Before & After: Transforming a Boring Staircase

11 Months
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When my husband and I bought our house, we started off with the totally uninspired builder-grade staircase that came with it.
It was blah and boring. And the carpeting? It became dirty and dingy almost immediately. Bad idea to put carpeting on stairs. The whole thing added absolutely nothing to the front hall in which it was located.
Remember the mysterious black monolith from '2001: A Space Odyssey'? That big block of drywall you see below between the first and second flight of stairs was its cousin. A big, white, Thing that loomed over and dominated the front hall and the stairs and made anyone standing in the front hall feel like they were standing at the bottom of a deep, white, featureless well.
After looking at countless photos online and in magazines featuring gorgeous, distinctive-looking staircases, I decided that we needed to banish the white monolith (or at least diminish its overwhelming presence in our front hall) and add some architectural detail to bring a little character to the stairs and make this feature more of an entry statement for our front hall. As with all our home improvement projects, we totally underestimated how long this would take (I seem to remember hearing 'Oh, it should only take us a few months to get it done'). I think it took us about a year.
My husband started by ripping out the half walls that extended along the second story halls; tearing out the carpeting that covered the treads and risers, removing the existing balusters and newels---
----and lowering the stair-stepped top of that central feature. He also removed the old wall on the first flight, so that we could see the profile of the risers and treads. Of course, this part of the project went the quickest-- I think it took my husband no more than one or two weekends to rip everything out.
What a difference all that demo made! Comparing the photo below to the previous 'before' photos shown at the beginning of this post, you can see how much more open and airy the staircase already is, even in this rough, unfinished state. It was the next stage, the finish work, that took many months. We started off with a rough sketch of what we wanted the end result to look like, but as with all our projects, there was a lot of learning-as-we go and adjustments and modifications to the overall design concept (much to my husband's deep frustration). My husband re-plastered everything--- the now-tamed 'monolith', the walls on the stairs and front hall (we wanted a smooth paneled look, instead of the ugly textured plaster that also came with the house)--
We used the red oak treads available at Lowes and red-oak newels from a stair-parts supplier and stained them a medium dark walnut color.
Adding molding and wall frames, along with a little bookcase/display area on the first flight and decorative stair brackets, and then finishing (including sanding the new plaster-- very dirty work!) and painting everything took the longest. But it was these final details gave the space some much needed character, which was our primary reason for starting this project in the first place.
There was quite a bit of wasted space under the stairs, so we decided to turn the area under the first landing into a little storage cubby. Currently, it houses all the tools we are using for other ongoing home improvement projects, however I intend to ultimately use this storage area as a garage for our vacuum cleaner and rug cleaner.
I diligently studied several books on trimwork and molding applications and actually created an Excel spreadsheet that calculated the placement of the wall-frames based on a formula I found in one of the books.
The stairs have become such a fun place to decorate....
....a unique place to display collections, books, and fresh flowers....
I won't say that this project has been easy and it certainly took much longer than we anticipated, but it definitely accomplished what we set out to do-- which was to transform our stairs and front hall from the basic, builder-grade features that they were into something unique and pretty and more in tune with the rest of our house.
For more information on our stair-transformation project please visit my blog at the following location:

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Melissa

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!

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Have a question about this project?

8 questions
  • Eroque022810
    on Dec 10, 2016

    I noticed, after you removed carpet there was white paint or glue on your steps,what was it and how did you handle this, if paint, no need to explain if glue,please explain. Thank you.

    • Eileen
      on Jan 6, 2018

      I'm not positive but I think that may be felted rug pad that had been stapled to the steps. It looks just like what we had on our stairs that we recently redid.
    • Gwen Little
      on Jan 6, 2018

      It seems new treads were used on top of the mess.
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      The white stuff you see on the tread sub-floor in the before photos was probably glue and paint. My husband sanded all that away before installing the oak treads.
  • Jo-Anne
    on Jan 6, 2018

    wow! you are good! How much do you charge to do this in other peoples home
    s? You could start a business,turned out so beautiful!
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      Thank you! As of right now, we don’t do this as a business.
  • Barb Renninger
    on Jan 6, 2018

    BEAUTIFUL! Did you make the decorative pieces on the sides of stairs? The one that looks a curve. Gotta have that. Thank you.
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      No, those are stair brackets that we purchased from a stair supply place online. I don’t remember which one it was, but if you search for stair supplies you should see a list of online stores.
  • SueBee
    on Jan 6, 2018

    In the before picture, it looks like there is an A/C grate where the closet door is in the finished project. Did you have to re-route any duct work or was it just a decorative grate? Great use of wasted space there. Thanks!
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      We kept the air return under the stairs, behind the double louvered doors you see in the after photo. We did not have to re-route any ducts.

  • Becky E.
    on Jan 6, 2018

    What did you do with the cold air return?
    • May15112606
      on Jan 6, 2018

      Yes! That’s my question as well!
    • Jewellmartin
      on Jan 6, 2018

      This is fantastic! But you need those air returns. I foresee a triangle with built in wooden slats to allow air through. With hinges so the filter can be changed. ☺️
    • Janice
      on Jan 6, 2018

      I have a small house so made the stairs open plan. Heat travels up so no cold air.
    • Lilpixiestixxx
      on Jan 6, 2018

      IF you look they put double slatted doors under the stairs I'm sure so the return could work.
    • Becky E.
      on Jan 6, 2018

      No, under the stairs is tool storage for now and later for her vac. etc.
      Slatted doors is not enough for air return. Need filters & ductwork.
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      The air return is behind the double louvered doors under the first landing.
    • Kathryn Nuttall
      on Jan 7, 2018

      But your article says that is now tool storage (clearly stated "under the first landing"), so which is it...air return or storage cubby?
  • Carolyn
    on Jan 6, 2018

    where is the cold air return in the renovated stairs?
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      Under the landing, behind the double louvered doors.
  • Diane Schule
    on Jan 6, 2018

    So beautiful, a huge success! I have many questions, so I will read the blog for more detail, but, for now: same question about the air return and ductwork under the front landing, and from what point was that last photo shot? Looks like the reverse of the first flight, shot through some sort of wooden frame? The stairs aren't duplicated on the back side, are they?
    • Melissa
      on Jan 6, 2018

      The air return remained under the landing, behind the double louvered doors. The last photo was taken facing towards the mirror located opposite from the stairs.
    • Mag27718436
      on Jan 7, 2018

      So that final shot is actually a flipped version of the original! Either by mirror or by reversing the photo, and it does look like a different view because of the stair angle. Artistically appealing, but confusing to follow. I finally realized that the articles in the "cubbies" are exactly the same!
  • Jjs1326435
    on Jan 7, 2018

    Where did you find the beautiful swirl trim under each of the stairs? I love the detail an how it finishes the edge and adds eye candy!
    • Melissa
      on Jan 7, 2018

      I purchased the stair brackets from an online stair supply store. I’m afraid I don’t remember the name or link.

Join the conversation

2 of 207 comments
  • Bgray
    on Jan 9, 2018

    Simply BEAUTIFUL!!! I love the open, airy look of spindle staircases vs. the half-wall ones so many of the builders are doing now. Love the the little bookcase and all the decorative molding. Just WOW! Give yourself a well deserved pat-on-the-back.
  • Jennifer Thompson
    on Jan 15, 2018

    Incredibly stunning!! Well done!
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