Aah, our stairs. We’ve been slowly – very, very slowly! – working on them since we moved into this house two summers ago. After taking down a handful of walls to open the foyer (the first step to transition our two-flat into the single family home it is now), ripping up the old maroon carpet and encasing the chipped, cracked paint with oil-based primer, we let it be. We let it be for almost a whole year, and we allowed our primed stairs to fall into disrepair once again, and so finally, we told ourselves that it was time.
Because we have a back staircase that connects all the floors in the house (you might remember that our master bedroom – the ex-second-floor-kitchen – has a door), we wanted to tackle this project before the cold settled in, allowing us to use those back stairs while paint dries on the interior staircase. And because the main stairs were never properly completed, we had a bit more groundwork to lay. The good news is that we’ve completed the project, they look amazing (yup, biased!), so let’s get to it!
3M™ Wood Filler
ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape
Paintable latex caulk
White exterior paint (risers/stringers)
Black floor & patio paint (treads)
3M™ Safety Products (respirator and eyewear)
Sandpaper / electric sander
2″ angled paint brush
4″ foam roller
WHAT WE DID. Just like the priming step, we worked with 3M DIY once again to get our stairs up to snuff. The stairs themselves weren’t terrible, but primer isn’t meant to stand on its own without a hardened top coat, and so the treads had started to chip. Although these 130-year-old stairs are solid as a rock, we had gradually noticed more pocks and dents appear, which is to be expected in a house of this age. Using 3M™ Wood Filler, we patched in what we could, bearing in mind that they weren’t ever going to be perfect. But isn’t that part of the charm in an old house?
To eliminate the fine dust that kicks up during sanding, I attached our orbital sander to our shop vac (which has a HEPA filter) – also being sure to wear a respirator and glasses. It was a bit tricky to do this on stairs (I had to move the vacuum to the first floor halfway through and balance it along the steps on a few occasions), but it was absolutely worth it! There was virtually no dusty clean-up, although I still wiped everything down with a microfiber cloth when I was finished.
Next, I used a paintable, flexible latex caulk to seal in the cracks and gaps around the stringers, risers and cove molding under each tread. Below on the left, you can see the stairs with caulk vs. the ones without; I swear, caulk is the glue that holds an old home together – what can’t it hide? Once the caulk had dried completely, I applied 2 coats of Ultra Pure White Behr® paint in semi-gloss exterior (we figured it couldn’t hurt in a high traffic area!) on all the stringers and risers. Already, the difference was astounding!
We let this dry overnight, and the next day, it was time to move on to the most impactful part of the project – the treads! You saw that we chose Sherwin Williams® Tricorn Black, and we purchased it in the Floor & Patio paint with a satin finish. (The F&P paint has a more flexible finish, allowing it to move with the wood, preventing future cracking.)
With such a high contrast look, I very carefully taped off the stringers with ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape. As mentioned previously, we were ready to accept that these stairs would never look brand new, but not wanting to sacrifice a clean edge, I made sure to rub the tape firmly along every divot and ripple I encountered. (Which, by the way, was still a lot!) Note: If you’re also tackling a large project, I’d recommend testing the tape on a small inconspicuous area beforehand.
Starting at the top and working my way down, I used a brand new 2″ angled brush and kept a steady hand as I painted along the sides of the treads and around each bullnose. I chose to not tape those areas for two reasons: 1) time and 2) the existing trimwork was a bit of an obstacle I wanted to avoid. After cutting in, I took a 4″ foam roller and covered each tread with thin coats. This was repeated a total of three times, with two hours between each coat so that it was, at the very least, dry to the touch.
Two hours after the final coat of Tricorn Black went on, I took a touch-up can of my white paint back to the top, and I began peeling away all the tape. I held my breath, hoped for the best, and found that I was very pleasantly surprised! With the somewhat rough texture of the treads and risers (for real, no amount of sanding would ever get these stairs totally smooth!), I needed to course correct only a couple of treads. I’ll be honest and say that I was somewhat skeptical to use tape, but I knew the results would be much better than free handing it along the almost-3′-width, and I was confident in my diligence to really seal down the edges.
This project was purposely completed the day before we left for Portland, which would allow everything to dry and harden for a full seven days with no temptation for use – that is, with the exception of the kitties’ paws. In total, I spent close to three days on these final steps (pun intended?), as each component required downtime before starting the next. It’s been close to a month since we’ve had the new look, and so far, so good! There is one step close to the tiled entryway that has received a small (and I mean small, small) scrape, but this is also known as the launch-pad-step from which Jack and CC take their flying leap towards the living room. As they do.
Can we please rewind one year and see how far these stairs have come? To call this project a labor of love would be the Understatement of the Year. Starting at the upstairs landing, we knocked down the partition wall for the second floor apartment (eliminating an unnecessary coat closet and raising the stairwell ‘ceiling’ in the process), removed the deteriorating carpet and spent hours upon hours pulling up a century’s worth of padding, staples and nails.
