'80s Banister and Entryway Update

Michaela Dodd
by Michaela Dodd
2 Days
Our '80s banister in our tri-level house was an orange-colored oak. I replaced the oak trim with white and changed the entryway closet door. Replacing the banister was too expensive, so I stained it dark brown.
Shortly after we moved into our awesome ’80s house, I painted all the trim on the main floor white. I hoped it would brighten and update the space. And it did—sorta. But it also called attention to the orangey-brown door, remaining trim, and banisters.

In our tri-level house, this area is also our entryway, and the first thing you see when you walk in.So I decided to change out that door, which opens to a coat closet, and paint the rest of the trim.

But it took me six years. I thought if I changed out that one door, I’d be committed to changing out every door in the house. And that would be expensive, and time consuming. And we didn’t know how long we’d be in the house, and if that’d be a good use of our resources. So we lived with the above mismatched look in our entry way to avoid another, less conspicuous area being mismatched. And in case we needed to entice someone to buy it from us.

I know. I don’t get it either. You could call me risk averse.
But eventually I did replace that door and paint the trim on top of those half-walls. So for a little while, it was our orangey ’80s banisters that stood out.

If you don’t live in an area whose main housing boom occurred in the ’80s, you might not be familiar with this type of banister. In our area, they’re pretty common. There’s not a curved line in sight, and they’re almost proud of their nontraditional plainness. But I didn’t know how to update it without replacing it, and I didn’t have the budget for that.
I knew that painting them white would be an easy fix, but I like it when banisters offer a visual contrast. So I decided to try to stain them a dark, espresso brown, knowing paint could still be a backup plan. We have three small banisters, and two of them are mounted directly to the wall. I decided to try these first, since I was able to remove them and work on them in the garage.

The pictures of this process are terrible since my garage has horrible lighting. Go figure. But first I sanded the banisters with my rotating sander. Then I stripped off several layers of poly with a citrus stripper and a plastic scraper. I also scrubbed them with a natural mineral spirits and a sanding sponge. It was a very messy, very time consuming process. After I got down to the wood, I used General Finishes Gel Stain in Java. It worked great, and it’s very forgiving. Had I known how forgiving, I would have skipped a few steps.
But after getting the banisters back on the wall, I wasn’t sure how to tackle the remaining one, since I couldn’t take it to the garage. I tried hard to find products that wouldn’t produce harmful, strong fumes. They worked pretty good, but they still had a strong smell. One I didn’t want to permeate my house. And the process was so messy, I was reluctant to bring it inside. So, more months of mismatch.
Eventually I got brave and decided to skip everything but the sanding. I sanded a lot, but I didn’t use anything else. The picture below shows what the banister looked like after one coat. It was blotchy in a few places, but it was going to work.
After another coat the blotches were starting to blend in. I never got a perfectly consistent finish, but it’s only noticeable if you stare at the banister from a certain angle. Fortunately, we never do that.
This is what it looks like now. I think the color ties in the rustic beams overhead, and I really like the contrast with the white trim.
Here's another shot of our entryway before we changed out the closet door and painted the trim on the half walls.
This is the angle of the banister that is visible from our front door. So much better, right? I like the high contrast of the dark wood and white trim.

This project was worth all the effort.
Michaela Dodd
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
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3 of 4 questions
  • River River on Jun 30, 2019

    Would I have to get "all" the paint off my banisters to do this? Mine look horrible, I painted them over painted ones and now the paint is chipped and peeling and look like crapola now but I don't want to send the rest of my life doing them either. Lol!!

  • Bobby Bobby on Jul 23, 2019

    I have a similar but smaller banister or handrail that I'm going to place on my wall, but a traditional bracket that holds it underneath I don't believe will work properly. How did you mount your handrail to the wall? The piece of wood I have is 2in thick 3 ft long and 8in wide.

  • Kelsey Erin Kelsey Erin on Nov 20, 2020

    I love the dark contrast with white trim. What is the paint color on your walls?

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  • Mary Mary on Dec 29, 2016
    Brenda Parry, great idea! I wouldn't have thought about that. I even refinish furniture. I'll have to give that a try. Thanks for sharing!!
  • The Snarky Princess The Snarky Princess on Aug 12, 2019

    I’m in the process of finding a new home. And our area is riddled with the 80s orange also. I cringe when I see the house all done up with that color. I’m so thankful for posts like yours and others on Pinterest. Yes it will require some elbow grease to update but I absolutely love the transformation. Looks wonderful m! Thanks for sharing