Before & After Staircase Transformation

12 Materials
3 Weeks

If you’re looking to update that 80s eyesore honey oak staircase, you’ve come to the right place for inspiration. This was a true labor of love and worth every minute spent updating our staircase.

The After Transformation

When we moved into our home, over 17 years ago, I fell in love with the shape of the staircase but hated the 80’s honey oak finish. I knew that one day I would take on the project of updating it but didn’t know that it would be 17 years later. Actually, about seven years ago, we made a slight update to the staircase spindles. The spindles used to be honey oak but we had them removed and added the wrought iron spindles. I have been able to live with it but still could not get past seeing orange all over my stairs and home. Fast forward to three weeks ago, when I decided to finally dive into this project. Initially I thought I’d just paint over the entire staircase but once I exposed the wood that was under all the orange stain, I knew that we would be staining instead of painting. I won’t lie, it was one of the most tedious and frustrating projects that I have taken on to date but I will say that I am so glad that we took it on and that it is finally completed. It truly was a labor of love and we love how it turned out and I was so grateful that my husband helped me so much. I’m also so very thankful that 2 of my closest friends came over to help me as well when I had questions.

The Before

Lots of honey oak right and doesn’t it scream 😱 the 80s. As beautiful as we thought our staircase was, we never did get accustomed to all the orange. I think that most will agree that it needed an update. Little did I know that the project was going to take a lot longer than I expected and would require a lot of sanding. Initially I thought I’d sand off the existing stain on the entire staircase but decided against that. We opted to sand off the stain on the railing and the balusters but any part of the stairs that had veneer, we decided to paint over it. Thank God we did that because I started confusing my hands for sandpaper 😳 Seriously, our hands felt like sandpaper from all the sanding we were doing.

The sanding begins

Can you see the raw wood? Once I saw this, I knew I would have to sand and stain instead of painting. We just loved the wood but knew our easy project would be turning into a bigger and messy project and that it would be taking a lot more time! The first thing we did was clean the staircase well, using TSP.

Orbital sanding

Using an orbital sander with a 60 and 80 grit was a lifesaver because the original polyurethane finish was so thick. The orbital sander was perfect for the top of the railing but not so much for the smaller areas and the nooks and crannies on the balusters.

The details

After folding and shaping sandpaper into every possible shape that I could think of in order to sand those small spaces, we decided to purchase a detail sander. The detail sander was very helpful for those small tight spaces but still needed to use folded sand paper for even tighter spaces. I recommend getting one for projects like this.

Meet my friend Dremel

My very close friend who also is a huge DIYer knew what I got myself into and took it upon herself to help me with the details. She loves wood working and I love painting and didn’t know what a dremel even was 😂 She thought it would make my sanding life easier AND it did! However, if you’re going to use it, make sure you don’t apply too much pressure because it will damage your wood and even chip it. I recommend using it just be gentle with the pressure you apply.

Sanding completed

Look at the wood, 🥰 no more orange except for the areas that will be painted. I can’t stress how excited we were when we were at this point. No more living in a cloud of dust!!!

The stain

I chose to go with a rich and warm color, so I chose an oil based, Dark Walnut by Minwax. The smell was strong but it was so easy to work with and I used a sponge brush to apply it. I chose not to pre-condition the wood prior to staining because being that this is oak, the color wasn’t taking on a dark rich color with the conditioner. I tried a sample of it before making the final decision to not use the pre-conditioner.

Staining is done ✅

I only applied one coat of stain because I liked the color it took on after the one coat and then allowed it to dry for 24 hours before applying the polyurethane finish.

My friend Poly

Let me tell you, I was so happy to know we got to the step of applying the polyurethane because I knew it meant we were almost done. I wiped the railing stain with a damp cloth, applied a coat of poly with a brush, allowed it to dry for 24 hours, sanded with a 220 grit, applied a second coat, and allowed it to dry another 24 hours.

Extra fine sanding

For the final sanding or buffing, I used an extra fine steel wool after the last 24 hours of dry time. This was a huge relieve because it meant I was done with the staining and next was the painting portion of our project.

Shellac primer

When it was time for prepping for the painting, I first used a shellac primer by Zinsser. I love this stuff and have used it for many other projects. It truly blocks stains and provides a smooth finished look.

The Emerald finish

PEOPLE! I had no idea how great this type of paint was until I consulted with Sherwin Williams. I used Incredible White (in my option, the most beautiful white evaaaa 🙌🏻) in an Emerald interior finish at a whopping $95 a gallon and worth every penny! Thank God I only needed one gallon 😂 Anyway, this paint is also a stain blocker, has a smooth finish, has exceptional coverage and dries hard over time, which makes your project look as if it was an original finish. This is Sherwin Williams finest paint and I wish I would’ve known about it when I painted my kitchen cabinets. Want to know something else I found out, this Emerald finish paint was used to paint the most recent refurbishing project of painting the Hollywood sign 😳

Project completed ✅🙌🏻

🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻 And it’s finished thank God, 3 weeks of our lives was spent on this project and it was truly a labor of love and we are so happy with the transformation! My poor husband had the job of doing all the dirty work, in my opinion. He cleaned, taped, helped sand, tons and in the most tightest areas, he was just so great!!!

A different view

Here is a different view from above the staircase. We think it truly warmed up our home but guess what? The 80s orange honey oak is also on our master room door which is visible from the downstairs lol guess what our next project will be. I hope this has inspired you and if you want to follow along on my world of DIY projects and more, please follow along on Instagram at

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Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

3 of 6 questions
  • Jo Ellen Jo Ellen on Oct 26, 2019

    I have read that TSP tends to be sticky and hard to clean up. Did you not find that? I want to refinish my cabinets, and you may have given me the guts to do it! Here is my Honey oak that has to go! Nervous ... gel or reg stain?! 😬

  • Linda Murphy Linda Murphy on Oct 27, 2019

    Where did you get your couch as pictured in

  • Janet Allen Janet Allen on Aug 08, 2020

    This is beautiful and I have done some work on our staircases as well - removing carpet and applying a darker gel stain. However, the banister is still the honey oak and I want to continue working on this project but the dust from sanding is my concern as it goes everywhere:( I use a palm sander with bag attachment but it doesn’t capture all the dust.

    Any suggestions to complete the banisters without all the dust?


Join the conversation

4 of 122 comments
  • Susie Susie on Aug 19, 2021

    Stunning job!

  • Jackson Jackson on Sep 23, 2021

    Good grief ! What a JOB !!! I liked it before, too. But looking at your floor I can see, that you wanted to change it. It looks picture perfect ! I shudder just thinking of the work behind it. And all the cleaning. Very, very good job and a hat-off to your husband, too. And your friends :-).

    • Irma | mycreativekneads Irma | mycreativekneads on Sep 27, 2021

      Haha Jackson, “good grief what’s job” is correct. I would never do it again and thank God I don’t need to. Thank you so much for your kind compliment. The dust was a mess and we did have to get the carpet cleaned. Thank you again!