I’m sharing the DIY stair makeover plan, including before photos and mood board, for an upcoming makeover of our 2 flights of stairs. Find out how we plan to lighten and brighten the dark stairs.
Our Dark Stairs
We have two flights of stairs in our home, one to the second floor, and one to the basement. They are stacked one above the other, and each flight curls in a C-shape with three segments each.
There are two landings within each flight, as well as the landing on each floor – main floor, second floor, and basement.
These two flights of stairs really need a lightening and brightening makeover, and they also have some unique challenges. (I took all these photos during the brightest daylight I could find, but when there’s little/no daylight, the stairs are very dark with all the black runner.)
I believe that every room needs a touch of black, but the runner is just too much, and the large squares don’t go with our style at all.
Challenges to Address With Our DIY Stair Makeover Plan
The previous owners installed wide maple hardwood in the living areas of the main floor. I like it ok, and it’s in decent shape, but I wouldn’t choose wide, glossy, maple flooring.
When we got possession, the upstairs had some very inexpensive reddish laminate that had not been installed very well.
And the basement has three different kinds of reddish laminate that we have no imminent plans to replace.
Before moving in, we replaced the flooring on the second level with hardwood. It probably would have made sense to choose wide maple to match the main floor, but that’s not our preference. Since we have an eclectic vintage style, we chose a skinny red oak, which was the closest we could get to recreating the original wood floors in some previous apartments that we adored. It also matches the oak of the handrails nicely.
But the stairs are where it gets really interesting. The landings in between the floors are the same maple hardwood as the main floor. But the treads and risers are oak, though likely white oak as they are pale. But it’s obviously a different wood, and it’s even a different level of gloss.
The difference in woods between the landings and treads is even more obvious when there’s no runner. But it’s also obvious because of how they laid the runner lengths, leaving the bullnose of the landings (in maple hardwood) exposed. We plan to start each length on the landing and then run straight down the next stair segment instead to cover the bullnose edges.
So, not only do we have dramatically different flooring on each level of the house, but we have different woods within the stairs themselves. We are not going to replace any of the wood on the stairs at this point, but it would be nice to ease the transition between so many different kinds of flooring.
Line of Sight
As well, the stairs are fairly central in our home and we have line of sight to them from almost every room. Therefore, we need to make choices that will coordinate with every room. We also want to bring some interest to them, but avoid making the stairs the focal point. Since blue-greens, neutrals, and pops of warm colours run throughout the house, we’ll work those into our design for the stairs.
Our staircases are too dark for two main reasons.
The first is that the existing runner is a fairly flat woven rug in a large black geometric. The black runner winding around so many stair sections and visible from everywhere is just a big black hole absorbing all the light.
The second is a lighting issue. The staircase to the second floor has one small window up near the ceiling. It gets decent light throughout the day. The staircase to the basement gets very little natural light.
There are also light fixtures in the stairwell to the basement, one on the first landing, and one at the bottom. We’ve replaced one with a vintage fixture we love, but still need to find a second fixture to swap out.
In the upstairs landing, there was a very large ceiling fan when we moved in. Ceiling fans can be quite functional, but I don’t care for them. We had our painter remove it when he removed the stippled ceilings and painted the stairwell. But we didn’t have a light fixture to replace it with. So, for 2 1/2 years, we’ve had no light in our stairwell at night.
We finally found the perfect vintage brass chandelier last summer, and we just need to install it. But the way the staircase is structured makes it exceptionally difficult to use a ladder at the right angle. So we also invested in a bigger ladder on Boxing Day and we now have a plan.
I can’t wait until the stairwell is illuminated again – it will be so transformative!
Stair Runner or Bare Wood Stairs?
Many people prefer to leave their wood stairs uncovered. I certainly love the look of beautiful wood stairs with white painted risers and rich brown treads.
However, our stairs have unusually high risers and shallow treads, which can make them feel odd when you’re not used to them. And safety is very important to me. I remember slipping down bare painted steps at someone else’s house growing up, and I don’t want that to happen to anyone.
As well, we have a dog. Funnily enough, we didn’t expose Oliver to stairs during his formative period when he was younger, and he’s always been afraid of stairs, especially bare hardwood stairs. We have taught him to do the stairs in this house because of the runners, but he still only does them if there’s a treat on offer, or if he really wants to avoid a bath.
