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Changing Nasty Carpeted Stairs to Mosaic Garden Path Magic!

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This is an edited edition of a previous post to give you more information and instructions as requested.
I wanted to use our bonus room over the garage as a projects room, and wanted to be inspired as I walked up to work every day. Since I was going to have the bonus room redone to install tile in place of the carpeting, I figured to go all out and redo the awful carpeted stairs (old carpet and hard to vacuum) so that the entire stairway would be a teaser for creativity. I don't know about you, but when I see interesting and creative ANYTHING, it gets my brain in gear.
I knew I wanted to use mosaic tile on the stair risers. I LOVE mosaic and have done everything from flower pots to fireplace screens and whole floors. I figured that I could tackle stairs. I looked online and found several blogs and images of incredible mosaic stair projects for inspiration, and enlisted my sister to help me. For time's sake, I decided that while I did want a pattern, I did not want a detailed and exact replica of anything, so using my outside garden as an inspiration, a plan for the stairs took shape. Why not have a garden path traveling up the stairs with masses of flowers on either side? Here’s how the transformation happened:
Time: 40 Hours Cost: $200.00 Difficulty: Medium
First step was to get rid of that carpeting. Ripping it up was the easy part. It was sort of dismaying to see the ugliness of the stairs. My original thought had been to just paint the treads and mosaic the risers, but the treads were 2x4s (2) with a BIG gap between them and there were some major gaps on the sides where the carpeting had filled in. Painting them would NOT make them look much better. So, we decided to call a contractor and install real treads---fairly expensive, but totally worth the cost. The treads are gorgeous!
Second step. Our pattern included a row of 2”x2” tiles at the top of each riser. We cut strips from 12” sheets of these mosaic tiles to fit across the entire length of each riser and glued them directly to the wood using premixed tile thinset. They were allowed to dry overnight.
Third step was to measure the width and length of each step (yes, they vary somewhat to accommodate the landing and the turn in the staircase). We cut strips of white paper to fit each riser and numbered them. Then we laid out all the strips and taped them edge to edge to make one long piece of paper.
Fourth step was the fun part: We took some of the actual tile that was going to be part of the mosaic and laid it out on the taped together white paper to get a feel for what it would look like. Then, we just drew around our tile with a magic marker to get a pattern of the garden path and the flowers on each side. It wasn't detailed and it wasn't exact---remember, I just wanted the illusion of a garden path
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
Fifth step. Once we had our pattern, we took the paper strips apart. Each piece of paper had the outline of the path and flowers and was a pattern for its assigned stair. We then stapled the pattern piece to a board and put a piece of clear plastic drop cloth on top so we could see the pattern. A strip of fiberglass screen cut to size went on top of the plastic. All three pieces were stapled securely to the board.
Sixth step was to dry-fit the tile pieces by filling in the pattern on each paper strip. Once we were satisfied with how they fit together, we hand-buttered each piece of tile with premixed tile thinset and glued each piece directly onto the fiberglass. Wear latex gloves! That thinset sticks on anything! Each riser was completed this same way and allowed to dry for at least 24 hours. We ended up with fifteen long narrow mosaic pieces----- one for each riser.
Seventh step. I was bound and determined that those beautiful hardwood treads would be protected, so we used heavy duty plastic and LOTS of tape to cover all the treads. This was a labor intensive step, but I would never have skipped it. Dried thinset and/or grout is not pretty on wood and it hard to get off.
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
Eighth step was to clean up the mosaic riser strips after they dried. I like to use different sized wooden craft sticks to scrape away dried glue. Sometimes I use some old dental tools my dental hygienist gave me to really scrape stubborn glue. Depending on the finish, some tiles can be scratched if you get too energetic, so use care in cleaning them. After scraping, I usually wipe with a clean wet (water) rag to get remaining debris.
Ninth step. Now, we really get to see progress! Each mosaic riser piece was glued in place using premixed tile thinset. This is where it proved worthwhile to measure each riser and make the pieces to measure. We left a small ¼ inch gap on each side that would be filled with grout. Even with the first few risers glued in place, we knew we had a winner in this project! After all the riser mosaics had been glued, we let them dry for several days, but overnight would have been long enough.
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
Tenth step was grouting. I don’t like TO grout, but I love the results! It creates such a finished look to most mosaic projects and it hides a lot of mistakes. Starting at the top of the stairs, we hand-grouted each riser strip with premixed off-white grout according to directions on the bucket. Tip: Some premixed grout has a resin in it that it very hard to remove when dry. Be sure to wipe your grouted tiles with a clean wet sponge until you can't see a hazy surface. We didn’t wipe it down quite enough and had a devil of a time getting it nice and clean after it dried. Once again, it was proven that covering the stairs with the plastic was worth the trouble. Grout is messy!
Check out the finished stairs!
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
The colors don't show up very well, but the path is a dark coffee color and the "flowers" on the sides are purple tile
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
Here's a little more of a close-up. If you look closely, you can see the purple!
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
  • nasty carpeted stairs go to mosaic garden path magic , stairs
Now I have a garden path and flowers up to my project room! So, yes, it was a lot of work, but it wasn’t difficult. Do I want to do another set of stairs? Not in this lifetime, but I’m in love with these!

Materials I used for this project:

  • Broken tile   (thrift store, Home Depot, leftover from another project)
  • Thinset   (Home Depot)
  • Grout   (Home Depot)
See all materials
  • Mmmmmm
    Mmmmmm Schenectady, NY
    on Jul 26, 2017

    horrivel

  • S
    S Seattle, WA
    on Jul 26, 2017

    So clever! Gorgeous project!

  • Kathy Allison
    Kathy Allison
    on Jul 27, 2017

    What a great idea, the look is fabulous! I don't have stairs but would seriously consider this if I did.

  • Dana Mitchell Alexander
    Dana Mitchell Alexander
    on Jul 28, 2017

    would have been easier if you had waited on the dark wood for the steps till after the tile project and just measured the board??

  • Rhona Vitagliano
    Rhona Vitagliano
    on Aug 2, 2017

    I had my risers mirrored and the staircase looks great. Since it is opposite the front door they reflect the light and when looking in from the outside the stairs look like they are floating.

Inspired? Will you try this project? Let the author know!