DIYInteriorssneak peeks

Our DIY Stair Makeover: Paint + Runner

by Grace Bonney

When we first moved into our new home upstate, I was so excited about having an upstairs. After years of having my bedroom about two feet away from the living room at all times, it felt like we’d finally have some distance between sleeping and entertaining areas — not to mention guest rooms to host our friends and family (which makes me happier than I can possibly explain). The only catch was the home’s very narrow staircase. Julia and I both have to be pretty careful going up and down the shallow stairs (which appear to be original to the home’s first 1850-era footprint), so when it came to Hope, we knew it would be a challenge. It’s not uncommon for dogs to not like stairs, but Hope has bad back legs, so these stairs were her enemy from the get-go. She slid going down them the first weekend and wouldn’t go near them after that incident. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and redo our stairs with a fresh coat of paint and a carpeted runner so they would be easier and safer to use for all guests — pets included. Taking my inspiration from one of my favorite DIY projects ever, this runner from Young House Love, Max and I tackled this entire project from start to finish in about 2.5 hours. The final result is a staircase that not only looks and feels cleaner and fresher, but that is safe (and easy!) for Hope to run up and down as often as she likes. Read on to find out how to create this look in your own home! xo, grace

Photographs by Maxwell Tielman


The before & after overview: these stairs were in major need of some love. Layers upon layers of dirt, scuffs and uneven spackle were covering what was apparently the home's original staircase. I knew a fresh coat of paint was the first thing we'd do.
The first thing I did was tape off the areas I knew I would paint white. If you're looking to replicate this look, start with the risers and edges- those were quick and easy to do. It pays to tape off well here, so take the time to make sure you get all the edges around the spindles and rail. I didn't do that at first and really had to spend some quality time with a scraper getting the excess paint drips off.
After the first coat of white, Ralph Lauren's "Cove Point," the risers and sides of the stairs looked SO much better. All those scuffs and scrapes disappeared and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I played around with a lot of different color combinations, but I wanted a color that felt at home in a historic (ish) space, so I went with Ralph Lauren Paint's "Brimfield" (also the name of my favorite antique fair!) for the spindles and railing. I love a green grey and this color ended up being PERFECT on the first try.
After the paint was dry, it was time to start the runner. The greatest tip I learned from the YHL project was to use a Sharpie to paint the staples black. Simple but genius. This now means I'm able to hide these staples in any black part of the runner. I swear by Dash & Albert's indoor/outdoor rugs (they're all we use at home because they're durable and can be hosed down if and when a pet accident occurs) so we used a black and white stripe for this one (the same style as YHL- "Birmingham" by Dash & Albert).
This project requires only a few materials: your runner (here's how to figure out how long it should be), sticky rug liners (like the one pictured here), an electric staple gun, staples, a Sharpie and strong fabric scissors. The first step is to cut your rug liner pieces to fit from the back of the step just under the nose of the step, illustrated here. Cut one for each step. (Here's a quick guide to stair part names in case these terms are new to you).
Center your stair runner at the narrowest step (some staircases have wider steps at the bottom) and push the end of one runner right up at the top. Using either a chisel or your own hand (I think they're about the same level of ease, so we stopped using the chisel mid-way through) place your first few staples in place, starting in the middle and working out from each side. I stapled in the black portion so you don't notice the Sharpied-staples.
Place your sticky carpet mat under the tread of each step and you'll hold that in place when you do your next set of staples under the nose of the step.
Once you've stapled the top portion, staple at the back of the next stair, starting from the middle and moving out. Don't worry if you need to redo it or pull it around, you can easily pull out staples with needle-nosed pliers and redo sections. Then cut or fold the end of the runner section (I used several shorter runners) so it comes about 1/4 of the way down the next stair riser.
Start your next runner right over top of the cut end of the previous riser. Staple the top segment just as you did with the first step. Then proceed to staple at the back edge of the next step to secure in place. You'll repeat this process for the entire length of stairs.
When you get to the bottom of the step, cut and fold the bottom under, as if you were hemming a dress. My stairs have a small molding at the bottom, so I chose to end the runner just under the nose of the last step. You can end yours anywhere you like, depending on what you think looks best.
I'm so thrilled with the final look. It's clean, bright and functional. I couldn't ask for more in a DIY project. Once you've finished yours, go back and check for any loose or protruding staples and hammer them in to make sure they're flat. You can also go back and staple the sides of the runner if you feel any areas that aren't super secure.
Hope got herself up there, and now has to contemplate the harder part- getting back down...

