The staircase makeover

before and after

Our staircase has undergone a major makeover. When we bought the house, the stairs were looking a little droopy– it was pulling away from the wall at each step to reveal a half inch gap at each tread, plus some treads were loose. The post and banister were extremely wobbly to the touch and clearly could not support someone leaning on it. Further, the wood steps looked pretty rough, and the banister and post had been worn down almost to raw wood. To make matters worse, someone wrote on the gorgeous post in sharpie (why!?) and the sealant was all bubbly and discolored.

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Before: faded, worn down, and sad!
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Someone defiled the beautiful post with sharpie!
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The 1/2 inch gap at each tread due caused by drooping stairs.

We knew we wanted the original stairs to be a beautiful statement piece immediately upon entering the home, so we got some quotes from floor refinishers on how much it would cost to fix her up. Let me tell you–it is NOT cheap. The estimates ranged from $3800 to pure insanity. These companies claim that it’s super expensive to refinish banisters and spindles, and recommended painting the whole thing white. We did NOT want to sacrifice the beautiful wooden details on our staircase, so we decided to tackle the project ourselves!

Task 1: Fix wobbly post and loose treads

Jeremy used a nail gun to literally nail the wobbly post back into a secure, immobile position. It was much easier than we expected. Our plan B that we didn’t resort to would have required us to install an L-bracket and cover it with baseboard molding like this:

Image result for stair post brackets

He also nailed the lose treads down so they don’t wobble on each step anymore! With just several nails, he was able to stabilize the entire staircase and avoid many thousands of dollars of work that several contractors had quoted us! The lesson here is ALWAYS try a simple fix first, before shelling out the big bucks.

Task 2: Re-stain banister and posts

We decided to remove what remained of the original stain and start over, to ensure consistent color throughout the entire banister and 3 posts. First, we stripped the stain off using Citristrip (which is a horribly messy process). Then we conditioned the raw wood to prepare it to take on the new stain. Then we applied to new stain (in red mahogany) in two coats. Finally, I applied four coats of polyurethane to seal the whole thing up. At this point in October, we haven’t turned the heat on yet to avoid construction dust infiltrating our HVAC system, so it took a long time for each step to dry properly.

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The freshly restored banister after the stain and 4 coats of polyurethane dried!

Task 3: Paint stringer and spindles

Unfortunately, it is simply too labor and time intensive to re-stain the spindles and wall stringer (a.k.a. the baseboard), so we have decided to go the route that many renovated row houses in DC do and paint them white. We will still have the beautiful wooden panel below the staircase in all it’s original stained-wood glory. These are the difficult trade-offs that we have to make since we are trying to do most of the work ourselves.  We primed and painted the baseboard trim, wall stringer, and the spindles to match the rest of the trim in our house (Benjamin Moore Super White). We were careful to not paint the steps white, but didn’t worry TOO much since we knew they’d be sanded and refinished the next week.

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Painting the spindles white
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We don’t look happy because painting spindles is NO FUN

Task 4: Paint wall

Around the same time, we painted the wall a beautiful dark blue. We decided to go with Champion Cobalt–a gorgeous deep blue that will also be the color of our kitchen cabinets. I had studied Emily Henderson’s rules for incorporating “Modern Victorian” style into my home, and I think I *nailed it* with this deep, moody blue.

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Newly painted wall, spindles and stringer (baseboard).

I painted the small, triangle-shaped wall under the staircase after we moved into the house, and Olive thought she could help somehow.

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We plan to install the baseboard trim next week

Task 4: Refinish steps

After completing the above steps, we had the treads and risers professionally refinished to bring them back to their glory. We had them stained red mahogany to match the banister and post. We decided not to refinish the floors ourselves for various reasons, but I’ll always wonder if we could have done it ourselves with the same lovely result.

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Our beautiful staircase has come back to life!

Task 5: Caulk the gap

We don’t know if we need to caulk the gap at each step anymore, as it is no longer such an eyesore. Perhaps we will wait til the spring to decide what to do.

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The gap at each step is still there but somehow less obvious

For now, we LOVE our staircase. It was worth the work to refinish it ourselves, and will hopefully bring beauty to this house for another hundred years.

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