Stairs! Done!

Aah, our stairs. We’ve been slowly – very, very slowly! – working on them since we moved into this house two summers ago. After taking down a handful of walls to open the foyer (the first step to transition our two-flat into the single family home it is now), ripping up the old maroon carpet and encasing the chipped, cracked paint with oil-based primer, we let it be. We let it be for almost a whole year, and we allowed our primed stairs to fall into disrepair once again, and so finally, we told ourselves that it was time.

Because we have a back staircase that connects all the floors in the house (you might remember that our master bedroom – the ex-second-floor-kitchen – has a door), we wanted to tackle this project before the cold settled in, allowing us to use those back stairs while paint dries on the interior staircase. And because the main stairs were never properly completed, we had a bit more groundwork to lay. The good news is that we’ve completed the project, they look amazing (yup, biased!), so let’s get to it!

3M™ Wood Filler
ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape
Paintable latex caulk
White exterior paint (risers/stringers)
Black floor & patio paint (treads)

3M™ Safety Products (respirator and eyewear)
Microfiber cloths
Putty knife
Sandpaper / electric sander
2″ angled paint brush
4″ foam roller


WHAT WE DID. Just like the priming step, we worked with 3M DIY once again to get our stairs up to snuff. The stairs themselves weren’t terrible, but primer isn’t meant to stand on its own without a hardened top coat, and so the treads had started to chip. Although these 130-year-old stairs are solid as a rock, we had gradually noticed more pocks and dents appear, which is to be expected in a house of this age. Using 3M™ Wood Filler, we patched in what we could, bearing in mind that they weren’t ever going to be perfect. But isn’t that part of the charm in an old house?


To eliminate the fine dust that kicks up during sanding, I attached our orbital sander to our shop vac (which has a HEPA filter) – also being sure to wear a respirator and glasses. It was a bit tricky to do this on stairs (I had to move the vacuum to the first floor halfway through and balance it along the steps on a few occasions), but it was absolutely worth it! There was virtually no dusty clean-up, although I still wiped everything down with a microfiber cloth when I was finished.


Next, I used a paintable, flexible latex caulk to seal in the cracks and gaps around the stringers, risers and cove molding under each tread. Below on the left, you can see the stairs with caulk vs. the ones without; I swear, caulk is the glue that holds an old home together – what can’t it hide? Once the caulk had dried completely, I applied 2 coats of Ultra Pure White Behr® paint in semi-gloss exterior (we figured it couldn’t hurt in a high traffic area!) on all the stringers and risers. Already, the difference was astounding!


We let this dry overnight, and the next day, it was time to move on to the most impactful part of the project – the treads! You saw that we chose Sherwin Williams® Tricorn Black, and we purchased it in the Floor & Patio paint with a satin finish. (The F&P paint has a more flexible finish, allowing it to move with the wood, preventing future cracking.)

With such a high contrast look, I very carefully taped off the stringers with ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape. As mentioned previously, we were ready to accept that these stairs would never look brand new, but not wanting to sacrifice a clean edge, I made sure to rub the tape firmly along every divot and ripple I encountered. (Which, by the way, was still a lot!) Note: If you’re also tackling a large project, I’d recommend testing the tape on a small inconspicuous area beforehand.


Starting at the top and working my way down, I used a brand new 2″ angled brush and kept a steady hand as I painted along the sides of the treads and around each bullnose. I chose to not tape those areas for two reasons: 1) time and 2) the existing trimwork was a bit of an obstacle I wanted to avoid. After cutting in, I took a 4″ foam roller and covered each tread with thin coats. This was repeated a total of three times, with two hours between each coat so that it was, at the very least, dry to the touch.


Two hours after the final coat of Tricorn Black went on, I took a touch-up can of my white paint back to the top, and I began peeling away all the tape. I held my breath, hoped for the best, and found that I was very pleasantly surprised! With the somewhat rough texture of the treads and risers (for real, no amount of sanding would ever get these stairs totally smooth!), I needed to course correct only a couple of treads. I’ll be honest and say that I was somewhat skeptical to use tape, but I knew the results would be much better than free handing it along the almost-3′-width, and I was confident in my diligence to really seal down the edges.


