Stairway from Hell

I've received many questions about our stairway, asking how we turned it from a complete eyesore to something a little less so. Most of the progress we made on our stairway happened before the blog, so I'll try my best to explain the steps and fill in with pics as I go.

When we bought our house, carpeting covered most of the floors and I do no say this lightly: It.was.a.disaster. Bluish-gray carpet covered in stains, holes, and cigarette smoke lay heavily across every bedroom and our staircase. The previous owners smoked inside and I think the carpet absorbed 95% of those smells. We ripped out all the carpeting our second day in the house. I actually think having the carpeting inside before was a good thing because as soon as it was removed, most all of the cigarette smell was gone (the yellow walls and ceilings were a different story). The sub-floors were in good condition so thankfully no fixing was needed there, but we didn't pan out so well with our staircase. The wood underneath was just crappy 2x10's. Each board was filled with holes, chips, shards of wood shooting out, and endless amounts of staples, nails, and glue. It was a lovely sight. This staircase, from Little Green Notebook, would look like a masterpiece next to ours:


It would have been the most beneficial to replace our treads right from the beginning, but I said most beneficial, not most cost effective. We did not have the money in our budget to take on that project. So we had to make do with what we had. First, we had to remove all the nails and staples in the staircase. This project took forever. Whoever installed that carpet made sure it wasn't going anywhere. Then, I used a palm sander with a super low grit sandpaper (I think it was 40grit) to sand the treads as best I could. The divets and holes in our staircase were so deep that sanding did not fix this problem. We just wanted to make sure no shards of wood would puncture any one's feet while on the stairs. As soon as the dust was cleaned, we primed and painted the stairs with oil base paint.
This is how our staircase looked for about a year:

You can totally see all the holes in the risers, and the treads were even worse. But when B finished our stairway end cap our stairs looked terrible next to all it's prettiness.


We had to do something. At the time, our Apartment Therapy shoot was a week away and neither of us wanted the above sight to be the first thing Carolyn saw upon entering our home. The process wasn't too painful, but I cried. Majorly cried. I have to give some background story for the following to make sense. We had about five days before our photo shoot. B and I were running on very little sleep as we kept cramming in projects to finish before the big day. We were tired, exhausted, and running out of the little money we had budgeted for this shoot. I remembered I had some free paint from Ace Hardware's customer appreciation day, so I slapped some of the dark gray paint on every other riser (so we could still walk up the stairs if needed) at around one in the morning. Great. Easy. Done. Not so bad. Yeah, until the next morning when I realized that I had just spent hours taping and painting with LATEX paint. Not a good choice for a staircase. In no time, our paint was peeling up. Crying: take one. I was a mess and the lack of sleep was getting to me. B, being the leveled headed guy he is, assured me it was no big deal and presented me with choices: sand off the gray or paint over it with oil. After a minor hissy fit on my part, we decided to paint over the latex with oil. I had no idea if this would even work, or hold up, but we went for it. We liked how the dark gray paint disguised all the dings and dents in the risers so we mixed half gray oil based paint and half black oil paint to get a color we liked. Here was our process: we put a coat over the existing gray. Let dry. The following day we painted the stairs that had yet to be painted. Remember to put painters tape on the DRY stairs so you know which ones you can step on. The next day put coat two over the first 'set' of stairs. Let dry. The following day put the second coat over the second 'set' of stairs. Make sense? Good. This took us four days total and it was the day before the shoot when I decided I hated the way the whole staircase looked and all our efforts and money was for nothing. Crying: Take two. I'm pretty sure this crying was done in a ball on the floor. Looking back, I laugh at this now, but at the time those damn stairs seemed like the biggest problem in the world. Sleep deprivation and nerves does crazy things to people.

B loved the stairs, but commented on how we spent all this time fixing and painting the treads and  neglected to risers, making everything look crappy. So, the day before the photo shoot, he took spackle and put a skim coat over every riser-filling in every hole, ding, and eyesore. After a light sanding and a fresh coat of white paint, this was our finished product:

I'm pretty sure this is when I stopped crying and fell in love with the stairs. And so did Carolyn. And every other friend who has since seen it. Looking back, this project was super easy and made such a change to our entry. So if anyone is thinking of tackling this project, I'd say go for it. Just make sure you get adequate sleep before hand.


  1. Probably my fave update you guys have made to the house so far. Such a difference when you walk in the door! It really fits with the clean, crisp aesthetic of the rest of the home.

  2. I never would have known that it was all so recent (and hectic) if you hadn't told me. So lovely!

  3. Our horrible stairwell (raspberry pink carpeting that we pulled up and then left looking absolutely hideous for nearly three years) prompted us to get the floors refinished on nearly our entire house. We realized that the stairs touched *three* completely different colored stains of the original oak floors and the best plan was to simply get them all on the same page. We found an amazing Groupon (no joke) and got it all done for about half the price it should have been. And now it's all glorious. :)

    But, you guys did a GREAT job on your stairwell! I love the two tone look and B did a great job skim coating the risers! Great, great fix!


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