Have you ever started a project thinking it would be easy and then really regret it and eat your words later? Well this staircase makeover taught me some thingsssss. I’ve been slowly tackling projects around the house to refresh spaces, getting more and more advanced as I go. The entryway and staircase has always had great potential and was one of the first rooms I started to tackle. I had a new my orb chandelier picked out before we even settled on the house. I do things little by little, as time and budget allow (still roughing that daycare bill). This staircase makeover was no different and was 2.5 years in the making.
Let’s take a look at the staircase BEFORE.
I got serious about overhauling it in May. I was coming off the DIY high of having built from scratch my beautiful built-ins and was feeling FEARLESS. We ripped up the carpet after some investigation lead me to see what looked like stair treads in perfect condition.
It was a bit disappointed to find a mess on the landing and in hindsight was bad omen # 1. I’d seen a DIY staircase makeover from Our Faux Farmhouse where they made it LOOK SO EASY. They replaced their landing with cheap pine stair treads from Home Depot. I planned to rip up the step and use 3-5 treads to create a wide plank wood.
Starting the sanding
I immediately got to work and sanded the first step and was amazed at how quickly it cleaned up. A rookie move I made was really scratching up the sides of the stairs with my sander while getting the paint off.
After only an hour of sanding the steps, I had many of them back to perfect condition. The dust from this project was horrible and didn’t have the right tools for dust management. In addition, I couldn’t get a good mask/respirator to save my life because everyone panicked purchased them to fend of Covid 19. I could have lived with cleaning up the dust in the house, but my lungs were another story.
Sampling the stains
I decided to take a break from sanding and try out some stain options on my newly cleared off steps. How many renovation shows have you seen where these designers just casually swatch no less than 15 stain samples in the middle of the floor when refinishing original hard woods like it’s NBD? They would always just sand it right off and be on about their business. Well I’m here to tell you friends that IT’S ALL A LIE! Either that or I was just unequipped with the right experience and equipment to make this work. You decide…
I had 4 samples that I was considering and without a lick of hesitation, I globed them right on. I really struggled with having a solid vision for this project going into it because I knew I didn’t want the color to match my hardwoods but I was hoping to find a balance that coordinated and didn’t look like an after thought in current state but also perhaps match anything we would do in the future.
It was here that I started to realize theses dark strips in the middle of the steps really took the stain differently than that of the lighter outsides. I really liked the way the small brown square looked on the dark strip, but didn’t love how dark it was pulling on the lighter strands (isn’t it so strange how that worked?). I tested that brown on the treads I purchased for the landing, and holy cow, it looked like a whole different stain. Even if I was able to get the color right on the original steps, I was at a loss at how the landing would look totally different in color and wood pattern.
Sanding some more
I decided I needed to remove all my test samples and try a lighter stain along with wood conditioner, a step I skipped before I put on the test samples. I worked and worked and worked to sand the stain samples off and it just wouldn’t give. Because I didn’t condition the wood first, it acted like a sponge and absorbed the stain like a ShamWow. I also don’t know what possessed me to make that dark stain sample so gigantic and take it all the way to the corners and cracks of hell. I tried to use wood bleach to get the remnants of the stain out and that didn’t work either.
After more sanding and some help with the wood bleach, I did get most of the stain off. I decided to sample on another step with a wood conditioner and a much lighter stain (because I clearly didn’t learn my lesson yet). First step looked awesome and had the right color I was going for and I was starting to think I had finally cracked the code. Then the second step taught me better. The color of the step leaned orange on the strip and looked like a blotchy hot mess.
It was at this point that I was starting to think I had gotten in too deep. I took a hiatus from the project and just left these poor stairs in this condition for a bit to research and get inspired.
Focusing my attention on the rails
I decided to work on the railings for a bit to distract myself from the
failures lessons I was experiencing on the steps. I knew I wanted to paint the railings black and create a faux View Rail/metal rail lookalike. Some more light sanding and paint and primer-in-one really transformed the railings quickly and I finally felt like I was getting somewhere.
I should have left the stairs their natural color
On a whim I decided to paint the bottom stair black and another stair white. I had lost faith in my original vision of having medium toned tops and thought painting was the next best option because it would be fast and Pinterest made it look cute. I didn’t really love any of the options but started to realize how I really liked the natural light pine color with the white and black scheme.
Had I known how crazy the wood was going to take to the stains, I would have sanded and put a VERY light stain on them. I think that would have looked the best with the black rails and white risers. I do know that I rushed into this project and didn’t do enough planning and research.
At this point, I was too exhausted form the pandemic, starting virtual kindergarten for the twins, and hitting the busy season at work to think clearly. With patience or paying someone, I’m sure I could have been successful in getting all my sample paints and stains off and achieved the light tread color. But I was tired of looking at the steps in the as-is condition and just wanted to find the quickest path to be finished.
I finally decided that I would just paint the stairs white and achieve the natural wood look I liked through a seagrass runner. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make that runner work either. It was nearly impossible to work with the material on these steps because it was so thick.
Feeling defeated yet again, I went back to trusty google and searched low pile rug options. I knew that the rug needed to be very thin and pliable to achieve a tight fit on the stairs. My research found cotton flatweave to be the best option. I purchased 4 of these runners with the intention of piecing them together.
Step 85- The Final Look
When the carpets arrived I was desperate for them to work. I needed a win to get my DIY confidence, creativity, and motivation back. To my relief, these carpets were perfect for piecing together and fitting tightly on the steps. I had one last decision: dark side or light side up. In a moment of insanity and self-sabotage, I was tempted to paint the steps black. Luckily I told a friend to talk me right the hell out of it.
These runners worked like a charm and I quickly was able to attach them to the steps and make them look cohesive. I highly recommend this style rug for a stair runner.
The Final Reveal
It took me 6 months to finish this project which is longer than any other DIY I’ve ever done. To say this project taught me a lot is an understatement. Eventually, when we replace our flooring in the future, I will have the stair treads and railing redone to match the new floors. I hope this blog post doesn’t scare you off and instead serves as a good list of all the things to consider and plan for ahead of time if you’re thinking of tackling this project. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES.
Oh, and if there are any professionals out there that can explain and share some tips and tricks, please do 🙂