Turning the Stairway Into a Work of Unexpected Art...

by Megan
4 Materials
Creating art in unexpected places is one of my favorite things to do. My old farmhouse has a very tall stairway that you look directly into when sitting at the kitchen island, so I figured it was the perfect place for a little bit of unexpected art.
Our kitchen island is everyone's favorite gathering place. We have a 15 step staircase going up from our kitchen that is front and center when you are sitting at the island. It also acts as extra seating when we have a crowd in the kitchen... So during our kitchen remodel, my brother the painter decided to get it all out of the way at once and paint the stairs and the hallway while doing the kitchen. And it inspired me.

I am fascinated by mosaics, specifically broken china mosaics. And this is how the project was born...

I dug out all the old broken dishes and tiles I have been saving for years to do garden art, and found a box I purchased at a garage sale of already broken dishes. Most of them were white or white with a light pattern on them. So I designed a pattern of a center flower using the colored broken dishes and tiles, a vine using glass half-marbles from the dollar store, and a background of white (mixing in a funky patterned dish every now and then).

Above is the first step I did. I started on the middle step with a dandelion (My favorite flower).
I decided to do a dandelion every other step, and then abstract flowers every other step. I measured and marked each step with chalk so the flowers and vines were somewhat centered (but its art and they aren't perfect or identical). Once I got all the flowers and vines done, I started filling in the backgrounds like a puzzle.
I wanted to note that the first step I did I used a clear E6000 type glue. But I quickly realized that with the amount of area I would have to cover, and the smell and hassle of the glue, it would be easier and more economical to switch to a tile mastic. The mastic ended up being a better choice and a stronger bond. I simply spread the mastic on each piece of china with a plastic fork.

And that is my pup, Tiki, supervising my work...

[A little Mother's Day note: The purple toned flower right above the middle is my favorite. I had a small china teabag holder from my mother's china collection that I gently broke and put back together to create a flower in her memory
I am not going to lie. This project is not for the faint of heart. My stairs are steep and narrow and I did not have a comfortable place to sit while doing this. I almost gave up more than once. I could get about 1 step completed in an hour and a half, and did 2-3 steps a day. All in all, getting the pieces on there took me a little over 2 weeks (I had to step away a few times just to give myself a break). This picture is me working on the last group of steps. I was so happy I could have cried.
Now the grouting began.... Because I was using all sorts of different thickness and textures of tile and china, I had to grout completely by hand. I was dreading this, but it ended up not being too bad. It was, however, one of the messiest things I have ever done. Working from the top step down and wearing rubber gloves, I simply picked up handfuls of grout (Premixed charcoal color to match the stairs and make the colors pop) and smeared it over the glued on mosaic. Then I would wipe it off the face of the pattern. I used a traditional grout sponge, old dish towels, even paper towel. Whatever worked for each individual step. They were all completely different. This picture was taken after my first 4 stairs were grouted and wiped as clean as I could get them. There was still ALOT of grout haze and some pieces were partially covered in chunks of grout.
And here is the finished project! After grouting all the steps, which took me about 3 days, I let it sit and cure. Then I went back with an acid solution made specifically for cleaning grout off tiles and scrubbed each step riser with a nylon bristle brush. I scraped areas where there was too much grout and made sure all the pieces were visible. Then I went back and polished each piece of china individually.

I am glad I stuck to it. I am thrilled with the way it came out. It ended up looking like stained glass. We call it the Stairway to Heaven.
Suggested materials:
  • Broken Tiles and Dishes   (Wherever we could find them)
  • Glass half-marbles   (Dollar Store)
  • Tile Mastic   (Lowes)
See all materials
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
  1 question
  • Kke3198147 Kke3198147 on May 08, 2016
    Are you concerned about the added weight to the stair structure?

Join the conversation
2 of 122 comments
  • Msg8120498 Msg8120498 on Jul 02, 2016
    Absolutely beautiful!! I wonder how well it will stand up to careless feet hitting the risers after all that work, I think I would think very seriously about terrible revenge on anyone who damaged it!

  • Candace Candace on Oct 08, 2020

    Bravo! A wonder of imagination, expression and execution! I am agog!