusters? I discovered though; the new latex paint wasn’t keen on adhering to the old oil-based paint. Some parts were better and worse than others, it was trial and error. Overall, it worked out. No regrets on not fully stripping the paint ahead of time.
Tape & Paint Tape & Paint Tape & Paint
The last thing I wanted to happen was to get paint on my beautiful hardwood floors. I taped a drop cloth on the floor upstairs and also on the floor below, around the base of the staircase. Moving paint cans and everything I’d need to the upstairs hallway. It made sense to me to start with the color that was going to cover the most space. In this case, white. First, I taped off the trim going across the wall then I taped off every single baluster. There are 18 in all and I now have a deep, personal connection with each and every one. I also taped off all three newels, the nosing, and around every single thing that I didn’t want white.
I painted the ceiling white and the walls. Luckily, I was able to do the upper parts of the wall and ceiling from the upstairs balcony with hardly any effort at all. I didn’t even need a step ladder. From upstairs, I can reach the ceiling with my hand, it’s not very high and I was able to reach across the stairwell from the balcony with the use of an extended pole for the roller. I really love the adjustable one by RollerLite. I found it on Amazon and they come in a couple of different lengths. It was so cool because you can extend it all the way out for far away or make it shorter for areas that are closer in. I tried some of the fancy edger and wedge tools they have out – just don’t. Maybe I need more practice, but besides the roller for the walls. I did everything else with brushes. If you need to get into corners or tight spaces, use an edger brush. A lot easier and no mess.
After the walls and ceiling were covered and had a chance to dry, I started on the balusters, newels, and risers. At this point, I no longer needed the paint tray, I painted straight out of the can (of course stirring when needed). Start at the top and work your way down being careful not to spill or spatter. *Make sure you take the lid to the paint downstairs so you won’t need to go back up while everything is trying to dry.
Painting Round 2 Slideshow
Allow that to dry and maybe add an extra coat to areas that may need it. When ready, peel off the tape. Hopefully, it peels off clean. I had a few areas that needed touching up after pulling the tape off. Overall, it wasn’t too bad. Next, I taped off the stripe. I’m not sure what you call it, but I have a border/divider that goes around the wall and around the stairwell to separate the downstairs ceiling and upstairs floor. It has trim work above and below it. I started with the center part first, which is the light blue color, saving the trim work for last. There is also a matching border stripe with trim along the floor on the lower level, I painted that too. For some reason, the area I painted blue had the most issues with the latex paint. It didn't want to adhere to the old oil-based paint. Mainly in the areas where the tape was pulled off. I painted an extra coat and trimmed it up by hand. A second coat solved the problem. If I notice a difference in it down the road, I’ll re-paint it and add a sealant. My concern in doing that now is that it may alter the color, especially with the light coming in from the windows. The stairs don’t get the traffic that they used to in the old days, so it should be fine. While I had the blue out, I also painted by hand the square block in the center of the lower-level newel post. It’s like a block within a block within a block. Before, it was painted one solid color, dark brown. I thought I’d paint the center and every other square blue and the opposing squares, gray. I used smaller, artist paintbrushes for this. The blue needed about 3 coats to cover it well.
Painting Round 3 Slideshow
Now to paint the handrails, trim, and newel post finials treads. Time to tape some more. I started with the outside trim on the border stripe and the trim work along the ceiling/floor and then moved to the upstairs handrail and finials then the lower-level handrail and finial. After allowing that to dry. Then I did the trim along the floor on the lower level. All that remains at this point were the treads. However, before I finished up, I took care of all the touch-up work. I used artist brushes for this, good-sized ones, flat and about an inch wide. These were perfect for fine-tuning straight areas and touch-ups. I looked it up one side and down the other, cleaning it all up nice and tight. I hope you are cleaning all these brushes as you go. Now, let's get the treads done. If you haven’t taped them off yet, go for it. At this point, I cleaned up everything from the upstairs area, tossed the trash, and moved the cans downstairs. If you use your upstairs often and need to go up and down, paint half of the treads going down. Then when it dries, paint the other half. That will leave you space to walk up and down as you need to. I don’t need to be upstairs so I went ahead and painted the entire tread(s) and let them dry overnight. The next morning, I added a second coat and let that dry well before attempting to walk on them. I removed the tape and did the touch-up work. Finally, I gave it one last once-over. It was as good as it was gonna get. Words can’t express the difference it made in with the lighting. It really brightened things up! I have never seen this staircase any color but dark brown and wow…It’s unreal.