By installing the below knee wall, natural light from that window can now flood into my studio space! A thick, hunky slab of walnut was stained and used as a wall cap, the same dark stain was used for our handrail, and the landing floor was patched in with matching hardwood:
When you enter our home, the stairs are the very first thing you see. On moving day, we were greeted by another door that led to the first floor apartment. Again, it was one of the first things we were thrilled to demolish, and when the carpet came up, so did a not-so-mysterious, stale and filthy scent.
And when you walk in now? Navy! Brass! Cleanliness! (Maddie!)
The view from our living room has improved, too! After discovering this adorable arch hiding beneath lathe and drywall, we – sort of on a whim – decided to mimic the same arch in the studio. While we were at it, we widened this doorway a good foot (or two), giving that entryway we’ve worked so hard on more presence in the home. We’ve poured so much into it; why not?
We were warned by a few (and even read a few tutorial and articles on the topic) that black and white stairs, while classic, can require quite a bit of upkeep. Yes, we do need to run our handheld vacuum along the treads a few times a week, but overall, we’ve found that it looks much better than our all-white-primed stairs ever did! We’re toying with the idea of adding a runner, but it would mostly be to inject some pattern and color. The hunt isn’t yet active, but it’s not out of the question down the road.
Also? If you look closely, you can see where the treads have been worn down in the middle, and there are telltale signs of age on every surface. And you know what? We love that.
Looking from the foyer into our living room, we find that we’re slowly unfolding a whole house color palette that feels new to us. Blacks, grays, shades of white, deep navy and bright red! Our love of color has always been a part of us (orange bedroom, anyone?), but it feels different this time around. This old house has been a learning experience in every way, and these stairs have been one of our biggest challenges. As we continually stumble into funny little issues, we’ll say, let’s call this an old house quirk! We’ve got a lot of those – but we never expected to embrace them so wholeheartedly.
I’m excited to be a 3M sponsored blogger, and as part of my responsibilities, I evaluate products from 3M DIY. Opinions are my own and additional product used in the project were selected by me. Looking to get inspired? Visit 3M DIY on Instagram, Pinterest , Facebook and Twitter!
Like a habit we can’t kick, every time we walk past the guest room, we have to open the door and stare at the wallpaper. It’s just so pretty! And shiny!
We only wanted to do one accent wall, as it was a way for us to create a zone for seating, a small light and perhaps a tiny table. This isn’t the first time we’ve done wallpaper in one of our homes, but it was the first time we’ve hung it using a traditional pasting method (our first foray came pre-pasted). We were a little nervous before jumping in, and although there’s always a bit of panic when the first strip goes up, it’s really not bad at all – in fact, let’s wallpaper everything! (Okay, maybe not everything. But most things?)
Keeping with a traveled, city-esque theme – this’ll be a cozy crash pad for out-of-towners, after all! – we picked up a roll of Cities Toile from Hygge & West. The quality is outstanding (bonus: it’s screen printed in Chicago!), and we still cannot get over how perfectly gold the metallics are, how smooth and matte the black runs and, well, we just love it!
WHAT WE USED:
Paint roller + tray
Wallcovering paste (1 quart per roll)
Bucket of water
Wide putty knife
Knife with new blade
WHAT WE DID. We did prep the walls first with a wallpaper specific primer, which claims to block mildew and allow for easy removal down the road – if and when. The room was cleared as a place to stage our paper, and after going over a tutorial from This Old House and the FAQs from Hygge & West, we felt ready to dive in!
ONE) After cutting a strip that was about 6″ longer than the length of our wall, we used a paint roller to apply the paste, making sure to get the edges, top and bottom. TWO) With the paste applied evenly, we booked the paper together and allowed it to relax for 5 minutes. It was time to put up the first strip!
THREE) We brought the paper up to the top left corner, and I used a paper smoother starting at the top and middle, while slowly and (very, very) carefully pushing out towards the sides to release air pockets. Scott helped by guiding the bulk of the paper down with me, and FOUR) we followed that up with a sponge and fresh water to wipe away excess paste. As air bubbles reappeared (because that will happen), I used the smoothing tool again and again until we were in the clear.
FIVE) Using the putty knife as my guide, I cut along the top, sides and baseboard to cut off the excess paper. As much research as I did beforehand, I couldn’t quite figure out if it was best to do this at the very end or strip-by-strip, but we opted for strip-by-strip. It made things much easier to move on to the next one!
Some takeaways that we experienced:
- A damp sponge will do you better than one that’s been completely soaked, as we found that if our sponge was too wet, air pockets will begin their takeover. But if you get a small bubble or two? Don’t sweat it! The paper always looks much better dry than wet, and some of the tinier pockets will even fade away.
- For lining up your seams: The wallpaper primer helps to buy you more time, and the paper does give a little stretch to help you pull those seams together. (Just no overlapping!)
- Whether you’re laying your wallpaper on a floor or table to paste, remember to wipe the excess paste from your floor (or table) before measuring, cutting and pasting the next strip.
- And if you royally screw up? Peel that paper back and start again from the top. You have time to smooth the paper once it goes up, so move at a pace that’s slow enough for your nerves, but efficient, too.
