half-finished stairs

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Decorating, My House, Room Makeovers70 Comments

I always have to fight the urge to wait to post something until it’s completely finished.  As I shared in yesterday’s post, I went to a concert over the weekend where Jason Gray performed a half-written song.  This also brings to mind that some of my favorite pieces in the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvré were those that were simple studies and unfinished works.  Much of what we experience in our life is unfinished or half-done.

So, it is in that spirit that I am sharing my half-finished stairs today!  This was an unplanned project, but one I’m so happy we’re doing for reasons of practicality and aesthetics.

Wall-t0-wall carpet is generally not my thing.  I’m okay with it in certain rooms but I draw the line at kitchens, bathrooms, and stairs.  Well, most stairs.  Our stairs going down to the basement are carpeted and that’s fine.  But 13-year-old beige carpet on a beautiful split staircase that is the focal point when you walk in the front door?  Carpet that took 30 minutes to vacuum, but it still looked grubby?  Carpet that was chewed on by the previous owner’s cat?

It’s over the line for me.

I knew I would want to rip it up eventually, but I wasn’t sure what we would do after the carpet was up.  Would we be lucky and find hardwood treads and stairs in good enough condition to stain or paint?

With that hope, I ripped up the carpet.

We were not lucky.  The steps were particle board.  Particle board will not look finished no matter how much I painted it.  Even a pretty woven carpet runner wouldn’t do the trick.  To make matters worse, the treads were glued down, so any efforts to rip up a tread resulted in an hour of making shredded wheat out of said tread.

Basically, it was a mess and the fact that we had ripped up the carpet forced a decision.  After Jeff and I worked together to remove and replace just one step, it was clear that this was a project beyond our DIY abilities.  So, we could either have new carpet installed or have the steps done properly in hardwood.  Even though it the was the more expensive option, we opted for hardwood.  The fact that our staircase was a little fancy (with returns and molding and a curved bottom step) added to the cost.  And, they basically had to rebuild the staircase, which involved removing the banister on the foyer side.

It was a big project, but it looks amazing and we think it was worth the investment.  This is one of those “forever” decorating decisions.  These stairs won’t ever have to be recarpeted or repainted.  They won’t ever go out of style.  They are done.

(The risers, baseboards, spindles, and newel posts still need to be painted, but the steps are done!)

I can’t wait to see how the bright white will contrast the wood treads and make everything look crisp and finished.

Here is how the back steps looked before…

…and now…


I thought they might be slippery or loud, but they really aren’t.  And they are sooooooo much easier to clean.  The neatnik in me is happier knowing that dirt and fluff aren’t hanging out where every tread meets every riser.  I also like that I can mop the steps if a certain dog and two pre-teen boys track mud up to the second floor or spill something.  (Marshall was already balancing mixed berry applesauce while carrying up his laundry basket and spilled it down the steps!)


Even without the fresh coat of white paint on the risers and baseboards, I can see that these hardwood treads elevate the look of the staircase and every space it connects.  These stairs are now the architectural feature they should be, instead of just a method to get from one floor to the next.

Of course, I’ll share more pictures when they are finished, finished…

Have you ever started a DIY project and realized you were in way over your head and had to hire it out?

half-finished stairs

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70 Comments on “half-finished stairs”

    1. We actually did as a part of the foyer painting project. They didn’t finish, because they wanted to wait until the stairs were done. They’ll come back to finish in a week or two. I will be doing some of the painting, though.

  1. We have a similar project in our house, however, with 100 year old stairs and railing. All are wood, but currently not in the budget to refinish entirely, so I’ve taken to painting. I’m stuck with how to best paint the spindles and banister, as well as type of paint that will withstand the many, MANY dirty fingers and sliding children and golden retriever paws on the treads. Suggestions?

    1. I really love Benjamin Moore’s Advanced and have used it on my cabinets and trim in this house. It’s durable, wipeable, and self-leveling when you brush it on.

  2. We haven’t gotten into a DIY that we couldn’t finish yet but we will soon be tearing up tile and putting down hardwood in our dining room. The wood will have to blend in with the existing wood floors and then it all has to be finished/refinished. I’ll let you know if we get stuck. Wish us luck, or just offer up a prayer.

    1. Good luck! You can do it!! We’ve installed and refinished hardwood floors a few times. It’s not a fun project, but it’s very rewarding. 🙂

    1. No. We don’t want to put staples into that beautiful wood. If I had painted the steps, I would’ve added a runner, but we’re just going to leave these as is.

  3. Hi! I am not a DIY gal, but I was curious as to why the spindles could not be painted before it was reinstalled?

    Looks great, and thank you for your feedback.

