Staircase Upgrade: Lots of Work, But Affordable!

When we first walked into this house, the staircase was scary. I mean, literally - our son walked upstairs and was scared to walk back down, because there was no hand rail. Also, it looked terrible. It will never be wide, or have fancy railings or windows... but I knew it could be a nice little staircase! Our goals were making it bright, clean, and simple.  We wanted the space to look fresh and new, but also to preserve some character. The wood treads are worn in the middle, and have some interesting dents and marks that show their history - it was important to retain that while making the space feel overall updated.

The staircase begins at the landing between our kitchen and downstairs half bath, and leads to the upstairs bedrooms and full bath. The room right at the top of the stairs seen in the photos is the upstairs bath, which you may remember we have some big plans for!

BTW, no worries - my kids can walk down the stairs now. The previous owners had to add a railing in order for our loan to get approved by the bank. Is it the railing I would have chosen? Probably not, but it isn't too bad!

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

See those old brown doors at the top of the stairs? We're working RIGHT NOW to make them beautiful! I can't wait to share all about it! I'm over on Instagram with real-time updates.

Check out what it looked like right before we moved in:

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

Yikes, right? We were dealing with damaged risers that were an old blue color, but had carpet tacks sticking out from them - so the previous owners must have had a runner at some point? Also, dirty treads with old, dry wood, wood paneling, walls that were only painted with primer, and brown-swirled ceiling tiles. While I would love to tear out the wood paneling and ceiling tiles, right now that just isn't in the budget or time frame - it would be SO much work and expense. So, we're making the best of it and working with them!

For the stair risers, we used paint leftover from our downstairs bath renovation - Dark Linen by Benjamin Moore. Before painting, I removed all of those pesky carpet tacks, did a lot of spackling and painted a coat of primer. We bought 1 gallon of Dark Linen color matched in Valspar Signature when we painted the downstairs bath, and I worried it wouldn't be enough. I was wrong! Since then, I've repainted two walls of the downstairs bath after we got blown-in insulation, painted the insides of the kitchen cut-out, and these stair-risers... and still have some leftover. It's like the miracle gallon of paint.

For the walls, we went with White Dove by Benjamin Moore, the trim is Simply White by Benjamin Moore, and the ceiling tiles are Sweet Slumber by Valspar. I love a blue ceiling, what can I say.

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

Those stair treads though! I was not looking forward to completely sanding them down and refinishing them, and knew I would miss that aged quality. I thought about trying a gel stain, but the treads were already pretty dark. I considered just using a floor polish, but I have vivid memories of sliding down my grandmother's stairs many a time due to a slippery, just-waxed floor. Then getting yelled at for walking on the just-waxed floor.

Then I found this Hardwood Floor Reviver by Minwax when walking around a local hardware store! It is amazing. Truly, sincerely awesome. This post isn't sponsored - I am just super impressed with this stuff. I gave the floors a good scrub, then used one of those paint mitts (like this one), and rubbed on a coat of Floor Reviver. I followed the directions for how long to wait afterwards, and eventually added two more coats. It is shiny, clean, and surprisingly not any more slippery than it was before. The wood no longer looks dull and dead - it looks so nice, and for $20 it saved me a whole lot of time spent refinishing these suckers!

We used this type of caulk, this type of spackle, and this type of paint.

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An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

What a difference caulk makes, right? The hardest part of this project was dealing with all the trim. It took a LOT of caulk, let me tell you. I started with wiping every single surface down with a TSP cleaner, then giving the trim a light sanding. Then, I used trim nails to repair the wood paneling and trim in places it was loose. I worked my way over the walls and stair risers with spackle to fix up the worst dents and old nail holes. We primed pretty much every surface, and I the spent1000000000000 days caulking. Lastly, we added two coats of paint to the walls, ceiling tiles, trim, and risers. And then I had a glass of wine and took a nap.

Things got dicey when painting the highest part of the ceiling; I managed part of it by taping the paint brush to a painting pole - it was pretty effective! Caulking a few spots was tough, though.... I tried every single thing I could think of with a ladder, and just couldn't reach them. Finally I used old boards and cinder blocks to build out the steps by stacking on lower steps so I could walk out further from the higher ones - don't try this at home. I'm honestly glad I have no pictures of it, and a little surprised I survived.

