So there is no real “entrance” to my house. You walk right in to the front room! I hate that particular design “feature” (please imagine that word dripping with sarcasm). But in an effort to make the best of things, I decided to make a more welcoming…and interesting…”first impression” space in my home.
The suitcase wall is detailed here, but today I wanted to show the changes we made to the staircase.
Here’s what we started with; plain old carpeted stairs, that were definitely showing their age after eight years with eight people walking up and down daily! The knotty alder wood has aged to an unbecoming yellow. My front room is tiny, and I thought that if the half-wall were replaced with an actual banister, it might open up the room a little.
So…we got to work. And by “we,” I don’t mean my dear husband…home renovations are NOT his cup of tea! Luckily I have a very handy friend and neighbor (we’ll call him MJ) who was willing to help…especially since he got to give the Sewing Armoire to his wife for a Christmas present!
First step…to cut a hole in the wall to make sure there were no surprises waiting for us (upper left)! Whew! No electrical boxes or ductwork. It freaked out my three-year-old a little, though.
Sot next…the half-wall was cut out (MJ’s job), and the carpet was removed (my job). Don’t worry, I only punctured my thumb with a carpet tack once. Hmmm….better check to see if my tetanus shot is up to date…
It would have been really great if the carpet removal had revealed REAL WOOD stairs. It didn’t. It was particle board all the way. That meant all the treads had to be removed, and it was NOT an easy job.
If I knew then what I know now…I probably would have just painted the stairs and called it good. Removing the treads was VERY VERY HARD work. They were not only nailed down, but also glued. I used a very thin blade tool to try to cut through the glue on the front of the steps (my house smelled like burning glue for days), and then I used pry bar, crow bar, hammer, tears, and prayer to pry each stair tread up. Yes…this part I did by myself.
And…we ate pizza for dinner that night.We had to use a scraper to try to lift up the remaining glue so the new treads would have a (reasonably) flat surface to sit on. I actually then screwed the treads back down with two or three screws each…I had taken the old treads off before the new treads were ready, but this way I knew I could replace all the treads at once (using that term very loosely), rather than having to do them one. at. a. time.
I purchased replacement pine stair treads at Lowe’s (about $11/each), which is also where I bought a newel post, spindles, and a new hand rail. I chose steps that had lots of knots, divots, wormholes, etc., since NO MATTER WHAT they are going to look worn over time—might as well embrace the idea!
I had quite a staining party going on as I stained 13 treads, the post, the new hand rail, and the old hand rail (which I did by best to sand down to bare wood first). I used Minwax Special Walnut Stain, about three coats of it, and about five coats (no kidding) of Varathane Polyurethane on top of that.
MJ cut new risers out of quarter-inch pine plywood for me, and I painted those and the spindles to match the existing trim in the house (bottom right).
The bottom four steps are a thing of beauty. I decided I wanted those outer edge of those four steps to be exposed, but the ones I got from Lowe’s were only rounded on the front edge. MJ cut strips off the unused portion of the steps (they were each about 10 inches longer than I needed) and biscuit-joined them to create a finished side. He cut another scrap to make the corner piece; it is just glued in place. I can’t even begin to tell you how gorgeous I find these treads!
After these bottom four steps where stained, we used a drill press and a hand-made template to drill spaces for the spindle dowels. I started getting very excited at this point!
We also drilled the newel post so the handrail could be doweled in…
…as well as the wall. You may notice that this “column” looking piece is new. We discovered that the place where the half-wall came out of was NOT the same place the banister had to go in to. Plus the wall was kind of chewed up anyway. So MJ wrapped this portion of the wall in wood to create a fake column. We decided to take it all the way to the floor to highlight the look, and I think it turned out great. (Can you see my paper patterns on the wall for suitcase placement? I was serious when I said I lived with those up for a week!)
Building code specified that there could be no more than 4 inches between spindles, and that was difficult to make come out even. The inspiration came to place the spindles in groups of three rather than deal with half-spindles or spindles on the edge of a step, etc!
One of the headaches came when we discovered that the longest spindle available from Lowe’s (they had two lengths) was not long enough for the high spot on each stair. We lengthened those spindles my doweling an unused chunk of a short spindle on top.
Attaching the spindles was the other bugaboo. We literally spent THREE DAYS trying to figure out how to dowel them in to the handrail, but it was an utter disaster. Guess what? Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones. We used a pneumatic brad nailer to nail each spindle into the railing from its back side. Then there were just two tiny nail holes to patch (and what’s two more after the 236 on the rest of the stairs). So simple. WHY didn’t we figure that out sooner?!?!
After the Spindle Disaster of 2011 (it sounds more impressive that way), even cutting and installing 35 trim pieces was a piece o’ cake.
The rest of the story is the fun part.
I knew I wanted to give the stairs my own special “touch.” I debated about painting a quote on the risers, but I also had seen an idea on Martha Stewart where leaves were stamped onto the stair risers, and I loved that idea as well. I actually tried to combine the two ideas, but it was too busy…so my stair risers got painted twice!
Rather than using actually rubber stamps, I was struck by the idea to use actual leaf prints on my stairs. From the quaking aspen trees right outside my house, I picked several leaves of all different sizes.
I lightly coated the back side of the leaves with paint, and then pressed them down on the stair risers with a paper towel (this is before the risers have been installed).
This method does NOT give a perfect, uniform leaf print each time. Each one is different, imperfect…
…just like Mother Nature’s.
And they look like they’re falling down stairs.
But I did choose just one word for my stairs, to be a gentle reminder to all of us each time we see it…
…because we are.
This project was featured at Designer Garden.
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