    1. Francesca, Having gone through the same process myself the contractor doing the installation told me he would gladly come back after I had the posts painted or did it myself but there would be an extra cost for his return. All 3 contractors I received estimates from basically said the same thing. It wasn’t an inexpensive job so I didn’t want to add the additional costs.

    2. The spindles had to be removed and the painters didn’t want to paint them prior to that. They would most likely get dinged up a bit in the process.

  4. Wow!…this is probably my FAVORITE home project of yours so far!!…LOVE that staircase!!…the painting of your kitchen cabinets …your studio …the laundry room…EVERYTHING you do is spot on!!

  5. I replaced my carpeted stairs with hardwood years ago…I knew the day would come when vacuuming stairs would be a pain…that day is NOW and I thank God I removed that carpet and no longer have to haul a vacuum up and down those things! Best DIY project EVER! Your’s are beautiful!

  6. That staircase, which is SUCH a cool feature in your house because of all of it’s multi-directionality, deserved the royal treatment of a tread upgrade that you gave it. I want to come over and walk on it in all of its different directions. 🙂

  7. These look fabulous! And THANK YOU for sharing the in-process photos! I think sometimes design blogs and Instagram seduce us with the “afters,” and we all think the process will be easy, fast, cheap (LOL!), and perfect in the end. And that’s just not true. Any home reno project requires lots of planning and rethinking. Marian, you are just “keeping it real” with this post. (And that gardenia is beautiful! Is it real? If so, I can only imagine the smell!)

    1. Yep, it took a long time! We ripped out the carpet in October and are still waiting for the project to be completed!

      Yes, the gardenia is real! I bought it about a year ago and it’s been doing so well I had to move it to a larger pot.

  8. There is a special place in hell for the person who invented wall-to-wall carpeting (JK). We’re living in a rental currently and experiencing all the horrors of it with muddy winter boots. The house is a bit damp (better with a new dehumidifier) and the carpeting just seems to hang on to the moisture, passing it on to the legs of the furniture. I would so love to see if there are real wood floors underneath. Landlords seem to be in love with beige carpeting.

    My eldest son (because my husband is not handy) and I were doing a DIY remodel/repair on a bathroom in a guest house/office on our previous property. We removed the wobbly toilet, ripped up the icky floor, pulled out the sink and deteriorating cabinet, removed a weird partition wall and bathtub surround. We replaced the old window and were ready to reconstruct the rest of bathroom, when we realized something was up with the plumbing. It was set up oddly and connected to the water heater in funky manner (and the water heater was leaking and something was up with the septic tank). We knew we could proceed no further until the plumbing issue was taken care of. That was beyond our skills and budget for the time. We left the bathroom naked and it remained that way when we sold the house. Fortunately, someone with amazing DIY skills and a network of DIY friends bought the house.

  9. Marian,that was a great choice, they look beautiful. My parents had hardwood steps in my childhood home. It was my misfortune to fall down those steps regularly lol. I was a Klutz. But I still think they’re gorgeous, really adds a lot to the space.

  10. This is a project that somehow changes everything, way beyond the stairs themselves. I”m sure it was big investment but I’m sure it will bring you pleasure every day. They look fabulous. And I too hate wall to wall carpeting.

  11. Hi Marian,
    I enjoy your decorating blog posts and like your Scandinavian Country looking colors and style. I am considering using Stonington Gray in my own house now:).
    I have thought about replacing our carpeted stairs with hardwood, but then wonder where to stop. Did you continue hard wood on the upstairs landing? Into the bedrooms? Thanks!!

    1. If it were completely up to me, I would replace all of the carpet with hardwood throughout the house…just doing one or two rooms at a time. My boys and Jeff like carpet, though, so it is staying in the living room and upstairs hall and bedrooms for now. Maybe one day we’ll have them done.

  12. They look lovely! I admire your style and also share your love of blue and white. I am a fan of yours. 🙂

    We have ripped out wall to wall carpeting on stairs in our last 2 houses and installed home made wood treads. My husband buys 2×12’s cuts them to size, routes them, stains them and installs them over the plywood subfloor. Then he has added melamine toe kicks in bright white. About $100-150 total for a pretty large staircase. They are more “rustic” looking than yours and certainly a darker stain but still very nice and very inexpensive. We ended up spending a large chunk on the new iron handrail made by an artisan so well worth it!


    This is a link to a picture of the stairs that is actually featured on our iron smith’s website!

      1. Thank you so much! We are pretty proud of it. What we saved on doing the stair treads cheaply we spent on the handrail but you see it first thing when you walk in the front door.
        You can’t see it clearly but I designed the top portion to resemble my glass cabinets in the kitchen. Sort of mirrors them.

  13. Beautifully done! They look a lot better than mine. Possibly because I used bamboo which is a lot harder to work with.

