Before & After: Transforming a Boring Staircase

by Melissa
11 Months
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:
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
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  • Carolyn Carolyn on Jan 06, 2018
    where is the cold air return in the renovated stairs?

  • Diane Schule Diane Schule on Jan 06, 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?

  • Judi Judi on Jan 07, 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!

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