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

The whole space turned out so bright, pretty, and clean! Even the wood paneling feels more natural, right? (please say it does please)

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

See what I mean about those ceiling tiles? Woof. That's what I was dealing with before the magical powers of caulk and paint saved the day. I had already started priming the ceiling, in these photos.

Just for fun, here is a quick before & after side-by-side comparison (using Fotor, which is so awesome in case you haven't tried it yet!)...

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

Every time I walk up the stairs, I'm so happy - the whole house feels more pulled together now. After we are done updating the upstairs bathroom and our bedroom, I think the staircase will be a great introduction to those spaces.

An affordable staircase update - check out the before & afters! House renovation that is practical and still transforms a space! From

We aren't done though! We still need to finish updating the doors, add baseboards at the top landing, and replace the light fixture.

Have you used leftover paint in other spaces in your home? Or found that one magic color that just seems to work everywhere?

Our Downstairs Bath Renovation: Green On Green

I totally get why people tackle the hardest or worst project first, in house or in life in general. It feels amazing to get that out of the way and move on! Sometimes, I need to knock out a little project first though- something that feels manageable and gratifying. When it comes to our renovation, it means having one place I don't have to add a disclaimer when I show it to a guest (i.e. We have plans! Really! Someday it won't suck and here is why!"). Also, it gives me a chance to test out some things in a small way, so if it all goes disastrously, it doesn't have actual life-altering disastrous impact. And so, our downstairs bathroom was updated!

You can see the tiny green paint chip taped to the wall. It was the little flicker of hope...

Small bathroom updated with Dark Linen by Benjamin Moore, and DIY shelving! All for just around $200.

There is our before and now! I really do need a nicer camera, though... that fuzziness isn't all that adorable.

We aren't actually done with the space, but I'm feeling good enough about it to share! We are on real-normal-life budget, which means I had about $200 in total to update the space. And frankly, that was splurging when it is such a tiny room and SO much else in the house needs done. This means having to go with the flow, and find ways to work either with or around what was already there.

What we added/replaced:

  • Towel ring and paper roll holder
  • Shelving (!!!)
  • Pretty stuff!
  • Mirror
  • Wall paint
  • Mason jar toothbrush holder
  • Window privacy film

What we had (no choice but to) work with:

  • Wood paneling on the walls
  • Sink and toilet
  • Tile flooring (which I'm totally okay with)
  • Baseboard heater
  • Ceiling tiles (ugh)

All of the bedrooms in the house, the downstairs bath, the staircase and one wall of the kitchen ALL have that wood paneling. It isn't even the nicer solid-wood, thick oak paneling that I might be able to call "rustic" or "charming". It's the cheap stuff that a previous owner glued up over probably old wallpaper-covered plaster walls. Which, granted, I don't want to have to deal with either so I can't blame too hard on them. All of those rooms also have ceiling tiles which ideally I would just tear down Manhattan Nest-style, but again it isn't written in the stars for this quick update.

The toilet is fine; in fact, the handle is porcelain which I find sort of charming for a toilet handle. The sink is more of an issue; the ring around the drain is discolored, the faucet is outdated, and most of all I dislike how the old pipes look under it. Currently, one of the pipes is leaking a tiny bit but we have a plumber scheduled to come fix that up. It is TINY though. I cannot emphasize how small this sink is. Really, Winnebago-sized small, so the options are limited. I think I want to replace it with a pedestal sink someday (like this one), but it just isn't in the budget for now. Maybe I could sew a little fabric cover for over the pipes? What do you think?

Baseboard heaters just are what they are. Ours is hydronic. The tile flooring continues into here from the kitchen and by the staircase, and I'm totally okay with it.

So, what DID we change then?

The first thing was the paint color! We went with Dark Linen by Benjamin Moore, color-matched into Valspar Signature paint. I like it so much, you will even see it come back around when we get to the staircase update! The trim is in Simply White by Benjamin Moore, color-matched into a cheaper Valspar paint... I don't recall which one. All paint was purchased during a big paint sale, when there was a $5 per gallon rebate, which helps with the cost. We only used half a gallon on the walls and ceiling in here. In most of the house, we've painted the ceilings a very pale blue, but in here I wanted to try out this whole "paint the ceiling the same color as the walls" thing. Again, it's fun and less terrifying to experiment in a closet-sized space!