This project was purposely completed the day before we left for Portland, which would allow everything to dry and harden for a full seven days with no temptation for use – that is, with the exception of the kitties’ paws. In total, I spent close to three days on these final steps (pun intended?), as each component required downtime before starting the next. It’s been close to a month since we’ve had the new look, and so far, so good! There is one step close to the tiled entryway that has received a small (and I mean small, small) scrape, but this is also known as the launch-pad-step from which Jack and CC take their flying leap towards the living room. As they do.


But wait!

Can we please rewind one year and see how far these stairs have come? To call this project a labor of love would be the Understatement of the Year. Starting at the upstairs landing, we knocked down the partition wall for the second floor apartment (eliminating an unnecessary coat closet and raising the stairwell ‘ceiling’ in the process), removed the deteriorating carpet and spent hours upon hours pulling up a century’s worth of padding, staples and nails.


By installing the below knee wall, natural light from that window can now flood into my studio space! A thick, hunky slab of walnut was stained and used as a wall cap, the same dark stain was used for our handrail, and the landing floor was patched in with matching hardwood:


When you enter our home, the stairs are the very first thing you see. On moving day, we were greeted by another door that led to the first floor apartment. Again, it was one of the first things we were thrilled to demolish, and when the carpet came up, so did a not-so-mysterious, stale and filthy scent.


And when you walk in now? Navy! Brass! Cleanliness! (Maddie!)


The view from our living room has improved, too! After discovering this adorable arch hiding beneath lathe and drywall, we – sort of on a whim – decided to mimic the same arch in the studio. While we were at it, we widened this doorway a good foot (or two), giving that entryway we’ve worked so hard on more presence in the home. We’ve poured so much into it; why not?


We were warned by a few (and even read a few tutorial and articles on the topic) that black and white stairs, while classic, can require quite a bit of upkeep. Yes, we do need to run our handheld vacuum along the treads a few times a week, but overall, we’ve found that it looks much better than our all-white-primed stairs ever did! We’re toying with the idea of adding a runner, but it would mostly be to inject some pattern and color. The hunt isn’t yet active, but it’s not out of the question down the road.

Also? If you look closely, you can see where the treads have been worn down in the middle, and there are telltale signs of age on every surface. And you know what? We love that.


Looking from the foyer into our living room, we find that we’re slowly unfolding a whole house color palette that feels new to us. Blacks, grays, shades of white, deep navy and bright red! Our love of color has always been a part of us (orange bedroom, anyone?), but it feels different this time around. This old house has been a learning experience in every way, and these stairs have been one of our biggest challenges. As we continually stumble into funny little issues, we’ll say, let’s call this an old house quirk! We’ve got a lot of those – but we never expected to embrace them so wholeheartedly.

I’m excited to be a 3M sponsored blogger, and as part of my responsibilities, I evaluate products from 3M DIY. Opinions are my own and additional product used in the project were selected by me. Looking to get inspired? Visit 3M DIY on Instagram, Pinterest , Facebook and Twitter!
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  • Laura Tarlo10.16.14 - 7:40 AM

    WOW! This looks amazing….well done! PS- I love the basketweave!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly Goldman10.16.14 - 7:53 AM

    This is ridiculous. It can’t be the same home. How exciting to be able to walk into a finished entryway!!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda @ Our Humble Abode10.16.14 - 9:03 AM

    Kim, all that hard work has definitely paid off. The stairs are great! Ad is the rest of your entry. It’s so cool to watch you grow and expand your skills. Your condo was lovely and so fun, but I’m enjoying this process even more.ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.16.14 - 9:53 AM

      Thank you! This house is a totally different challenge, that is for sure!ReplyCancel

  • Emily10.16.14 - 9:28 AM

    It looks amazing – good work! And I love all the navy touches. :)ReplyCancel

  • Pamela10.16.14 - 9:39 AM

    Stunning! What a difference! Love the colors and clean lines, great job!ReplyCancel