But regardless, I would still prefer there are runners for grip for him, and any future pets, children, or adults that live in this house.
As well, we have since removed some test sections of the old runner and it’s too much blonde wood, which is too similar to the wall colour. And it’s noisier without a runner. So we are installing a new runner to dampen sound, and to break up all the wood. And most importantly, a runner will also cover up much of the stairs and landings and distract from all the different floorings.
The Stair Runner We Chose
I’ve been hunting for stair runners by the foot for a while. Since we have six segments, each a slightly different length, I felt that getting a runner by the foot was our best option. I searched all of our hardware store options, but they only had a basic selection in black, brown, grey, or a beige and burgundy design. As well, they had a very synthetic texture.
Eventually we began to consider using runners that came in set lengths and simply cutting them down to size. We selected runners from Wayfair that came in many different lengths so that we could select the best length for each stair segment. (Ideally, they’d be mitred and stitched together at each landing turn, but that’s not a DIY project we can do).
The runners are the Dakota Fields Devine Southwest runners. While we don’t have Southwest style, I like the small scale pattern that feels a bit more modern, and not too floral or large scale. I also love the neutral background that’s neither too grey, too white, or too tan. And of course, I love the blue-green!
We will have to temporarily tack the runners to determine the length, cut them to size and then have them professionally bound before final installation. I haven’t quite got that part figured out yet . . .
We also selected runners that are 2 inches narrower than the previous runner (24 inches vs 26 inches). This means that more of the stairs will show, but I feel it will be a better runner-to-stairs ratio. But the size difference definitely means that the stair carpet rods need to go. The spiral shape is fussy and they’re an odd metal tone – not brass, not silver, and not black.
Removing the stair carpet rods means lots of little screw holes will need to be filled though. I would like to leave the treads unpainted if we can get a good match with filling the holes, but we could also paint them if it looked horrible. And my preference is to paint the risers white, but I still need to convince my husband.
We love using lots of colour in our decorating, but balanced with neutrals. Blue-greens are the uniting element throughout the house.
When we moved in, a painter painted the stairwell because of how awkward it was. The colour we chose was Behr Polished Marble Gr-W13. It’s a warm, creamy colour with a green undertone. In bright natural light, it can look creamy or like a light mushroom colour. However in artificial light, such as the basement stairwell, it can become quite buttery yellow which isn’t my favourite.
We have a ledge in the basement stairs where we’ve placed a collection of vintage Penguin and Pelican books in bright orange and turquoise. They coordinate well with the graphic art we bought on our honeymoon. Colourful handmade art from Atlantic Canada hangs in our second floor landing.
I hastily mocked up a rough image of our stairs with painted risers and the new runner, and now I’m very excited to get started with this project.
Things on the To-Do List of Our DIY Stair Makeover Plan:
I doubt very much that we’ll tackle all of these things at the same time. This project may end up in the 95% done category like many DIY projects.
- Remove the stair carpet rods and fill holes
- Pull up the old runner
- Paint at least the risers, and possibly the treads
- Lay carpet pad
- Lay a new runner
- Install a light fixture in the second floor stairwell
- Install baseboards on the second floor landing
- Tidy up some other messy trim
- Build a more aesthetically pleasing vent cover
We’ve never done any carpet replacement ourselves, but after reading several tutorials, I’m sure we can do it. We have a nailer with a compressor that can do staples, and also a manual staple gun, so we should be set. I’m anticipating that these stair projects will be very awkward and uncomfortable to work on, but at least we can do one segment at a time.
And I’m very excited to see the final transformation. I hope the stairs will finally blend in with the colours and style of every other room in the house. Hopefully they will also be lighter, brighter, and just less of a black hole.
A Stair Makeover
Well, there you have our DIY stair makeover plans. I look forward to sharing the final results and some tutorials with you, hopefully sooner rather than later!
Stairs can be a tricky and awkward makeover to do. Have you ever tackled replacing the stair runner on your own stairs before? How about replacing light fixtures in very tall stairwells? Is that something you would ever attempt to DIY? Let me know in the comments below!
All the best,