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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Wallpaper Stair Risers - Stairway Transformation

This is not a home improvement blog, nor will it ever be one. But, 2020 has been one whacky year and a lot of us are doing less traveling and more adventures into home improvement. If you've been following around on Instagram, you probably know that we bought a fixer-upper in May of this year. It's a 1978 classic center stair colonial tucked away in the woods at the edge of a preserve. We fell in love with the neighborhood (a cul-de-sac off a cul-de-sac) and the access to the trails (a 1-minute walk to the cul-de-sac) and decided this insane project was worth the hassle. 

Our colonial had barely been updated since its 1978 construction. If anything, it had just been severly neglected by renters and a lazy previous homeowner.  Wallpaper and carpet covered all of the upstairs and we had a huge project to turn this 70s girl into the modern colonial of our dream. We've done a lot of work from taking down walls, gutting the kitchen, redoing the ceilings, creating closets, making a pantry, and transforming a bedroom into a master bath (that's still a work in progress). Today's little share is a small piece of the puzzle that makes a big dramatic difference - our stairs.

Being a center stair colonial, when you open the front door you find yourself in a small entryway (made bigger by taking out a coat closet) and right in front of our stairs to the upstairs. A left takes you to a formal living room (which will be a study) and a right takes you into the kitchen and living area. Our house is black, white, and modern and we wanted to make a statement on the stairs, the first thing you see when you open the front doors.  


The stairs matched the rest of the house, dark wood, old spindly railings, and nasty carpet. I quickly decided nothing could stay and did some research and creative planning on what I wanted these stairs to look like. I scrolled the internet and came across some fun wallpapered stair risers that added a fun pop of color and pattern to an ordinary set of stairs. I also realized this was a great solution for covering the damaged risers from the former carpet staples and an easy way to keep the risers clean from shoe and scuff marks (easy to wipe down!). Wallpapering the stair risers also provided a less-than-permanent solution for my problem which meant if I hated it at the end of the day, all I had to do was peel some wallpaper and install some freshly painted wood panels in it's place. High reward, low commitment. 

Stair Treads and Railing 

To transform the stairs in a big way, we had to hire out some of the work (and drag my dad into some free labor).  I had the rewarding task of ripping out that nasty carpet and removing the stapes. The contractor tackled the project of sanding and staining our stair treads to match the danish modern flooring in the rest of the house.  My dad took on the biggest project - making the black matte metal railing of my simple contemporary dreams.  After the treads were refinished and the railing was up, it was back to me.  My project was to work on the risers and the trim work around the stairs - finishing touches with a big wow factor. 

PREP - fill/sand/clean

I started by using a wood filler to patch any large cracks and crevices left from the old railing and ballisters. I then took on the laborious job of patching as many nail and staple holes as I could from the years of damage and installation/removal of the former carpet. The next step was sanding the risers and the sides before wiping everything down. 

PREP - tape and protect

Next, I needed to tape everything I didn't want a white primer on - which in this case was the stair treads and the walls. I also ended up entirely covering each tread in butcher paper in preparation for some spray paint touch up work on the railing. 


I primed the sides of the stair as well as the stair risers. While I was planning on wallpapering the stair risers, you cannot put wallpaper on bare wood and a coat of paint/primer before wallpapering is recommended.


After priming, I went through and painted the sides of the stairs, leaving the risers with just primer in preparation for wallpapering 


The hard part comes when you need to pick your wallpaper. I was so torn between bold and subtle, black and white or color, that I ended up printing images of the various wallpapers to use as "testers" on my stair risers. The printed pictures gave me an idea of what the risers would look like completed. Keep in mind, that one riser may look good but all 15 may be a bit busy with certain patterns. I was a little worried the pattern I picked was too busy but I finally bit the bullet and purchased this spanish tile looking black and white wallpaper from Wayfair. I highly recommend you pick a paper that is easily removable in case you decide to try something different down the road. I also HIGHLY suggest you find a wallpaper that is pre-glued (no removing stickers) and all you have to do is dip your paper in water and press it on to your stair treads. I ended up ordering one roll (33' L x 20.5") which was more than enough for my stair risers. Most websites have a tool where you can use your square footage to calculate how many rolls you may need. 


This was the tedious part - I set up a measuring and cutting station on my kitchen island. Most of the stair treads fell into one size while the last three at the bottom were longer. Pay attention to your risers and abide to the old saying measure twice, cut once. I cut these to pretty much exact size, going slightly over if I was feeling unsure (you can always trim a bit on the risers). I spent a Thursday evening measuring and cutting, using a pen, a ruler, a level, and a razor/knife to cut my pieces of wallpaper. Cutting against the level ensured for straight lines as I worked my way through the cutting process. A piece of cardboard under the operation protected my countertops and the knife as I worked. 


Applying the wallpaper was stupidly easy. My instructions said to roll up the pre-glued paper (pattern on the inside, glue on the outside), dip it into a bowl of water for 3-5 seconds, and press onto the stair tread. I then used a metal spatula to smooth out the paper and push out any air bubbles or excess glue.  It was that easy.  I would recommend buying some extra wallpaper glue in case you have any stubborn edges that come up over time. 


After the wallpaper was applied, the last finishing touch was to caulk any gaps where the stair tread met the walls or the risers. I taped off the stairs to create straight lines and set off to work. The caulk ended up serving a few purposes: it filled in any gaps, it provided a nice clean line, and it covered any old stain that the contractor could not get to while working on the treads in place. I learned the hard way that you need to remove the tape IMMEDIATELY after you apply the caulk. Pipe your (paintable) caulk, smooth over with your finger, and then go back with a wet rag to clean any excess. Immediately pull the tape and let the caulk dry. Once the caulk was dry, I went back and retaped the same lines, painting the caulk and providing an extra layer of adhesion from the stair treads to the walls. Make sure you leave a decent line to caulk to hold the integrity of the caulk. My first try resulted in lines that were too thin and ended up peeling off when I pulled the tape off the dried caulk. Use a thicker line and immediately remove the tape for the best finish. 


After you have caulked and painted, you can touch up/clean up your stair treads and marvel at your pretty new stairs. Time-consuming but relatively simple and certainly a budget-friendly way to update an old staircase.  Take the time to do the prep work right and it will all pay off on your wallpapered staircase.  Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and PLEASE share your staircase transformations with me.  

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