A few weeks ago I shared some of the ideas I was wrestling with for a colorful stairwell makeover, and now I’m back to declare triumphantly that I DID IT. IT LOOKS AMAZING IF-I-DON’T-SAY-SO-MYSELF. I AM SO EXCITED. Sorry in advance, this post is pretty long. I have so many words and feelings to describe my new stairwell.
Quick recap on the hallway project. First, I painted the walls, trim, and doors in the hallway and turned the pantry into colorful open shelving:
That made a huge difference, but left the stairwell untouched. Dark…wood paneling…yellow walls…it was not good.
It was time for a change! Paint to the rescue. First I had to remove the banister from the side of the stairwell. It’s very strange — someone cut it to be wayyyyy too short for the space:
I think we’re legally required to have a railing along the length of the stairs, so I will be getting a new one sometime soon. In the meantime, please don’t tell on me….
Then I slathered white paint all over everything. By which I mean, I painstakingly, tediously applied a coat of primer and 2.5 coats (ie two complete, and then touch-ups) of white trim paint to the paneling, newel post, banister, balusters, upstairs linen closet, and the doors to the upstairs bedrooms. Since I’d decided to leave the stair treads natural wood, I had to be very careful edging along the stairs:
Also, whoever built our house appears not to have heard of caulk, because I had to use two tubes of caulk filling gaps in everything. But it really makes such a difference — here’s a side-by-side showing some of the trim before and after caulking:
The white paint was great, but made the awful yellow walls even yellower.
So next was two coats of gray paint (Moonshine, by Benjamin Moore, to match the hallway and living room). I decided to paint the ceiling of the stairwell the same color, as it is low and narrow so it seemed jarring for it to be a different color. (I fell in love with the idea of painting ceilings after I did it in the bathroom and it made the space feel so much less disjointed.)
I was able to use a roller on a long detachable handle to paint the ceiling, but to get the seam between the wall and ceiling I had to rig up a little device — I just taped a paintbrush to the detachable handle (the end of a broom stick would work too). It was like a paintbrush spear, except less deadly than a normal spear:
Here’s the finished result of painting, as seen from the top of the stairs:
BUT, enough about painting. That was fun and all, but the real fun was what I decided to do with the stairs themselves. You guys gave me a lot of great advice a few weeks ago, and most people recommended keeping the treads woods and then doing something colorful with the risers. And that’s exactly what I did! Ready for the finished result?
What do you think? I thought about painting them, but ultimately I was really drawn to some of the patterned wallpaper inspiration images. But you guys, wallpaper is so expensive. Especially fun graphic wallpaper. And also, it’s usually between 21″ and 27″ wide for a roll, meaning that there would be a seam in the middle of every single riser. You know what isn’t expensive, comes in lots of awesome patterns, and is usually 40″ wide or more? FABRIC.
Yep, I decorated my stairs with strips of fabric. And since I know I have inspired you with my creative genius, I will tell you how I did it so you can immediately rush out and do the same.
First, I picked out the fabric. I love the selection and prices at Fabric.com — there’s a lot to weed through, but you can find some really great stuff (that’s where the fabric for our living room curtains is from, too). After lots of deliberation, I settled on the Sunprint Feathers in Teal. Here’s the photo from the website:
It looks green here, but I knew from the product reviews that the color was bluer than it shows on the website, so I thought it would tie in nicely with the built-ins. I calculated that I would need 2.5 yards, which came to $23. TWENTY-THREE DOLLARS. From my research, I knew that this amount of awesome cool wallpaper would have cost me at least $100, probably a lot more.
I decided to use mod podge to adhere the fabric to the risers, since it seemed like people have had good experiences with fabric + mod podge + wood to do things like decoupage table tops. I bought a large container of matte finish mod podge, because I knew I would do a protective top-coat and I didn’t want the stairs to be glossy. But that would probably look cool too!
Here’s how the whole thing went down one Saturday afternoon:
Step 1: I washed, dried, and ironed the fabric.
