before and after

Before & After: Stair Nightmare

by Grace Bonney

It’s Before & After day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to start than with these seriously disgusting stairs. I’m pretty sure this is just exposed and worn-down wood, but the first few times I looked at this “before” picture, I thought it was straight up dirt. This was how Liz of ELA’s Smile and her husband found their staircase (and other parts of the home) when they first bought it. Their fixer-upper project started with the staircase, which was originally painted a dark forest green. Torn between painting and grasscloth wallpaper, Liz decided to save some money and stick to paint. Describing herself as “mildly obsessed with stripes,” Liz decided to create a light, beachy feel with thick horizontal stripes in a gray/blue. The result is fresh and airy, a vast improvement from the dark green walls before. Although just about anything would have been better than those stairs before — yikes! Read the full story after the jump for Liz’s clean-stripe technique and more photos. Thanks, Liz! xo, grace

From Liz: Our ceilings are vaulted in that area, so we had very tall walls to measure and plan out evenly how many stripes we wanted and how thick they were going to be. Enter Jeff. Jeff roughly marked out horizontal lines with a tape measure and pencil where the stripes would be. Instead of painting a second coat of white across the whole wall, we painted a second coat of white paint just where the white stripes would approximately go (saved us on paint). After the paint dried overnight, we more accurately marked [the walls] and placed painter’s tape where the gray stripes would be. Now here is the secret that I learned from my carpenter husband that will save you a lot of time and frustration: To ensure that we got crisp lines, we put a VERY thin line of caulk where the tape and wall meet and where the gray stripes would be painted between. This helps a lot if you have textured walls like I do.

Just place a few beads of caulk along the edge of the tape and smear it with your finger down the line of tape and wall. Wipe off any excess caulk on the wall with a damp rag. We let the caulk dry and painted the gray stripes between the caulk-edged painter’s tape. We pulled the tape off just before the paint was completely dry. Voila! Straight, crisp, non-bleed-through stripes.

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  • This is ironic, I’ve been suggesting to a friend how to go about livening up their staircase with joke suggestions, such as using aspic and salt. This one seems fairly complicated, though, I think they went to a bit more trouble than just slapping a bit of paint on there. I have to say (and I’m sorry about this) but I like dark colours so I prefer the older one – it’s a bit more rustic and appealing to me. Please don’t hit me.

  • I’d also really like to know how this was done — did you use ladders or scaffolding and platforms? It looks fantastic and I have a similar stairwell area in my house and have no idea how to get to it.

  • Pics are awesome! Don’t tell your husband, Liz, but the Home Depot paint expert told me that caulking secret and I ignored him because I was too lazy. My stripes turned out great anyway but it wasn’t a textured wall. Another tip which I did follow was to carefully pull the tape off while the paint is still wet, which I happily obliged! Less waiting!

  • I had never heard the “caulk tip” – thanks for sharing! That radius wall at the landing is awesome. Beautiful re-do!

  • A variant on paint caulk – seen on other home decorating sites but I’ve never personally tried it. Once you’ve got the “base” color painted and dried and put up painter’s tape to section off the stripes, “seal” the edges of the tape that will form the top & bottom of the “second color” stripes by painting a strip of the BASE color along those edges. Once that’s done you can paint the stripes. Theoretically, if any paint bleeds under the painter’s tape it will the base color and, thus, ‘invisible’.

  • Wow! This is absolutely beautiful. Love the stripes! Please keep sharing your creative ideas! The recent post of your dining area was amazing as well. You and your husband make a wonderful team. Can’t wait to see what you guys do next. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  • In any other space, I would have liked vertical stripes more, to accentuate the ceiling height. But the way the horizontal stripes accent the curvature in the walls makes these absolutely fantastic!

  • you can also just put some more of the wall colour over the painters tape rather than caulking – then the ‘bleed’ is in the same colour as the wall! Plus you probably already have the paint out. We have very textured walls and did this and it turned out great.

  • What a gorgeous transformation! You would never know that staircase was ever forest green and a total nightmare. Staining the stairs and railing also creates an excellent contrast with the light wall colors. Really beautiful!

  • I did the same with the old stairs (1920, not very very well done!!) of our house. We had to pull the carpet off first and thouroughly clean everything. We white-washed (line-wash) it twice and sealed the wood afterwards. It looks very natural, light and lovely.
    We did however leave the original wallpaper by Laura Ashley from the 70th….
    A beautiful transformation – I would do the same again and again – it looks so modern, full of light and the stripes just add to the timeless modernity of this probably old property.

  • I would love to see a full photo of the piece in the landing of the stariwell…..the colours look amazing. Is this an old window frame or a metal door?
    Thank you, Barb

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