I'm sure you've heard all the cliches about Canadian winters. They are longer. They are colder. We walked to school uphill both ways in the snow and ice and bitter cold. (Which, to be fair, really was my truth in university and that was a Montreal winter.) Canadian winters last well into March, sometimes even April, and I've even seen snow in May.
It sucks. And you get very, very bored.
For me, boredom hits a peak around mid-March. I'm tired of snow and cold and I'm sick of everything in my house. This is dangerous. Just ask Lee.
In March 2014 (Yes, I realize it is currently summer 2015. Hush.) I got really bored one Saturday. As I walked by the stairs I happen to notice the carpet was a bit loose in one corner. The carpet was, we believe, original to the house, which was built in 1988/1989. That was some old grungy carpet. It was worn. You had to be careful on certain steps because the nails were starting to poke through.
A loose bit of a carpet is a dangerous thing at the best of times. It's far more dangerous when it's March and I have been stuck inside the house yet again, bored, and sick of just about everything.
I peeled the carpet back a bit. "Hmmm," I thought. "You know, the wood under there doesn't look too bad. It looks like it's pine." So I poked a bit more and turned to Lee and said, "So ... I'm going to pull the carpet off the stairs. What do you think about that?"
Smart man that he is, he stood back and told me to rock my socks off as long as he didn't have to do anything except clean up the mess in the end. He's a good man.
So, I spent most of that afternoon yanking off carpet and then pulling up nails and pulling out staples. It took a long darned time.
TIP: Use a wrench to grip the carpet when you are pulling it up. It's much, much easier to pull off with a wrench and you are far less likely to go tumbling backward down the stairs. No, that didn't happen to me but I came kind of close before I discovered a wrench is a beautiful thing.
By Sunday afternoon we had a gross pile of truly disgusting old carpet and bare stairs. Seriously, the grunge and dirt that was under that carpet was horrific. We were thrilled to have it gone. Well, I was thrilled. Lee was cautious. He was worried that uncarpeted stairs might be a bit too slippery. (A totally fair concern considering I took a serious tumble down the carpeted stairs in the first six months in the house.) We didn't know how the cat would adapt to uncarpeted stairs. We didn't make any decisions on what to do next. We decided to live with them for awhile. And by awhile I mean a full year.
Flash-forward to March 2015. It was winter. It was stupid cold. I was bored. And I was on Pinterest.
We had considered staining the stairs but I realized that it would take far, far too long to get the stairs into condition where I could stain them. Yes, they were actual wood stairs but they were still pretty crappy builder grade stairs that were meant to be covered up. They had lots of dings and scratches and stains from who even knows what. So I started to think about paint. And that's when I found Susan's "Painting Stairs: DIY Tips and Tricks." It was exactly what I needed. I had a plan. Lee quickly agreed because he's awesome and he really doesn't care what I paint as long as he doesn't have to paint. He's clean-up crew. (He also thinks he doesn't have good opinions about home decor but he's wrong. He knows when he hates something and that's important to know.)
And so I started painting, letting Susan guide me. First I did the risers in a Behr white semi-gloss. We have oodles of the stuff because we also use it on baseboards. The risers actually turned out really well and immediately everything looked better. I felt good about things. Really good.
The risers barely took any time at all. It was fast! Speedy! I was sure I was going to finish this whole process quickly.
Are you laughing? You should totally be laughing.
The next step was to paint the treads. I followed Susan's colour advice and went for Behr's Stealth Jet. It's a fabulous colour and everyone who has seen our stairs in person loves the colour. It's not quite black, or really grey, and it has hints of blue and brown. It's great. The specific type of paint I used was Behr Porch and Floor paint in a low luster finish. That's what Susan used and I thought it made a lot of sense. Our stairs are a high traffic area and I wanted something that was designed to stand up to that. It also has a decently short drying time.
TIP: Only paint every other tread. At first it will be easy to see where you can step and where you can't but once everything has one coat of paint, switch to putting Post-Its on every other step so you know where you can step. And put them close to the edge of the step or you won't be able to see them when you are coming down the stairs.
I did two coats on each tread. (No, I didn't prime. I'm lazy. And I knew I'd be doing three coats total. More on that soon.) Painting the treads actually went fairly quickly, even once you consider that I taped the crap out of the treads. I know people who can freehand edging. I am not one of those people. I am especially not one of those people when I have to become a contortionist to get into all the nooks and crannies. Painter's tape is my friend. It's probably yours, too.
Even though I said this went "quickly," it still took well over a week. I liked to wait a least a full 24-hours between coats (though you don't have to) and to be honest, my back often needed more than a day off between rounds. Lots of bending and twisting and yep. Rest. Listen to your body.
At this point we LOVED how it looked. We realized it accidentally matched our chalkboard wall, which we had painted two years earlier. Happy coincidence! Yay us! This is also the point where I started to procrastinate because I knew what was next.
Painting spindles is not fun. SO NOT FUN. It takes a long time. It's awkward. It's, quite simply, a pain in the ass. And before you paint the spindles (and your bannister!) you need to give them a rough sand to remove some of the veneer and give the paint something to glom on to.
Susan's post says it took her 25 hours to do her spindles. It took me longer. Way longer. I think in part because of the way my stairs are designed. And I did three coats of white semi-gloss. And my spindles are a bit more intricate.
This is my advice for spindles. Use a small brush. Stock up on audio books. When you run out of audio books, watch Netflix on your tablet or laptop. Find a way to distract yourself so you don't lose your mind (completely). It took me more than a full month of working on spindles here and there. And yes, that could have gone faster but I took lots of breaks because, again, my back would start to protest after awhile.
Once I finished the spindles in the upstairs hallway I took a break from spindles to paint the hallway bannister. I could make a up reason why but really, I was just sick of spindles and desperate to paint anything else.
So, remember above where I said that I knew I was going to be doing three coats of paint on the treads? And that I only did two before painting the spindles? SMART CHOICE. You see how squishy it is between the hallway bannister and spindles and the ones on the stairs? As I was reaching between the spindles in the hallway to the spindles on stairs, I whacked the paintbrush on the bannister and it went flying out of my hand. Down the stairs. And bounced. Leaving a trail of white paint down my nice dark stairs. That was an awesome day. Gold star for me!
But eventually I did finish the all the spindles. And I finished the bannisters. I put extra coats on the top of the newel posts because we touch them often I've seen the way they wear down. I'm hoping the extra coats will make them a bit more durable. Then I went back and did a quick, final top coat on the treads.
And the end result?
I love it. I love it so much. It's so, so much nicer to look at.
The stairs are pretty. They are us. And they are worth every single hour I spent on them.
- 1 gallon Behr semi-gloss white paint
- 1 gallon Behr Porch and Floor paint in Stealth Jet (we actually have quite a bit of this left)
- Sandpaper (I used 120 and 100 grit) for the bannister, spindles, and newel post
- 2.5 inch angled paint brush for risers and treads
- 1 or 1.5 inch angled paint brush for spindles (I used a 1.5 but 1 might have been better - depends on your spindles)
- Lots and lots of painters tape
- Audio books (free from the library but trust me, you want them)
- Risers: about 3 hours
- Treads: about 8 hours (including taping - taping took a long time)
- Spindles: I stopped counting after 25 hours. I listened to lots and lots of audio books.
- Bannister: 3 hours.
Total time? Well, a year and two months from the time we took the carpet off to when I actually finished. Had I done it start to finish all at once and didn't take breaks it easily would have taken me a full month. Spindles, yo. Spindles.
Worth it? YOU BET.