Step 2: I read a few tutorials on using mod podge for decoupaging with fabric that suggested first coating the back of the fabric with a layer of mod podge and letting it dry. The benefits promised were twofold: this would prevent the fabric from fraying when cut into smaller pieces, and it would make the fabric stiffer and easier to work with. I was a little skeptical about whether this was fully necessary, but I figured I’d give it a try so I laid the fabric out face down on a big table we have in the basement, and brushed on a coat of mod podge. It took awhile and the fabric puckered and wrinkled, but I persevered (and the wrinkles all worked out when it came time to put the fabric on the stairs).
After coating the whole thing, I let it dry about 45 minutes. When it was dry, it had a heavier feel, more like paper than fabric — this made it a lot easier to work with down the road. And when I started cutting, indeed there was no fraying. So even though it adds time and uses up a fair amount of mod podge, I definitely recommend taking this additional step.
Step 3: Once the fabric had dried, I started cutting it out and applying it to the stair risers, one piece at a time. Every riser was a little different in size, so I went riser by riser measuring, cutting, and gluing. On each riser, first I used my sewing measuring tape (which is more flexible than a regular measuring tape) to measure the length and width of the riser and then mark that on the back of the fabric and cut it out to size.
Step 4: Next I painted the riser with a liberal coat of mod podge. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it’s okay for it to get on the stair treads, since it dries clear and wipes up with water. It stays wet long enough to coat the whole riser at the same time.
Step 5: I started every riser in the top left corner, placing the fabric so it aligned perfectly in that corner and then working from there. My process was to gently press the whole length of fabric against the sticky riser, but the mod podge stayed wet long enough for me to slowly reposition the whole thing as I worked across to it stretch it out and eliminate bubbles. I used a credit card (errr, an empty Starbucks gift card) to smooth out the bubbles and make sure the fabric was firmly pressed against the riser (especially along the top and bottom edges).
I usually found that I had a little excess fabric along the bottom and right edges because the fabric stretched a little during the process, but this was easy to trim away with an x-acto knife later (just make sure to do it before the mod podge dries).
The only wrinkle in this process was that the bottom step was a little longer than the width of the fabric, so I had to use two pieces of fabric. I cut them so that the pattern would match as much as possible, and the seam is really not noticeable.
Step 6: After completing these steps for every riser, I jumped around with joy and made Sam stand and stare at it with me for a good long while. These kinds of celebrations are important for keeping morale up when you’ve spent every weekend this month contorted on your hands and knees in that darn stairwell and finally it’s looking awesome.
Step 7: As mentioned previously, I trimmed off excess fabric with an x-acto knife.
Step 8: To protect the fabric from getting scuffed up, I went back over each riser with an even coat of mod podge. This converted the surface from a soft fabric feel to a harder lacquered texture, but it looked exactly the same (since I used matte mod podge — if I’d used gloss, it obviously would have created a glossy surface). I kept a pair of tweezers on hand to pick off a few stray cat hairs that got caught on the risers, since I didn’t want that solidified in the mod podge when it dried. This step isn’t necessary if your floors aren’t as gross as mine.
And that was it! All told it took about 6 hours, which really isn’t bad. (This does not count the eleventy-million hours it took to paint everything.)
I’m going to be totally honest: I’m kind of obsessed with it. I spend a lot of time these days standing at the bottom of the stairs admiring my handiwork.
Next I am charging ahead with a few final details to complete the hallway: new light fixtures in the hall and at the top of the stairs, painting the inside of the front door, and art in the hallway and in the stairwell. Hopefully I will be able to get that done and share it soon! And I’m also starting to collect materials to tee-up our next big project: our basement home gym. Right now it’s high on function, low on form:
Update: be sure to check out Phase III of the hallway makeover, all the finishing touches (including new light fixtures, art, and painting the front door)!
(FEATURED at Thrifty Decor Chick, and sharing at A Bowl Full of Lemons, Think and Make Thursdays, AKA Design, Pure Blog Love, Link Party Palooza, Sarah Celebrates, DIY Showoff, All Things with Purpose, and Whimsy Wednesday)