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  • So Hope HAS conquered the stairs? Please tell me she’s not still standing up there at the top, looking wistfully down…

    • AMMpls

      ….mostly. She will go up, but the stairs are pretty shallow so she still gets trepidatious. Also, I spoil her and carry her up at the slightest hint of her being scared. Baby steps…

      G ;)

  • We did a similar project a few years ago. We found that the staples came loose after a bit (and we used a industrial stapler with long staples) and occasionally got stuck in little feet. We switched them out for screws (also easier to remove for washing) and haven’t had any problems since. This was a stair used by an active little boy running and jumping, so it may not be the same issue for more sedate users :)

  • Am a big fan of black sharpies! Wear a lot of black and have black in my home also. Here’s another tip — black nail polish. Wouldn’t work on the staples because they’d all stick together. But works on a lot of other things. And it doesn’t wear off as easily. Stock up around Halloween!

  • Curious. Which banister and railing colour is most accurate to real life? On my monitor, there is a huge difference between the colours in photos 12 + 13. One is a soft gray, the other is almost a country blue.

    • hi annamarie!

      it’s a green/grey. it shows up that way on my screen. but if you google “ralph lauren paint brimfield” you’ll see a screen-adjusted hue that should do the trick :)


  • I would have NEVER thought of using a few runners to do the stairs. That is such a great tip! I shalt never be at the mercy of off-the-shelf stair runner designs again!

  • What a difference a coat of paint and a great runner do! Great DYI project, and you make it sound so simple! Thanks for sharing.

  • I love this project. It’s been on my to-do list for a bit. I love the shot of your sweet pooch at the top of the stairs. My retired greyhound was terrified of the stairs. Maybe if I’d done the runner he’d have made it up.

    Looks great! Thanks for the reminder that’s it’s not such a daunting project.

  • This looks very professionally done and really changed the look and feel of the space – love it so much you’ve inspired me to tackle this project in my 100 + year old home.

  • Dreamy! Maybe this will finally shake me off the runner-picking decision fence. Did you have to fill in any cracks where the treads & riser meet the outside wall? This is an issue I’m facing and just curious what you used (spackle? joint compound?) Also, are you & Max available for 2 1/2 hours later today? :)

  • Look so much better, and glad to hear that they’re safer, too! I enjoyed the YHL tutorial on how to do this, and it’s great to see other people making good use of their tips as well. :-)

  • Lovely, I can’t believe how fast you two are moving along. Great tutorial. I think Hope is just admiring the view :)

  • What length and type (pointy ends or flat) were the staples you used? And what are the specs of the staple gun? I tried to copy this after reading YHL’s post, using all the same equipment and runners/pad, but the staples won’t go into my risers! They just bend. Can’t find a tutorial with these details…

  • I wish I could do this in my home… but my stairs “turn” at the bottom and the top. I’m not sure a DIY runner is an option here, I don’t think you can make it take a turn… or can you ?

  • Oh my WORD! I love, love, LOVE this! I’ve saved pictures like this out of Country Living Magazine since I was a teen… if I ever get a wooden staircase in a house, something like this needs to happen.

  • We have two sets of super steep and narrow stairs in our old house and I’m inspired by this to add some carpeting because my kids keep butt-planting and sliding down the stairs.

  • Can I do this on a pre existing rug just to hide the stains or do I need to remove all the rug and do it on wood?

  • I love this look. Do you have any pictures of what you did on the landing? It’s it just bare wood?

  • We have carpet at the top of the stairs and I want to section that off and start removing carpet from the stair case. How would you recommend doing this?

    • Hi Lavern

      Usually carpet on the stairs and at the floor at the top of the stair are not connected seamlessly. The carpet from the top of the stair floor is nailed on top of the beginning of the long carpet that covers the stairs all the way down to the floor. Check to see if that is the case in your home.

      Good luck!


  • Now that you’ve lived with this a while, how has it held up? Have the staples pulled loose? Has the fabric stretched? Is the fabric vacuum friendly? It looks lovely but I worry about the durability. Thanks for your great ideas!

    • Hi Crystal!

      I used the indoor/outdoor version. I swear by that section of the site- I use the indoor/outdoor versions of EVERYTHING in our house. We have three pets, so we need rugs that can be cleaned easily :)