Take Your Staircase (and Landing) to New Heights

A staircase is often one of the first things you see when you step into a house and can really set the tone for the rest of the decor. Today I’m sharing a few ideas to show what you can do to transform your staircase and hallway.

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Over the years, my staircase has really evolved as I went from being a single woman in my home to sharing it with the love of my life – my ‘partner in grime’. The hallway area went from being fun and playful in my bachelorette days, to a more sophisticated look more recently.

To start, I’d like to inspire you with a few ideas on what you can do with that little piece of real estate that forms a shelf on one side of a circular stair case. Builders typically carpet this awkward area, as was the case in my house.

When I first bought my house, it was winter time and I couldn’t wait to get out into the garden and transform it. I was planning to install a pond (or two) once the weather permitted so I thought what better way to anticipate building the real thing than to bring the idea of a pond  indoors?

I was taking a stained glass course; it’s a great pursuit to take up during the winter months. When I did a weekend class on mosaics, I knew I had found a solution to jazzing up the often overlooked landing in the corner of the stairs – and it was going to be anything but boring if I had anything to do with it!

Here are some pictures of the hallway when I first purchased the house. In the first shot you can see the outdated the finishes: oak staircase and chair rail, floral wallpaper and builder beige walls.

My best piece of advice for anyone who has just purchased a house that you have renovation plans for: paint everything just to freshen it up, then live with it for a while until you decide how you want to update and/or renovate the space.

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The minute I moved in, I gave it a ‘weekend update’ (actually, a few small paint updates over the course of a few weekends). First I painted the front door a bright red. Then I refreshed all the trim – including the chair rail. For the walls above the chair rail I used a soft yellow to brighten up the space (there’s a small window in the upper front door which brings in very little light, making the hallway seem dark). Below the chair rail, I applied a venetian plaster finish to hide the ugly wallpaper. I was eventually planning to strip the wallpaper off, but didn’t have the time to do it right away.

If you look real close at the door in the before and after shot above, you can see I also replaced the dated glass insert in the upper part of the main door with a decorative piece of glass called ‘everglade’. I prepared the panel and took the glass to a company that was able to make a thermo-sealed unit for me so I could swap out with the old one. It added a unique touch to the front door!

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Everglade patterned glass thermal insert in front door

These small changes were just enough to make the house livable while I was in the planning stages of a bigger and better renovation  – just to tide me over until I had more time, energy and money (and as it turned out, a ‘partner in grime’!) to do it right.

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The 80’s called and they want their wallpaper and oak trim back!

Here’s a before of the staircase. Unfortunately I didn’t get a before shot of the carpeted landing itself, so you’ll have to imagine what it looked like with the same carpet the builder used on the stairs.

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Here’s what it looked like after the stained glass transformed the landing into a tranquil pond scene – complete with water lillies, Koi, turtle and a frog on a lily pad.

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Spiral staircase with new and improved stained glass landing

I used a large piece of brown paper to trace out the exact elongated shape of the landing and then used that as a template to cut a piece of 1/8″ plywood to size. I glued all my mosaic pieces to the wood, except for – as you might be able to see in the slideshow below – several places where I inserted a few glass globs in the mosaic, with a cunning plan in mind. Under those spots is where I pre-drilled some holes so I could screw the piece down to the landing. I left the glass globs completely loose and just placed them on top of the screw heads so that at some point in the future, I would be able to remove the whole thing when I decided to change my decor again. I never did get around to actually grouting the joints of the piece before that happened!

A word of caution if you ever create a similar project – be sure to remove the loose glass globs before you vacuum or they’ll get sucked up 🙂

There’s just something about my stained glass pond that brought a smile to my face every time I descended the stairs. However, being the restless DIY’er that I am, I did of course, change my decor and out came the stained glass pond…. more about that later.

Once my husband came into the picture and moved into my house, we really set our renovation plans into first gear! We decided to change the color of the yellowed and dated oak wood on the stairs to a darker, richer stain. It was a HUGE undertaking that involved stripping off the clear finish, re-staining the wood and then sealing it again with several coats of clear varnish.

There’s a simpler way to get the same effect if you already have a natural wood staircase and you don’t want to go to the bother (and smell) of stripping the wood. Minwax makes a product called Polystain that is a two-in-one product. In just one-step it can be directly applied over a polyurethane finish, changing the color of the wood without removing the existing finish! How easy is that? If you’re interested in more information, here’s a link to Minwax’s Polyshade Colour Guide. While it’s great to have options like this, we chose not to go with the simple way to change the look of our wood. We went with the traditional (and hardcore) strip and refinish route to achieving the rich look we wanted.

The first thing of course was to pull up all the carpet – along with the many years of dust, dirt and grime that came out with it! I was only too happy to see that carpet gone. Next, I used a pair of needle nosed pliers to remove every single staple and/or tack that was holding down the carpet.

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Ripping out the stair runner

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Making sure I pull every last staple – and doing my best impression of a contortionist

In our case, the spindles were loose and my husband determined they could be removed and stripped outdoors.The one advantage of course was that, once disassembled, the spindles were MUCH easier to strip.

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Carpet, staple and spindle removal

If your staircase is solid and stable, I wouldn’t recommend removing the spindles because it’s a big undertaking to take them apart and then put them back again – and you run the risk of splitting the wood. If our spindles and handrail was in better shape and we left them in place, I would probably have just painted them out, to save the time and effort in using a chemical stripper – as well as our lungs!

