Staircase Makeover

Ashley Harding
by Ashley Harding
1 Material
You know those projects that just seem to drag on, like a looooong time?! Every time you think about tackling it, you take one look, then decide otherwise, settling for something a bit more manageable. Pretty soon you're so used to looking at the half done project that you don't even notice your home looks like a construction site. Well, that's definitely how I would categorize this project. I was really holding out, hoping that raw wood staircases were going to take the interior decorating world by storm. I mean really, stain and paint are so over rated anyways! Every major design magazine would be raving about this new trend, and I was going to be on the forefront of this style! So I waited, and waited some more. About a year into my waiting, I realized maybe I had mis-calculated this raw wood trend, and I would finally have to accept defeat and finish the staircase.
The staircase is actually just one small part of a full room renovation. While I can finally say the staircase is complete, that can not be said about the remainder or the room. Someone in our household agreed if I finished the staircase he would finish the window trim. I'm not naming names or anything, but there's only two members in our family, and it's not me! Anyways, back to the staircase...
Here is a Before shot.
I'm pretty sure when Led Zeppelin wrote 'Stairway to Heaven' this isn't what they were envisioning. Likewise, this wasn't the stairway I envisioned for my home either. The first step was to open up the staircase by knocking down the wall. In its place would be a proper railing with spindles. The treads and risers were also in rough shape, so we replaced those as well.
This step really opened up the room and gave us the feeling of a proper staircase. The only problem, it didn't really fit with the rest of the space. There was a lot of debate regarding what we should do with the walls and ceiling. We finally opted to rip down the knotty pine paneling and replace it with drywall, knock out the drop ceiling (which gave us an additional eight inches in height) and drywall the ceiling as well. We'll save all those details for another day though. However, you can see what an improvement that step made in the room!
That's maybe why I was so content with just leaving the staircase in this state for awhile. So that is exactly how it stayed - bare, raw, exposed wood. Meanwhile, I just sat by the phone waiting for Architectural Digest to call, wanting to photograph this new trend I was starting.
Finally, enough was enough! I don't remember what the catalyst was, or why I finally felt compelled to start this project, but one night, wine glass in one hand and paint brush in the other (a deadly combination I may add) I decided to tackle the staircase!
For the railings, stair treads and newel post, I went with Dark Walnut by Minwax. It is a deep, rich shade of brown. Before starting the staining process I removed all the risers which were going to be painted white.
It took three coats of stain before I achieved the rich shade I wanted. The final step was to seal the stain with polyurethane.
Once the staining process was complete, I turned my attention to the remaining part of the staircase, which I was planning on painting. I went with Snow Fall by Behr. This step included the balusters (which came primed), the risers and the trim along the side. To say the least, this process was tedious!
You see that smile on my face? It's fake. I'm not going to sit here and tell you this project was fun. But, the thought of a new and finished staircase was fun, so I kept on plugging away! Once everything was stained and painted, we nailed the risers back in place. I then did a good deal of touch up work - filling in nail holes, caulking any gaps, cleaning up paint splatters, etc. Until, the staircase was officially complete!
I love how fresh and crisp the white risers and balusters look against the rich walnut stain.
It creates a warm and inviting entryway, and sets the tone for the rest of the house.
The box newel is by far my favorite part of the staircase. It is solid and classic looking.
All products were purchased online from They have a robust selection of products that cover all styles and price points.
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Ashley Harding
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Frequently asked questions
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  • Maura Campbell Maura Campbell on Jan 10, 2018
    Did you dry wall over or remove the paneling? The stair treads and rails were only part of this project. Dry wall instead of paneling certainly created a much more elegant finish. But that, too is a big job. Big. So it is no wonder it took a while. There are a lot of us who couldn't attempt something so ambitious, but you did a phenomenal job!

  • Tina Tina on Jun 07, 2018

    I love this I have a totally dark wood stairway with stairs all the same color and they have a glossy sheen I'm trying to figure out what type of white paint will go right over of the shiny spindles and underside of the stairs---anyone know the answer to this? I don't have the time or energy to sand all of them down

  • Lbr33650786 Lbr33650786 on Sep 29, 2018

    What about paint with primer in it.

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