As I’ve mentioned (but haven’t really shown), the last set of stairs in our 4th-story walkup is entirely inside of our apartment. I’ve already done a lot of work on the entry area at the top of the stairs, but I’ve really been ignoring the stairs themselves completely. I had a burst of energy late Saturday night, though, so I decided to take a look and see what could be done.
The first thing I should note is that these stairs are not cute. There is no decorative molding, the wood is builder-grade, everything is totally crooked, and despite being structurally sound, the entire staircase is in generally terrible condition cosmetically.
Oof. The first thing I did was pull those gross little carpet treads off. They were REALLY grimy and worn down to the point of actually making the stairs more slippery than bare wood. I held my breath and yanked. They came off more easily than I expected them to — each one was held in place with 4-6 nails and some carpet tape here and there. The wood underneath was filthy, but an hour spent with a bucket of hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap cleaned them up reasonably well. They’re still spattered with paint and full of nail holes and deep gouges, of course, but at least I’m not afraid to walk on them with bare feet now.
Next step, priming! On first glance you might think that the stair risers were painted in the same Deep Space color I’ve been using on the walls elsewhere in the apartment, but it was actually a kind of “dead” dark gray, a single coat of which appeared to have been applied with a scrap of burlap. Priming was a must. I went back and forth on whether to leave the stairs unpainted, and I’m still not totally sure where I stand on that. My hesitation isn’t because I think the wood is in any way worth preserving (it’s not, really), but because there’s so much unpainted wood elsewhere in the apartment that I think the stairs might look out of place if they’re painted!
Photos by Thoroughly Modern Medusa (L); Jake Curtis for House and Home (R)
The staircase at my house
By the time the primer was done, it was about 2:00 in the morning and I was fading fast. I got into bed and tried to plan out what I wanted to do with the stairs the next day. I looked at a post I wrote about staircases four years ago. My thought process went like this:
1. What about bright orange? What about a bright orange painted runner? I’ve been obsessing over Orla Kiely’s painted orange runner for years. Or maybe shades of gradated orange?
2. No, that’s silly. Maybe I should just go with white risers and dark treads like I have at the house. Just do what I know I like. But the more I think about it, the reason that combination looks good in the house is because the stairs and banister are so beautiful.
3. Maybe I should just leave the treads bare and paint everything else with Deep Space. The walls, too. Yeah, I’ll do that. When dealing with an ugly space, the best move is to go totally dark or totally light or totally crazy. No in-betweens.
But then when I woke up couldn’t stop thinking about bright orange…
I found a good match for my favorite lipstick, MAC Lady Danger (I’m still using the same tube three years later) — Benjamin Moore Salsa. It’s a really bright hot orange-red. I picked up a quart of that along with a quart of Deep Space in satin finish (I really love orange and gray together), and headed back to the apartment to get to work.
This is where things went horribly wrong.
NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. Yeah. This is some hideousness right here, I know. It’s even worse than when I thought it might be a good idea to paint my entire hallway PURPLE — this was pre-blog, thankfully. It’s the kind of thing you know is just going to look terrible the second you stick the brush in the paint, but you do it anyway because you really think the outcome might somehow manage to match that vision you had in your head at 2:00 in the morning when you were passing out from exhaustion and primer fumes. NEVER DO THAT.
This is where I’m at now: I don’t want to have a super-dark stairwell that gets zero natural light, because the artificial light reflects off of it in a really depressing way. It’s just sad-looking. I also don’t want to mess around with trying to combine orange-hued polyurethane-coated wood with bright orange paint (I do have to give Evan credit for pointing out that there might be some clashing issues, but I was too blinded by MY VISION at that point to do anything but dismiss him — sorry, Evan!).
I do kinda want to revisit the gradient stairs idea, though, and this is also what my interior decorating idols Linda and John Meyers suggested when I asked them, “WWWMD — What would Wary Meyers do?” (They also suggested that I could do something typographic on the stairs with the Frankfurter font, but I am just not on that level of cool. Alas.) Wary Meyers have been my gradient-painting heroes since I spotted this awesome radiator way back in 2007, so I trust their suggestions.
So…how about THIS?
Photos by Stacey Bode
That’s really nice, right? The fact that Stacey’s stairs are a lot like mine (totally un-fancy, kinda beat-up wood treads, solid walls on both sides, no banister, etc.) gives me extra confidence that this could look good in my stairwell, too. I think with some careful planning and experimental paint-mixing (Deep Space + Simply White in varying ratios, satin finish), I can make this happen. First I have to re-prime everything I already painted (ARGH!), but I’m not in a huge rush. I should probably also suck it up and sand the treads down a little, because they really do look awful.
I’ll have to find some other place to use that Salsa paint, though. I do LOVE the color. Maybe the entry door to the apartment? I’ll figure something out!