Our railing has a metal piece that runs the full length of the wood and sits just underneath where the wood is routed out. The metal serves as a conduit to attach into both the railing (from underneath) and the spindles (from above) to keep them all in place with screws. The bottom of each spindle is connected with a dowel joint and glued into a hole on each tread. Since our spindles were so loose, they easily came out with some gentle persuasion and twisting…….and a bar clamp we used for leverage…. oh yeah, and a little brute strength from the hubs every once in a while!

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Metal piece screws up into the railing as well as down through the spindles

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Sometime a little brute strength (and a clamp) is all that’s needed to twist off spindles

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Spindles and handrail goes from ugly duckling to swan

Stripper fumes are hazardous. Take every precaution by turning off pilot lights on appliances and fire places, and keeping the vapours away from hot surfaces such as stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, furnaces and other electrical appliances… and of course, don’t smoke (if you haven’t quit yet!) anywhere near the work area. We turned our furnace off before we started.

I wouldn’t recommend you undertake any stripping project indoors unless you can also open doors and windows to fully ventilate the house, so late Spring would be a good time of year to do this. To protect your lungs from the fumes, wear a full face mask with a charcoal insert – not just one of those skimpy paper ones!

Mask off all walls and any flooring surrounding the area so you don’t accidentally spray droplets of stripper onto those surfaces; it will eat through them!

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Surrounding area protected from stripper and stain

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Putting Humpty Dumpty all back together again

The worst part of the job was stripping each step – which obviously had to be done in place – because of the smell. I suffer from migraines and can’t tolerate the smell of stripping solution unless I’m outdoors where there’s plenty of airflow, so I vacated the house (which turned out to be a lucky thing as you’ll read later on).

My husband took on the task of stripping the stairs on his own. Not wanting to spend any more time than necessary stripping each step, he only stripped the varnish off the outer portion of each one. Since we were planning on putting a new runner down the middle anyway, it wasn’t necessary to spend money on additional stripper solution that wasn’t really necessary. We just had to ensure each step was stained far enough on each side that the runner would completely cover up the unstained portion in the middle!

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Stair treads under runner were not stripped

Once the stairs were stained, topcoated and reassembled, a carpet runner was installed. The end result brought a new air of sophistication to our hallway that it didn’t previously have.

After the carpet runner went in, I was finally able to put up some artwork and showcase this beautiful painting from the talented Vancouver artist and sculptor Elsa Bluethner. I think it adds just the right pop of colour to the neutral backdrop of the stairs, walls and carpet!

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Artwork and accessories finally go up on the wall!

I was also itching to try something new with the landing. I removed the stained glass and installed a new piece of plywood which I painted white. Here’s how the staircase and landing looks today. Now, I can switch up the decor and have some fun displaying a variety of pieces (some of which we’ve collected on our antiquing jaunts).

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New paint colour and decor on the landing really brightens up the hallway, which tends to be dark because there is no window or skylight.

You know, the funny thing about DIY projects is that each one somehow begets another one – often before you’ve even finished the project you’re working on. After my husband banished me from the house while he was doing the stripping, I was taking a walk in the neighbourhood when I stumbled on these beauties in the GARBAGE!

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I was so excited to find teak chairs that I ran all the way home, interrupted my husband as he was in the middle of stripping the staircase and made him bring the car so we could snag them before someone else did!

I ended up setting up my own stripping station in the garage and got to work on them right away.  Afterall, I couldn’t not take advantage of the fact that my husband had stripping solution readily on hand, could I?

I love peeling back the layers of upholstery to see what surprises I can uncover 🙂

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This pattern from a bygone era would probably look right at home in today’s decor too!

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Stripping the wood

We ended up keeping the wood natural (no stain) with a low sheen topcoat so it would look like an  oil rubbed finish. I steam cleaned the fabric – what seemed like a million times, but who’s counting! Maybe one day I’ll upholster them, but for now I love the neutral tone of the fabric and wood.

I may not have gotten too far on my walk that pleasantly fateful day, but I gained a new addition to our home that adds some much welcomed mid-century modern appeal! The chairs look fab as extra seating in our family/TV room.

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Chairs in their new home

It’s amazing how some elbow grease can revitalize old wood – whether it be a staircase or castaway chairs found kicked to the curb.

Leave me a comment: what’s the most exciting piece you have ever found in the garbage and brought back to life?

For more inspirational updates around the home, check out some of the following project ideas:

Stained Glass Pond: Add Curb Appeal to a Winding Staircase:

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Expand Your Horizons: Propel Your Bulkhead into the Spotlight

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Sole Searching – A Shoe Storage Solution

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Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack

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8 thoughts on “Take Your Staircase (and Landing) to New Heights

  1. Masterful makeovers! I love the dark stain on the stairs and your clever mosaic landing. What a nice surprise for anyone climbing your stairs for the first time. I love homes with creative features that reflect the people that live there. Delightful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this make-over. I’m in the process of redoing my steps to the lower level and can’t make up my mind about a runner. What is the material in your runner and where did you buy it? Also, did you install yourself or have professionally done?

    Like

    • The carpet is from a Canadian company called Allan Rug Co. It’s made of wool and it’s called “Vermont” – Colour 122. We had it professionally installed by the company. Here’s the link: http://www.allanrug.com. Good luck with your own project; send me a picture when you’re done!

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