  14. Oh, I love your new wood staircase! We finally got rid of the carpeting on our stairs, and had them refinished because I felt that they were just so pedestrian and such a dirt trap and just didn’t fit the decor rest of the house anymore..and the vacuuming, as you said-ugh! Now, I take a moist paper towel and just run it across the steps, and voila- I am done..

  15. So fresh and clean looking! Vacuuming stairs is one of my least favorite jobs, so you can be sure that I did the dance of joy when we pulled up the shag carpet that was on our farmhouse stairs. It is so much easier to keep those stairs clean now.

  16. Amazing! It’s like your house just took a deep breath and exhaled. So fresh. I tackled our staircase last year and love it. Just wondering what trim was used on your bottom front staircase. The curved step. We have the same type of step and we need something to cover the gap between the hardwood floors and the bottom step riser. Like quarter round, but something that is paintable (is that a word?) and flexible to go around the curve. My hubby tried notching the back on some quarter round to bend around the curve, but that was a fail. After a year, I’d love to wrap that project up. TIA. Mary

    1. It’s wood trim and it was bent to the curve (I think they wet or steam the wood or something.)

  17. It’s beautiful, but I was hoping there was an in-between option, somewhere, somehow, that you would magically create, as our carpeted stairs are old and awful, but there isn’t hardwood underneath. We can’t afford new stairs, and I hate to spend money on carpeting them, but I guess that is our only option. I just was wishing for some magic!

  18. Wow, you and Jeff sure made the right choice. The stairs now look just as elegant as the rest of your gorgeous house. The before-and-after shots speak for themselves. I can tell Sebastian likes them, too. My partner and I love our hardwood stairs. As our dogs aged, they had trouble getting their paws to grip the polyurethaned surfaces of the treads. After much consideration, we installed a set of off-the-shelf treads. The solution had them using the stairs again in no time…. As to your question about DIY rescues, here’s my contribution: I got my partner a custom print of a vintage poster he likes and decided to frame it myself as a holiday gift. I had included so many layers behind the glass, the contents bulged out the back of the frame. I tried like heck to see how I might correct it, but every solution presented its own problems. With the holidays looming and me in a panic, I humbled myself and brought the failed project to a family/run framing shop in my neighborhood. They fixed the problem so fast and so beautifully, I insisted on paying them twice the modest amount they requested.

  19. Marion,
    Your home is absolutely beautiful! The stairs really make a statement now!! I love following your blog. You are a very talented woman.

  20. Marion,
    We did the same thing many years ago. Great improvement. But, our older dog found he could not get a “grip” to go up and down easily, and took a couple of spills. We put down temporary stair treads, braided style, held in place with tiny tacks. Much harder to clean, because dust collected around the edges, but we had to do it.
    Just pulled them up. Stairs look great. But wish we had our furry friend back!

  21. When you count in the value of your time if you would’ve attempted to DIY it yourself it was most likely less expensive to have it professionally done I spend my time where it will be most profitable. DIY is only good if it saves you money in the long run and the results are fabulous.
    The stairs turned out beautiful and was the right choice to have it done professionally. I am so thankful my husband hates carpet as much as I do. First thing we did when we bought our little fixer upper was rip out the hideous navy blue carpet. I had to live with painted particle wood for a couple years before we could save up enough for new wood floors but even the painted particle wood was better than that carpet. Easier to keep clean too.

    1. It would’ve taken us so long to do it ourselves and the results wouldn’t have been anywhere near as nice. We also would’ve been pretty miserable, because tearing out particle board treads is just not fun!

  22. The stairs look amazing..You have accomplished a lot in a short time and you can really enjoy your home. I. just finished having hardwood floors put in my upstairs hall and my living room…It;s taken 20 years because some other project has always come before…so happy it’s done

  23. Hello Marian,
    Did you paint your pie safe with your milk paint? If so, what color is it?
    Thank you,

    PS the steps look great! I love hardwood. We are having kitchen tile ripped out and hardwood put down starting Monday. It’s a two week process but, like you, I think it will be worth the wait and expense. You can never go wrong with hardwood.

  24. We just finished with the last of the hardwood in our living room and three bedrooms. Our house was a foreclosure. While I had the carpet professionally cleaned before we move in, it didn’t make a difference. We all have allergies and I couldn’t stand how filthy it always looked, so it had to go. It took my husband a little over a year since we both work full time outside the home. Good thing we were not in a hurry. 🙂 But the result are beautiful floors that will outlast us. Next up is tile in the entry, kitchen and hall to garage but that will be handled by someone else. I always enjoy seeing what you are up to next. Your home is so beautiful and classic.

