One thing leads to another…

When we bought our house, the stairs and upstairs hall were covered in brown short shag carpet, circa 2000.  You can imagine how this kind of carpet looked on the stairs.  It was very worn and of course did nothing for the house.


I have always been a bit puzzled and maybe a tad disappointed that my Queen Anne did not have an impressive stair.  It is just a narrow hall leading up to two small landings.  The only interesting/ beautiful thing about it is the simple, but original hand rail and also the large double windows at the landing.


Finally  I could take the worn carpeting no longer.  I didn’t know what I’d find underneath, but I was convinced it would be an improvement.

It turns out, it was better (through the delusional lens of an old house person), but it still wasn’t good, or pretty.


The steps were painted at least twice (yellow, then grey).  And then for who knows how long, some sort of finish- maybe a wax? was applied in a VERY thick layer.  There was also some purple stenciling on that wax. Someone had tried (and failed) to improve its appearance.  And the staples.  OMG the staples.  Hundreds and hundreds of different models and sizes.  And then there was that one broken step.  Ugh.

One step and one hour at a time, I removed the staples.  I think there were 50 in each step.

Then I waited. A year.

Then I summoned the courage to begin what has become kind of a major project.

My thought process:

-I want to refinish the stairs and hall.

-Then I better paint the baseboards.

-I can’t put ANOTHER coat of paint on these baseboards, I’m going to have to strip them.

-If I am going to the work of stripping them, I might as well restore them with a finish, not paint.

-If I am finishing the baseboards, I better finish the adjacent trim.

-Obviously this is the time to fix/ restore the windows.

-This wax stuff is sooo thick it will burn through way too many sanding pads.  And there is lead paint under there, I don’t want to sand that.

-I guess I better strip the stairs and hall.

-I cannot believe what a horrible, horrible job stripping it (This thought has been a common thread throughout).



First small glimpse of what the wood will look like… it was enough to keep me going.


A horrible pic, but this shows my method. I applied stripper and then covered with saran wrap and let it sit for a few hours. It definitely helped keep things along


Seriously.  What a mess.


It’s a mess, but kind of a beautiful one.


And once I was near despair, my house threw me a bone.  A sweet little letter A carved into the window sill, disguised by 100 years or more of paint.  Who’s A is this?  I am choosing to believe that little Alvin Ode Delong, born in 1906, who is listed on the 1910 census as living here with his father and grandparents.  I will be carefully stripping this area so as to preserve this sweet moment of boredom/ naughtiness from the past.  Oh how I love an old house and the stories it will tell you if you only take the time to get to know it.


I’m not sure how to caption this photo.  Should I say “near then end” or “near the end of my rope.”  I am so close, and yet still so far away from being able to finish this.  At this point I ordered dental picks, and with using stripper on the trouble spots, got to where I can sand.



And if I thought stripping paint was messy, I was wrong.  Stripping this wax/ mystery substance is the messiest thing I have ever seen.  This is the goo collected from just two steps.


After all that goo was removed, I put another layer of stripper on the 2+ layers of old paint and here is the result.  Not anywhere near done or perfect, but just what I needed to see.

After stripping the entire first flight of stairs and the first landing, I am so very excited for this project to be done.  Not just to be rid of this mess in my life, but to see my dream revealed.


Even at this point, the stair way seems SO much lighter and cheerier.  The lines of the planks add texture and interest.   There are details in the trim that I didn’t even know were there before.  The stair treads are beautifully imperfect- cupped and scarred from 128 years of shoes.  I really think my plain and simple stair may soon be all that it was meant to be.


3 thoughts on “One thing leads to another…

  1. Seth Hoffman says:

    Wow, looking great! I’ve yet to see stairs carpeted with shag that looked good. Restored wood with the character of time is an incomparable improvement.

    Your stripped millwork is looking really good too. You can use the trick of brown paint similar to the wood tone to touch up flecks of stubborn paint in nicks, nailheads, and cracks. Once you’re down to just those, that will blend them in just like wood filler on nail heads, and you’ll never notice. You don’t have to get every bit of paint off, just make it appear that you did.

    You’re inspiring me to do some paint stripping on our new house now. Somebody painted over all the crown moulding and ceiling beams on the first floor. It’s dark-stained birch and looks really nice in the rest of the house where they left it alone.

  2. Janice Inman says:

    You have the patience of a saint, and it is really paying off! I love your blog, it is so inspiring to those of us who live in these wonderful old houses. Thank you for showing your step-by-messy-step process. This area of your home is going to be fabulous and I can’t wait to see the end result. That letter “A” is such a wonderful find!

  3. Donna says:

    Your parents sure raised a persistent and tender hearted daughter. You put so much love in to making a home for your family. I agree about using some faux painting with browns over the stubborn old paint. It gets deep in the grain of the wood. Our old stairs were just like yours but covered with yearly lacquer and coal dust. Can’t wait to see them complete.

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