Transform your stairs with paint

UGLY carpet

If I can make a (silk?? cotton?) purse out of a sow’s ear, surely you can too. Here’s what I did.

When I moved into my 1926 Craftsman bungalow one of its glaring problems were the steep narrow stairs up to the master bedroom. The carpet that cloaked them was cheap, ugly and impossible to vacuum. I ripped it off, hoping to find simple pine steps underneath.

Glue-covered stairs

Yes, the stairs were still in their original pine, however they were far from ready to paint. They were coated in several kinds of rock-hard carpet glue, embedded with old tacks and nails, and the carpet fuzz that stuck to them. I hacked at them one step a month, they were that bad.

Stairs, primed white

I filled the many divets with putty and rented a sander to smooth over the worst of the bumps. I primed. I liked how the all white stairs brightened the dark stairway, but compared to the rest of the house it was booooring.

I had a lot of left-over paint – in many cheery colors – from doing the rest of the house. Why not bring all the colors together on the risers for a dramatic statement? (I will coat the wall paint with floor-quality polyurethane and use real floor paint for the treads …)

Much better. But now they looked like what you might find in a nursery school – albeit more subtle colors which don’t reproduce well here. Still, there was too much blocky rectangular action. What about “muralising” the stairs? Like winding a vine up the risers?

I’m no artist, so tackling a vine freehand was out of the question. However, when I’m stuck like this, I find a friend with whom I can brainstorm. Last week it was Gina, my hair stylist, who can cut and think at the same time. She suggested sketching a mockup on butcher paper before getting out the paint.

BIG roll of paper

Bingo! Home Dept sells 340 foot rolls for $10. (I have 325 feet left for future projects; want some?) I measured off twelve 7.75″ risers, and sketched my vine.

When my drawing looked good enough, I cut out the first few vine sections and scotch taped them to the stairs.

One challenge is that the alignment of each segment shifts dramatically depending on where you stand, so I made some spacing adjustments. Fortunately our eyes do try to compensate.

I traced the pieces in pencil onto the risers then painted them with the same brown color as the treads, using a pointy acryllic paint brush. No one will mistake me for Michelangelo, but the stairs no longer look so nursery school, and they please the heck out of me. I call that a winner!

Below is the final version… at least what is possible to capture on camera in a dark narrow space.

Joy Overstreet, color consulting, Portland OR, Vancouver WA

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