Painting Round 4 Slideshow
Treads & Runner
Now for the fun part. Just when my procrastination skills started to kick in, my beloved cousin arrived to spend the day. She allowed that we should try to finish it up and so, that’s what we did. I grabbed the tread padding material, a measuring tape, and some utility scissors and we headed outside where we would have room to spread out. I had read some of the reviews on Amazon for the Mohawk stair padding, people were saying it had an odor, that’s another reason we wanted to do it outside. Turns out there was no noticeable odor that either of us could tell. I really like this material, it’s nice and cushiony.
When measuring the tread pads, they shouldn’t be as wide as your runner. I left about an inch on each side. For instance; my runner is 24” so I needed the tread pads to be 22” wide. When figuring the length; I wanted the tread pads to start from the nose to a couple of inches from the riser. If I remember correctly, my tread pads are 10” from riser to nose, so I cut the tread pads at 8”. Most people when using the stairs go up the center and the foot is placed from the nose to the center. So, I don’t need the tread pad to go all the way to the riser and this will allow some breathing room for the stair rods.
You may want your tread pads to roll around the nose. For that style, you would just measure the length a couple of inches longer, fold it over the nose and staple it. Once the tread pads were cut, the most important thing is tacking them down as straight as possible. You’ll need to be aware of the width of the risers and the width of your runner. The tread pads will need to be dead center of where you place the runner. We started at the bottom and they went on fairly easy with a staple gun. Especially after we figured out how to use the staple gun with maximum force. **Derp** We finished tacking down all the tread pads and then measured the landing, cut that to size, and tacked it down. You will need to determine the landing style you want beforehand. There are many options to choose from here. I went with KISS (keep it simple stupid). For the landing tread, I just needed a square cut to be an inch shorter than the runner on each side. Once the runner would be laid, it needs to line up with the lower runner leaving a border around the sides. It’s hard to explain…it’ll make sense in a minute.
We decided we hadn’t had enough punishment for the day so we allowed we would go ahead and lay the rug down. Isn’t that a beauty?
Runnin On Empty
For the runner; I figured it would be best to start at the bottom and work upwards. The idea was, there are fewer steps at the top so do the longer section first. It just made sense. You don’t want to have all of that runner at the top trying to measure and navigate the landing. So, start at the bottom and go up. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make doubly sure you are laying your runner in the center of the treads, well, the center from the balusters to the wall. There would be nothing worse than getting halfway up or more and realizing it was cockeyed. Crooked is not Classy. If you start it off straight, you should be fine and it will go steady-going upwards. You’ll need to tack the runner to the bottom riser at the floor, smooth it up and across the riser, and tread. Tack it down as you go and repeat. My cousin, God bless her, did the stapling. She has more upper arm strength to lay into the staple gun. She placed them all around where it looked like a staple should go. I followed behind with small nails and a hammer for spots that a staple wouldn’t go in. I drove some of the staples in the rest of the way with the hammer. We tacked it on each side of the nose and each side of the riser (four corners) and occasionally one in the center, only if needed. We stopped at the top step of the long section at the landing. Then we measured out the length about 4 inches from the wall (roughly) – to line up about an inch from the treads of the upper steps. Then we cut the runner.