  • Jaclyn10.16.14 - 9:45 AM

    Looks amazing! You mention that when you pulled up the carpet you discovered a not so pleasant smell. How did you get rid of it? We are renovating a 60 year old house and have pulled up most carpet and cleaned the hardwood but there is still some mustiness and weird smells in the house. ideas?ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.16.14 - 9:53 AM

      The smell was almost completely in the carpet, but it was eliminated pretty much completely once we put the oil-based odor blocking primer on it. I imagine that you’re not wanting to put primer on your gorgeous hardwood floors, but perhaps trying a vinegar solution would help to neutralize the weird smells?ReplyCancel

  • Heather10.16.14 - 9:47 AM

    It looks gorgeous. The shot from the front porch is just amazing. What a transformation!ReplyCancel

  • mary10.16.14 - 9:56 AM

    Kelly said exactly what I was going to.
    This is just utterly ridiculous. I cannot get over the difference!ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.16.14 - 10:04 AM

      You guys are awesome. Thank you! That’s what one and a half years will get you… ha!ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square10.16.14 - 10:21 AM

    I love all the contrast going on with the stairs, walls, doors, and even the tile. Bold and modern. Nice job!ReplyCancel

  • Alison10.16.14 - 10:30 AM

    WOW, that’s quite an amazing before and after. I hope apartment therapy picks up on this. People should see what hard work will accomplish. Bravo.ReplyCancel

  • Cait10.16.14 - 10:35 AM

    You guys are amazing! Your stairs/entry have come together so well over the last year, and I love all the architectural details in your house. :)ReplyCancel

  • Shelby10.16.14 - 11:09 AM

    WOW – the after pictures are truly amazing!! :) It looks beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • They look great!ReplyCancel

  • richard tuttelmondo10.16.14 - 12:24 PM

    Where did you find that beautiful tile ? Can you e-mail me the store.

    Nice remodel , everything is beautifulReplyCancel

  • Ashley10.16.14 - 1:20 PM

    I love your stairs! I am so jealous of them too. I took the carpeting off my stairs two years ago and wallpapered the rise and painted the treads white. They looked gorgeous! A worker at Lowes recommended adding Polyurethane so that the wallpaper wouldn’t get nicked and keeping the white treads from getting scratched. I followed the instructions on the can, but they turned the stairs yellow, bubbled the wallpaper, and there are air pockets everywhere that collect dirt. They make me so sad everytime I see them! I just need to redo them, and this post has been the perfect push. Your home is looking gorgeous!ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.16.14 - 1:25 PM

      UGH, my heart aches for you! Next time try using Polycrylic – it’s water based, and it causes NO yellowing AT ALL.ReplyCancel

  • It looks awesome! I love the contrast (obviously, considering our own recent staircase redo.) Two cheers for being done with painting stairs!ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.16.14 - 2:17 PM

      Two cheers?! More like THREE! Or TEN!ReplyCancel

  • Trude10.16.14 - 5:32 PM

    I can’t believe the transformation! Totally worth all the time and effort you’ve put in (and I love that you guys are being so thoughtful and patient, it’s inspirational). And that hidden arch? So cute!ReplyCancel

  • Tori10.17.14 - 8:56 AM

    They look fab! I recently redid my front steps, but luckily the treads were in good shape so I only had to paint the risers. It’s a detailed job that kind of takes forever! Congrats!ReplyCancel

  • Melanie10.18.14 - 1:07 AM

    wow, your home is coming along so beautifully. I am loving those stairs & kind of wish I had stairs somewhere in my house now!ReplyCancel

  • jennifer10.19.14 - 10:31 AM

    Wow! I love how this totally transforms an already amazing space. I have some hideous carpeted stairs in my entry, and now I’m thinking of paint instead of new carpet. Thanks so much for the inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • Jodi10.20.14 - 12:04 PM

    it looks wonderful!!!ReplyCancel

  • Julia@Cukoo4Design10.20.14 - 2:10 PM

    Looks so goo! Love the shot where you can see my favorite blue couch too ;)ReplyCancel