We completed our accent wall in about an hour and a half start to finish, but of course I realize that we were completing a simple square, with no need to go around corners, doors or windows. We did, however, have an electrical outlet installed before starting (there was only one outlet in the room prior!), so we needed to cut that out.
Speaking of which, we never in our lives thought we’d on purpose buy a black outlet and plate, but here we are:
This paper is so good! The black and gold is so stunning in person, and just like our dining room light, I feel as though photos can never do it justice. It doesn’t help that the room is empty – or that we haven’t yet completed our big headboard to balance out this wall – but the paper, while dark, feels so fun and fresh.
The thermostat wire has been tucked up alongside the closet, but it – along with the gas line – will be completely hidden once we add curtain panels. That is, after we add proper shelving and storage.
We only wish that a Sears Tower would’ve been added to the tally of cities (can you pick them all out?), but it’s such a dramatic-yet-light-hearted touch to the room our friends and family will be staying in! Up next? Headboard. Closet. Window shades and shelving and a rug and bed linens and art (and, and)!
It’s been a bit of a funny week, as I’ve been out of town for the first half traveling to gorgeous Kohler, Wisconsin! (Every year, Scott and I make a promise that we’ll leave the city for the weekend and take a drive north to see the changing leaves, and although he wasn’t able to make it – boo! – those leaves are no joke. So colorful!) I was invited to check out the insane Kohler factory and showroom, but it was much more than that – I enjoyed late nights with new friends, toured their amazing campus-of-sorts and spent the days imagining bathrooms without duct tape on tiles. (We may or may not have duct tape on our tiles; that is all.)
Long story short, my love of pedestal sinks and apron sinks and all things brassy and shiny has grown tenfold – as if that was even possible in the first place. And did you know you can go on a factory tour, too? And then we can talk about our love of sinks and tubs and faucets and motors and all things powder coated together?
Gah, it was amazing.
But! That post title wasn’t meant to be misleading. Today, let’s talk about the guest room! It’s a long, skinny room on the first floor off of the dining room:
It’s been re-shaped and re-configured over the years, no doubt, and duct work has been boxed out with poorly done drywall. A closet was added (we’re wondering if this was ever really intended to be a room at all?), and although it’s on the small side, it’s nothing some reconfiguring and new shelving won’t solve.
But as the guest room, we have no plans to change up all those funny (and mostly sloped) angles. We had no desire to touch those baseboards, and we wanted to see how far paint would go! As it was, the ceiling was never fully painted, and old tape, tacks and staples were stuck in the walls. I took these photos before we really got into the spackling, which involved long nights and weekends over drinks, a big bucket of joint compound and a lot of power sanding.
And our attempt to fix a moldy, wonky window sill (the mold issue was a quick fix by our contractor that has since been resolved – phew!) with a little bit of new trim, of course, turned into a full blown let’s-see-if-we-can-take-apart-this-whole-f*@ing-window ordeal. On the plus side – and during the process – we realized that there were entire sections around the window with no insulation, so we were able to remedy that as well!
Let’s just say that painting, prepping and some-new-trimming turned into an entire week’s worth of work, but you guys. What a difference – surprise, surprise – paint makes! We wanted something very clean and bright, as that one window allows a flood of natural light, and we landed on White Pistachio by Valspar. We tried out Valspar Optimus in an eggshell finish, which is one sheen higher than we would normally use, however, it felt appropriate for a guest room – you know, with well-traveled luggage. It’s a super soft green-gray that changes with the light like a chameleon, and it’s just so, so pretty.
For the windows, we ended up opting out of a sill due to the tight quarters, but we were able to successfully use pine to replace the casing and trim to frame it. The door got an instant facelift with trim as well, and everything was painted Ultra Pure White semi-gloss (Behr) to match the rest of our home.
On the back wall, we used wallpaper primer because – wallpaper! As mentioned here, we picked up a roll of Cities Toile in black and gold, and I hate to be a tease, but we just finished installing it and, my goodness. Photos to come soon, but just know, swoon.
The closet doors were removed completely (we’ll be adding curtains, as the doors prevented full use of the storage space), and although there’s an immobile gas line in the way, we were able to conceal it with the same paint as the rest of the room. The thermostat wire will get tucked up along the length of the closet casing, which, while unavoidable, is no big deal.
Because the room is so small, and because the paint color we chose was so light, we painted the ceilings, too! Every drywall surface with the exception of the wallpaper accent was painted in White Pistachio, and the natural light plays with it so well. It’s even a little tough to tell that the ceiling is the same color as it reflects the daylight differently, and it just works. We also replaced the heating vent with something that would properly blow the forced air into the room (how novel!), added a dimmer switch, and that fixture will absolutely be replaced.
We have a really funky headboard that’ll get a coat of paint in the coming weeks (you can see it in the very first photo), and we’ve slowly been accumulating a few items that are necessities in a guest room (well, some are just for fun!). We’ve asked past guests what makes a guest room comfortable and happy for them – blinds, a spot for luggage, a small desk and warm sheets – and we’re taking it all to heart.
Our goal is to complete the room fully by the end of the month. There, I said it!
Factory photos via Kohler, taken during our stay.
« Older posts