Maybe Matilda: July 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Staircase Makeover

Guys, I’m tired. I’m so tired. Jeff and I have been working so dang hard on a million and one dang projects for this dang house and I. Am. So. Tired. Despite the fun and excitement of watching things starting to come together in the new abode (and it is SO fun to see it improve and start to show our style and hard work!), I’m sorry to say that I don’t think DIY home renovation projects are really our thing. We hate them. I’ve discovered that I am definitely more of a ‘nester’—I love doing the little homey decorating touches—but there is no joy in the journey for me when it comes to larger-scale home projects. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. So I can’t say it’s been terrifically fun to be doing all this work ourselves, but the outcome (and money saved) has made it worth the work so far, and we are LOVING the progress we’re making. But you know how so many DIY home blogs seems to enjoy things like demo-ing and laying floors and painting and carpentry? They’re on crack. The end. I’d be perfectly happy if I never again, in my whole life, laid eyes on a can of paint or a floor saw.

I don’t want to show too many pictures until things are a bit closer to being completed—most of the house looks extremely unfinished still--but here are a few peeks. If you need a refresher on the dismally boring before, visit this post for the full tour.

Every single surface in the whole house got a desperately-needed fresh coat of paint . . . our bedroom color is probably my favorite:


The disgustingly filthy, stain-covered, pee-soaked carpets? Ancient history, replaced by these lovely dark wood floors downstairs, installed by Jeff (WHOA, right?! I didn’t know he could do that!):


There are fresh, clean, not-a-droplet-of-urine-in-sight (for now . . .) carpets upstairs:

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And, my personal favorite, the kitchen. Ahhhh, the kitchen! We still have a bit to do in here, but we are well on our way in the transformation from a dated, bland kitchen to a bright, clean, happy room, thanks to a kitchen cabinet makeover by yours truly and brand-spankin’-new countertops and hardware:


I’ll share more pictures and details of everything as we get closer to finishing some projects up, but that’s a start. I’ve been putting plenty of pictures on instagram if you’re interested in seeing more of our handiwork as we go—search me up, maybematilda.

But I do have ONE completed project to show you today . . . the staircase. Here’s what we started with:


It’s fine. It’s nothing special, nothing terrible, just kind of your standard, builder-grade stairway. But since we were getting rid of the oak look in the kitchen by painting the cabinets white, and everything was going to be torn up anyway as we replaced floors and repainted walls, and the lighter oak wood on the staircase surely wouldn’t look nice next to a rich, dark wood floor, I said to myself, “Self, why not perform a little stairway magic?” Sometimes I’m smart. So I listened to me.

We started by knocking out the goofy little spindle fake-banister thing on the far left of the picture above and throwing it away—it served very little purpose other than making the room feel smaller. So Jeff went about the very detailed and intricate demolition process of kicking it really hard until it popped off the wall. Done. We were re-doing the floors anyway, so the little space in the floor that it left exposed wasn’t an issue.

I wanted a dark banister/rail and white spindles/balusters (I’m not 100% sure I’m using the correct anatomical staircase terms . . . hopefully you know what I’m talking about here), so I figured I would just sand and stain the rail, and paint the balusters white. How difficult could that possibly be?

I started by priming the balusters, then finished them off with 3 or 4 coats of a high-gloss bright white trim paint—they looked lovely. I was doing great. Time to sand and stain . . . can’t be too hard.

Except for the part where I stink at home renovations, remember?


Uh-oh . . .



Project disaster! The entire rail was a streaky, splotchy, spotty mess. Not quite the look I was going for.


Not good. Not good at all.

I thought I had done a great job of sanding the rails and post—I went over every nook and cranny with a palm sander (twice!), then went at the hard to reach areas by hand with sandpaper. I truly thought I had gone above and beyond in the sanding department. Well, obviously not. Not even close. When I started staining, it became painfully clear that I am the worst sander in the history of sanding, and I didn’t know what to do to fix my project—it looked beyond awful.

My mom came up with the solution (doesn’t she always?)—why not just paint the rail/post a dark, chocolate brown? Then it will give the impression of being stained dark, my stain disaster would be hidden and solved, and no one’s the wiser.

The woman is a genius. A genius, I say!


I headed to Home Depot in a tizzy and picked out a deep, dark brown (Behr Bitter Chocolate in high gloss—it looks almost black in these pictures, but in real life it’s definitely more of a chocolate brown) and hid my terrible staining mistakes with it. All it took was two quick coats over the rail and post, and it looks for all the world as if that rail is a beautiful, dark-stained wood instead of massacred, splotchily-stained oak.


(You can see, in the background there, that we need some drywall work done where we knocked two walls out! That was exciting and terrifying—more on that later.)

I’m no renovation/design expert, but based on my experience, I would say that if you’re interested in going for the dark rail/light baluster look, just skip the sanding and staining process altogether and paint it dark instead. I think it came out beautifully, it’s holding up great so far (although I guess time will tell if the paint proves to be a good choice or not over the years), and the paint job looks infinitely better than my terrible stain disaster. Plus, if I had painted it to start with, it would have taken about a quarter of the time that the sanding/staining process took. It has exactly the striking, high-contrast look I was going for, and if I had thought of painting it first, I sure would have saved myself the headache of sanding and sanding and sanding and sanding and sweeping up sawdust and sanding and cleaning and staining and crying and starting from scratch with a paint can.

staircase makeover

What do you think? Do you prefer the new staircase look? Have you had better staining success than I have? (Sheesh, I hope so, I can’t imagine it going much worse than mine . . . )

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