  • Jessie LeLievre10.21.14 - 6:57 AM

    Great job! I love how clean and crisp this looks! We just got done (well….I don’t think you’re ever really done) renovating our “new to us” house and painting has got to be on my list of things that I don’t miss doing ;) But, it feels great when you’re done and get to see amazing results like this.ReplyCancel

  • megan e.10.21.14 - 1:06 PM

    I hate to even speak up, because your entry way is beautiful, but I can’t stop glaring at the lack of handrail for the bottom half of the steps, as it’s a building code violation. Anything with at least 3 steps requires an adjacent handrail.ReplyCancel

    • Kim10.21.14 - 1:43 PM

      Thanks, Megan! This is totally a valid point, and it’s something we struggled with when we decided to open up that wall and have a partially exposed stairway. (Let’s just say that every decision has safety in mind, building codes, etc!) We discussed our options with our contractor, and considering that prior to us, there was no handrail at all, he said it wouldn’t be so terrible to leave it off the first 5 steps.

      If it’s ever an issue down the road, we can always incorporate one later – or if we ever go to sell and it becomes a point of contention, we can always address it. Thank you for the comment!ReplyCancel

  • Linda10.22.14 - 5:09 AM

    Well done, all that hard work and it is so worth it. Looks gorgeous. Love your colour palette.ReplyCancel

  • Alex - Old Town Home10.24.14 - 9:52 PM

    Yes yes yes. It looks so awesome all painted up. Well done. I know how easy it is to let a project go unfinished for a long time, but that means I also understand just how great it feels when you can check a major step off of that long to do list. Well done.ReplyCancel

  • Michael10.26.14 - 9:22 PM

    A woman really did this? You are extraordinary as there are only few ladies who can execute this kind of work. And you’ve made the stairs so neat too. No need for rugs. It’s really beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • Londen@sixtyfifthavenue5.25.15 - 10:55 AM

    Amazing transformation!! I’m reading every word of every staircase post. Our staircase nightmare is next on the list and I’ve been so scared. I was convinced that ugly paint with all the holes and pits from millions of staples was lead, 1940 house. Just did a test and it came back negative. Still feel nervous sanding without priming first. Wish me luck:)ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.26.15 - 7:55 AM

      It’s a lot of work, but it’s going to be SO worth it!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren Pershouse6.1.16 - 9:50 AM

    LOVE this room! What are the wall and baseboard colors? We’re renovating our bathroom with this tile and the combo is perfect!ReplyCancel

    • Kim6.1.16 - 10:02 AM

      Thanks, Lauren! The walls are Behr’s Sterling (tinted at 75%, bringing the strength of the color down), and all the trim in our home is Behr’s Ultra Pure White, straight off the shelf.ReplyCancel

  • Alicia5.23.17 - 6:30 AM

    Do you have any issues with the treads being slippery. I’m working on our stairs – primed them last night! The sherwin Williams guy said the floor paint would be too slick for stairs. We do have 4 kids, but I’m not sure what else I would use.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.25.17 - 4:36 PM

      Hi Alicia! We’ve since done an update to this post:

      It definitely can be slippery, and I honestly think the only way to avoid that would be to add a stair runner in a durable carpet/rug. We’re on the hunt for the perfect runner ourselves, and eventually, we’d like to add it to our stairs for safety – while still looking good. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jenna3.23.21 - 8:53 PM

    Hello! Do you think the Cobra Speadheater would have worked to strip the paint on the steps? Which process do you think would be easier, stripping or covering? Thank you for all of your posts they are so helpful!ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.24.21 - 8:36 AM

      Steps are a beast no matter which way you slice it. In our home we chose to encapsulate the steps with latex paint and poly, which we’re thrilled with.ReplyCancel

  • Kerstin9.30.22 - 2:57 PM

    I love it!  And I love the paint color on the doors!  What is it?  Thanks for sharing!!ReplyCancel


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