(except for the railings on the 2nd floor of my house that no one but my family can see and I am so over this project that I need a break before I can go back to painting all those 1 inch round railings…..that is next…)
The before was carpet that looked lovely when we bought our home. Fast forward 10 years, dog, 3 children and at least 1,000,000 trips up and down the stairs. We knew we couldn’t keep cleaning the carpet and expecting it to still look presentable.
Next came internet searches for painted sub flooring (we thought we had run of the mill sub flooring under our carpet). In a burst of ambitious DIY fever, we ripped it all up one day and even enlisted our kids in pulling it out. We could hardly wait to see the glorious flooring beneath the carpet (or at least potentially glorious).
No problem, this is what sanding and primer are for, right? My life became a dust cloud of sanded particle board. I was forever wearing a mask. I applied layers and layers of primer. Then I added filler primer. I even carefully spackled and pasted to make the surface extra smooth. Did I mention the bullnose on the sub floor was a big raggedy mess. In my genius DIY mode, I decided to saw them off. YES, I PULLED OUT MY JIGSAW AND SAWED APART MY STAIRCASE. The adventures in DIY surprises was just beginning.
Now the floors were primed, mostly smooth. However, they were about 2 inches short of a standard size adult foot. This made walking up and down them feel awkward (and probably not very safe). I convinced myself we could live with it. We just had to get used to walking down the stairs and perfect our core strength for better balance.
Now for the paint. I wanted something “different” and rustic. The original plan was Black and White, but I decided (must have been all that dust) that rustic would be a better look. It was a HOT MESS. The paint went down fine, but I got the glaze recipe mixed up. Too much pigment here, not enough there. I was starting to come apart at the seams.
Whoops, some of the stairs didn’t match other ones. Not to mention, when we pulled up the carpet, there was a giant gap between the stairs and the wall. Denial was the river I was floating around on at this point. In my head, I was going to make it work. If only everything in my head translated to reality.
When reality did settle in. I woke up and faced facts. THIS WAS NOT GOING TO WORK.
I hired a local painter who also does beautiful trim work. I purchased builder grade oak treads from Home Depot. This meant a little more work on my part to get them to a finished state. But builder grade was far cheaper on the front end. By the way, I would not recommend builder grade for staining, they are great for painting however.
I highly recommend Oak for stair treads. It is hard as a rock and will hold up to all kinds of abuse. And in this house, those stairs treads would be taking some abuse. We used MDF for the risers and the beautiful trim.
Now the priming began again. This time I enlisted my friend Emma. My mental state was such that it may have stayed au natural until my children were grown and gone. The priming got done, no problem. Then, like a field that is over-farmed, and you need to let it lie fallow before you can plant again, I decided enough work had been completed on the stairs for 2013 and they needed lay fallow.
Usher in 2014. What? May 2014 already? Where had the time gone? Wasn’t it just yesterday (October) that we primed the stairs? The calendar was telling me my children would be out of school soon and if the stairs were not completed, I could just forget finishing them until the Fall of 2014, making it one year from the priming job. The DIY Black and White Stairs were going down in history as the longest running unfinished DIY painting project.
I gathered all my emotional reserves, gave myself a Vince Lombardi worthy pep talk and used every spare evening, Saturday, and moment I had. My emotional reserves were running thin. I was so tired, my game was in overtime, the clock was running against me at this point…..and I had to go back to sanding. Yes, that is my old scary worker hand. It is imperative you sand between priming coats. Especially with this heavy of a grain. The primer really raised the grain. A quick sand of 220 between priming coats gave me a very smooth surface, ready to take paint.
I painted the treads and the bannister in CeCe Caldwell’s 100% natural Chalk and Clay Based paints in Beckley Coal. **Update, if I were to do this project again, I would choose Debi’s DIY 100% Natural Clay Based Paints. The colors are far more consistent, and the price point is way better. I knew I wanted to use a natural but durable product as my face would be in the paint for many hours. I painted three thin coats, lightly sanding with a 320 grit sandpaper between each coat. I decided to lightly distress the bannister and the treads as I did not want the overall look to be too formal, lest people who enter my home think someone serious lives here.
I painted every other tread. I had an elaborate and complex system that changed daily of which tread could be stepped on and which could not. Luckily, we are a bunch of tall folks. Taking two steps at a time, leaping over two large landings was not too much of a stretch for us. I considered just telling everyone to slide down the bannister and avoid the stairs all together. Here is a quick video of our daily up and downs, with the stairs I mean.
To darken the areas where I distressed, I went over the paint with a Modern Masters colorant called “Coffee Bean”. I used the colorant in this way so the distressing and wear and tear would not be as noticeable.
After the paint had dried for a good 24 hours, I sealed it with CeCe Caldwell’s Endurance.**Update, I would NOT use Endurance again. It is durable, but not easy to work with. You must stir the can constantly and even then, you may not get even results. I would definitely recommend using Debi’s DIY Big Top Finish, the easiest, durable top coat I have ever used, hands down.
This is a very durable product, formulated for cabinets, etc. It is not marketed as suitable for flooring. This was a use at my own risk. I decided against using a highly toxic floor sealer, again not wanting the exposure to the chemicals for days on end.
CeCe Caldwell’s recommends 2 – 6 coats of Endurance, depending on your project. Just like any clear coat, thin coats are key. I ended up using 5 coats. Again, lightly sanding between coats with a 400 grit sand paper. We are on week 2 of the stairs being finished, and so far, not a ding or a scratch. **Update, you could do the same with less coats of Big Top. No more Endurance for me.
For risers, trim and railings, I chose Sherwin Williams Trim paint in White – Semi Gloss. This is a very durable paint. All of my trim and baseboards are painted in this paint and I wanted a cohesive look.
I learned a few tips along the way you may want to consider if you are planning on painting your stairs.
#1 If you have a large stair case, plus landings, plan on this taking a long time. If you have a shorter stair case, then it won’t be as painful. For the hours I put in on this, I could have painted every neighbor’s kitchen on my court, and then worked my way up the street. Keep a picture of your dream in your head or nearby. It will keep you focused and prevent you from going insane.
#2 If you have furry pets, consider banishing them to the outside, or loaning them to a friend for the duration of the project. Neither option was available to me. Dog hair became the bane of my existence. I would wipe off dog hair, only to have it come floating down from the air two seconds later. I could attribute 20 hours alone to removing dog hair. My dog is my 4th child, so I forgave her for deliberately trying to sabotage my efforts.
I am thrilled with how my imperfect home works together. Bench made entirely of junk sits beneath my slightly imperfect DIY Black and White Stairs.
#4 When you are starting to go batty from painting the 100th railing, just be grateful that you have the staircase and home to beautify in the first place.
#5 When all is completed, take a bajillion photos. Text your family and friends to let them know you just finished your Opus Dei. Stay up late doing nothing but staring at the stair case from different angles. Turning different lights on and off to see how they look, etc.
If you decide to DIY your stairs, especially if you decided on a DIY Black and White staircase, I am here for you. It may have been a long, painful journey, but it was worth every piece of dog hair I picked out my paint in the end.
Sharing my DIY Black and White Stairs with these classy parties: