New Year, New Stairs

Before and AfterWhen my spouse and I first moved into our split-level house, there was mauve carpet on these stairs leading to the main level. The previous owner had cats, and I’m deathly allergic. We ended up having to take the carpet out earlier than we had intended (read, budgeted for) so that I could breath in the house and were never happy with the way the stairs looked. Because they had been covered in carpet, the risers were full of nail holes and other dings and scratches that no amount of paint could cover.

We found ourselves with unexpected extra days of vacation this winter break and decided it was time to tackle the stairs. We had discussed building entirely new stairs, new risers, or false fronts for the risers, but finally settled on filling in the nicks in the original risers with wood putty and covering them with paintable wall paper from Lowe’s.  It took some concentration to cut the wallpaper to the right size (measure twice, cut once and all), but we managed that task and made a decision about color the first night.

prepped with wall paper

wall paper prepped stairs

Once the stairs were prepped and we had decided on a robin’s egg blue for the background, we went to the amazing Community Fab Lab at the University of Illinois (trust me, the fab lab is way better than their website) where a former student of mine happened to be working and helped us print out the numbers 1-7 in both red and white vinyl and in two different fonts (total cost, $2). The next morning we gave the stairs two coats of paint and, when it was dry, moved on to the numbers.

finding mid point of numbers

finding mid-point of numbers

We were nervous about how to position the numbers so that they would look like they lined up (I was a fan of these stairs, but my spouse is a little more aligned than that). We decided on a distance from the wall (8″) and a distance from the stair below (3″) where we wanted the middle of each number to hit. I then marked the midpoint of each number and we commenced with a complicated measure, attach post-it note triangle on stair, try to hit post-it note with the number game. As you will see later, we ended up removing these original numbers and were much more relaxed applying them the second time.

adhering numberslate night fiddly number application

We lived with the blue stairs with red numbers for a couple days, but weren’t completely happy with them. They didn’t feel finished and it took us a few days to figure out what they needed.

blue with redblue and red somehow didn’t seem complete

About this time my spouse, Jay, started telling people we were inspired by Steve Zissou, which made me think we should add the yellow we had bought for the stringers (the side wall that is cut to fit the stairs) to the main stairs so we took off the red numbers, masked  a six inch rectangle on each stair, and painted it yellow.

masking for yellow paint masking for yellow paint

Once we had our yellow stripe, the only step left was to reapply the red vinyl numbers (which were surprisingly resilient). This time we eye-balled the application–neither of us have much experience with vinyl decals and transfer paper and when we first put the numbers on we wanted everything to be absolutely perfect before we pushed them down. This time, we knew that they could be removed and reapplied without too much effort, so we tacked a couple points on each number, stepped back to evaluate, tweaked their position a few times, and then pressed them into place.

after finished stairs

The vinyl seems like it will stand up like a champ and the wallpaper seems a pretty safe bet as well for durability. I’m most concerned about the paint getting scuffed and wonder if it is worth a coat of polyurethane to protect our work.

basement stairsbasement stairs

While we were at it, we put the white numbers on the basement stairs. We both like how clean the white and blue look together so we didn’t add an additional stripe to these ones.

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8 Responses to New Year, New Stairs

  1. katherine says:

    those stairs are fabulous!

  2. randi says:

    this is a great redecorating project. very creative and fun!

  3. Kerry says:

    Love them and the Life Aquatic inspiration!

  4. That looks great Kelly! Love it!

  5. Laurence says:

    Ah, the Life Craftic! Can’t wait to see the new stairs in person. If you want to coat the paint with polyurethane, make sure it’s water-based or says “water white” on it. Regular polyurethane will add quite an amber tint.

  6. Pingback: how to: staircase makeover | make handmade, crochet, craft

  7. Your project is fantastic. Why did you decide to wallpaper the riser and then paint it instead of just painting? I’m curious…..because I’m betting there was a good reason. Does it hide imperfections that simply painting wouldn’t be able to accomplish? Thanks.

    • Suzanne says:

      That is exactly why we used wallpaper on the risers. We had tried painting them a couple of times and within a week you could see the nicks and dings again. The wallpaper gave a nice, clean surface to work with.

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