Now we had a smaller section of runner to deal with. This time, we started at the top step. We made sure the runner was centered properly, and worked our way down to the landing. We left enough of the runner to span the landing matching up with the lower runner and cut it. We placed the upper runner underneath the lower runner and tacked it down. All done with the runner! Wow, as we headed down the steps it was like walking on a cloud.
Tuxedo Cats Rule!
We called it a day. Buster loves it too! He has a new penthouse suite. It’s his new favorite place to lay and he can’t believe we went to all the trouble just for him.
A Touch of Class
Let’s finish this baby, it’s time for stair rods. I notice straight away I had a problem when I started. I made a couple of mistakes but nothing major. The rods were the first thing I ordered and I didn’t remove the rods from the box when they first arrived. I took out a couple of the finials and admired them but I took for granted that I had ordered the correct length. 1) I didn’t measure the width correctly. I measured the entire width of the riser not considering that the balusters came in a few inches. 2) I also didn’t consider that the runner I desired didn’t come in the wider width I was needing. Ultimately, the runner worked out perfect by being a shorter width than I was wanting. The rods though were way too wide. ::::sigh:::: What to do…what to do… They needed about four inches taken off to be the correct size I needed.
I had them too long to exchange them. Sometimes you just have to ask around. My Mom came to mind, she works for a company that has skilled, professional craftsmen. I needed to talk to her and cry, beg, plead, bribe whatever it took to see if maybe they had something there to cut the rods to size and maybe someone would be willing to help a desperate girl in dire need of classy stair rods. I won’t accept defeat, my dream has to manifest, it can’t end like this. I gave her a call and she said she would ask around. Praise the good Lord above and embrace all that is holy, I was in luck. She said for me to drop them off and someone would cut them sometime that week. Good enough for me, I owe her and the boy’s big time. That was a lifesaver! I dropped them off and they cut them the next day and I picked them up. Now we are Ready Teddy.
I put the finials together on the brackets and took everything to the top of the stairs to work my way back down once more. It also occurred to me there may be a learning curve with the rods. I figured if the first one or two came out wonky, at least it would be at the top section of the stairs and likely not noticeable. All I needed was a drill with a small bit and a screwdriver. I don’t have two drills and I didn’t want to keep changing the bit out. Depending on your stairs, you may not need to drill first. I know my steps are made of very hardwood and the little screws seemed like they would strip out on me with too much force. I put the finials on each end of the rod and set it in place. After the first one, I found it was easier to set the bottom screws into place on each side and then the top ones. This was the quickest of all the tasks so far, I had this done (all 48 screws) before my boyfriend finished his phone call. Last but not least, I had a couple of canvas prints made from family photos taken years ago to hang on the wall in the stairwell. I didn’t include these in the photos below (for family privacy reasons) but the idea was to show what the stairs used to look like in the past in contrast to what they now look like while at the same time show off the fam.
Finally, at long last, all done. After Photos Slideshow
Not counting the two years it took me to get everything together, it took me a little over a month to complete. It didn’t have to take that long. Using multiple colors took a little longer, giving everything adequate drying time, and the fact that I spaced it out. I didn’t work on it every single day until it was done. Life needs to happen in the meantime. There are still yards to be mowed, errands to run, gardening to do, naps to take place, and multiple other chores. Time didn’t stand still for me to focus on it from start to finish. With patience, it was completed and it did turn out every bit as gorgeous as I envisioned and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome. Yes, I know that was a run-on sentence, and no, I don’t care. Even if I do say so myself, it is one classy staircase. My brother, and a few others, have told me that my Gran would love it. That is what it was all about for me. Just hearing those words made my soul smile inside.
This blog has been lengthier than the ones I normally post, if you are still with me, thank you. I hope this journey I have embarked on is useful to you should you want to take on a similar project of your own. The errors I have made will help you avoid the same pitfalls. You can do this, it is possible, and very much fun. That being said, I am looking forward to my chiropractic appointment tomorrow. After that, I will be ready to take on another project in the works.
Take care, have a blessed day, and thank you so much for reading.