  25. Marian, your new stairs look perfect and beautiful!

    Would you mind sharing your thoughts about solid wood retreads (sort of a cap-over tread) as a $$ saving alternative? I’m guessing that you considered retreads once you encountered the particle board and may have looked into them. I have the same problem you had about the carpeting and we don’t know what type of tread is under ours. We don’t plan on spending too many more years in this house, and the replacement cap-over treads we have looked at are solid wood, reasonably priced, and would simply fit over whatever is under my disgusting carpeting. We could DIY because our stair treads are wall to wall with no molding complicate the job (we lucked out there!). Your input would be sincerely appreciated!

    Thank you. Love your blog, and I so enjoy seeing your ongoing projects!

    1. I sent you an e-mail, but for others who might be wondering, I looked into those and they would’ve been a great option if our stairs weren’t exposed on one side. Ours needed to be custom made. If your steps are eclosed, though, these would be a fantastic solution!

      1. Could you send me that email too? We are looking to rip out carpet and aren’t sure what’s underneath. Just want to be ready with options and cost estimates.

  26. These steps are a gorgeous change! I love your line about them now being “an architectural feature.” I think in so many homes today, those features are lacking. Beautiful job!

  27. I commented on the post about stairs awhile ago that we had your “twin stairs” with that tricky lip where hardwood ended and carpet began. Our wood lip has the banister posts attached to it, so it stays or the whole thing gets ripped out. anyway, with only about $50 to spend, I ripped out carpet and a zillion staples to reveal particle board like yours. But, since my only options were to find a magic wand, give up and cry, or adhere to “Necessity is the mother of invention” — I went with the latter. I used many, many tubes of caulk (we already had in the shop) to get the particle board paint-ready then added two coats of the best porch paint I could find. The lip is still there, annoyingly, but overall, it actually looks pretty good. WAY better than the dirty carpet! Unfortunately, I chose white and I’m finding we aren’t a white-works-well-for-the-treads kind of family (the mud and dirt and all the dog hair!!! No forgiveness, every little thing shows!!). I may repaint just the stair treads a more forgiving color while keeping the risers white. I would replace with hardwood treads if I had the budget, but for now, it’s improved and I can live with it. So, for any readers with squeaky tight decorating budgets —- particle board does paint up nicely with the right prep, paint, and elbow grease. You can’t tell they aren’t solid hardwood that’s been painted!

    1. Smart lady! Yes, if we didn’t have the money for it, I just wouldn’ve patched and painted it as best as I could and it would’ve still been better than the carpet!

  28. Oh, Marian, this turned out beautifully! I have always loved hardwood flooring, but don’t hate carpet as it is warm, quiets noise and cushions my sore bones. However we were living with the original contractor grade carpet since 1982 and decided to go with hardwood as a replacement. It would be more traditional which fit our decor, would increase the value of our home and we could do one room at a time with an agreeable contractor who is working with us. We have completed the master bedroom, master closet, hall, kitchen and laundry room and are extremely pleased with the results.

    Hardwood on stairs caused my parents to fall a few times so I can see the hardwood as a good safety feature.

    I love tracking your projects!

  29. Yes! This post is exactly the visual kick-in-the-pants I need to rip up the beige wall-to-wall on our T-staircase (same as yours). I know the edges of all the steps, even the ones from the landing up, are pine under the wraparound carpet, but had never considered they might be MDF too. It looks a million times better, and sounds like it has made you happy; that’s a great return on your investment.

  30. Lovely, Marian, as always! And, for those who worry about kids and pets who might slip on hardwood stairs (yep, been there😝), we wear slippers or those socks with the sticky dots on the bottom. Barefoot is best, but hey, y’all are in Minnesota! For sweet canines, our vet recommended using a bath towel under their bellies as a lift. Or, you can find a fancier option online, like this one:

    IN HAND Dog Support Harness with Adjustable Support Sling

  31. Hi, I am in an old colonial that is nearly 100 years old. We tore off the very worn staircase carpeting recently and found that all treads are hardwood just like all of the floors and are in good shape except that they need a good deep cleaning. The treads seem to have some leftover carpet grime/dirt that is stuck on the treads. Mineral oil?

    Also, depending how the treads clean up, we may have to paint or refinish them. It would be very difficult to refinish them to match the old floors to which they attach at the bottom and the top. I really do not want to cover them with carpet like the prior owner did.

    Would appreciate your thoughts.

    Yours turned out really beautiful but unfortunately I cannot afford to hire anyone. So it’s just me and a son to help.

    With warm regards, Lisa

  32. I know it’s asking a lot but could you share a rough idea of what kind of $$ we are talking about – was thinking of getting estimates but would like to get over the sticker shock first – hate standing there looking like they just shot me!!! We live in Iowa so I think it would be pretty close in price.

  33. Thank you for sharing this! It’s beautiful to see that other people, even if they have beautiful homes, still have “unfinished projects!”

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