DIY bathroom shelving = so much storage, and pretty too! From

Adding shelving was the biggest change! I was inspired by this bathroom. The big exciting thing was trying a different stain than I ever had before! I am normally hardcore-loyal to Dark Walnut stain. This time, to keep the small space light, we went for Puritan Pine by Minwax. I learned when staining our copious amounts of living room/dining room built-in shelves that wood conditioner (this stuff) is amazing and the most important part. We used 3 coats of Polycrylic to seal them, since they are in a bathroom (even if it's one without a shower or tub). We followed all of the directions carefully, sanding and cleaning between layers, of course.

Hardware is always a fun part! And often an expensive part, too. Having such a tight budget meant being creative, so I used bronze spray paint to update these brackets from Lowe's (which are the cheapest thing ever, $1 something each) and screws we already had were drilled directly into the wall-studs. To touch up the screws, which were steel, I sprayed a tiny bit of spray paint into the lid of the can and used a kid's cheap paintbrush to touch them up. I'm pretty happy with them, especially for the $12 cost or so for all 6!

The mason-jar storage under the towel-ring cost only about $4 to make, and is so useful! It was easy, except for getting the screws through the metal pipe fittings. The hubs had to pitch in as a second set of hands to get that done. We used a board and stain leftover from building the shelving, and followed this tutorial which was great!

We replaced a way-too-big towel-bar with a new towel-ring (this one), and added a matching toilet-paper roll holder (this one), which you can't quite see from behind the sink. They are both from the Moen Preston line at Lowe's; It was a great option for not spending a lot, but still looking a little high-end.

In the spirit of using what we already had, I found some glass canisters we used to use for storing tea bags in our last kitchen, and they were re-invented for this space. The small one holds little toiletries from hotels, and the large one is probably my absolute favorite part of the space now! I had so many nice soaps we had been given as gifts, some hand-made by friends. I hated that they were hidden away in a plastic bag in our linen closet; displaying them here gave it a more of a spa-like feel without costing anything, and I get to actually make use of them.

Over the summer, our local Michael's craft store had a few different clearance sales on "spring season" accessories, which is where I grabbed these little faux cacti for $1 each, and the green owl for $3. The reed diffuser is one we have had for years, from Target (and which I need to refill - the only place in town that sells the scented liquid for them is Pier One I think). The basket is the exact perfect sized to hold two rolls of toilet paper hidden from view; this one from our local fair trade store. It's adds a nice natural element, for just $10.

What we choose to keep:

  • The cute vintage light! (we did re-paint the base)
  • Crown-molding

What we are still in the process of fixing:

  • Window trim
  • Bathroom sink (still figuring it out)

You might have noticed in the picture above, that the privacy film on the window is striped. The bathroom looks over the deck and backyard, and I thought it was nice to be able to still enjoy the view while not worrying about actually being viewed. I used a straight-edge and craft knife to cut even stripes, and applied them following the directions (with just a spray bottle of water and an old library card). It's just unique enough to making the space feel a little more modern.

Need some privacy? Create a striped affect with window privacy film! From

The mirror is from Target, and was in their clearance section for $18 about a year ago. I knew it might be a risk putting a green mirror against a wall that was a very different green, but I love how it turned out! It's just a little unexpected, and the monochromatic feel makes the bathroom appear at least a little larger.

The light is the one that came with the house; in the before photo, I had taken it off to soak it really well and clean it. The milk glass is so cute and vintage, but the base was rusted and shabby, and the previous owners had splashed paint on it in a few places. I spray-painted it bronze at the same time as the shelf brackets. I could NOT get it off the wall, so instead I used plastic bags and just taped the area off really well before painting it right there on the wall. I made surprisingly little mess!

Things still to do: Something to cover those really ugly pipes and replacing the window trim. The old trim was broken in places, so I just removed it when painting the walls and it didn't ever get replaced. Soon! Maybe artwork; we only have that space by the window, and I don't want the room to look too cluttered.

Welp, that turned out to be quite a long post. If you're still with me, we're officially best friends. What do you think - would sewing a cover for over the pipes look tacky or discreet? Should I just save up and try to find an extra-tiny pedestal sink?