Before and After: A Dim, Stripped-Down Stairway Goes Bold and Colorful for $450

published Apr 2, 2022
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Before: Aerial view of stairs with carpet stripped off

From murals to wallpaper to gallery walls galore, more is more when it comes to wall treatments these days — and there’s no better place to go totally maximalist than in your stairway. (After all, is your space truly maximalist if you haven’t added pattern or color or texture to every inch?)

When Michaela Dupkanic (@mynwnest) first moved into her 1940s bungalow, the stairs leading to the home office/guest room were covered in shag carpet, which she quickly ripped up. “We started to strip the many layers of paint with a heat gun and sanding intending to stain the original wood, but it turned out they were in pretty bad shape so we turned to more pressing needs,” she explains. “And then they sat like that for years.”

That said, the upstairs lets a lot of light in, so Michaela decided to switch the office/guest room door to a glass door to let some of the light flow downstairs. With the new light pouring into the stairwell, she new it could become something beautiful instead of a blank space. She had several ideas from the start.

“I recently started to fall in love with color, lots of it — and murals!” she says. “I had all of these ideas and was struggling to narrow them down, to simplify the design, until I realized it’s my house, and in this small space I can take some risks. So I did all of them.”

Michaela worked on the space as part of the One Room Challenge, completing it over eight weeks. “I did most of the work after kid bedtime, so it was slow-going at times,” she says. Her kids also helped with the project some, like when her 6-year-old helped picked paint colors and actually paint. The paint colors for the stripes are Sherwin Williams’ Sunrise, Persimmon, and Chaise Mauve all tinted with Benjamin Moore’s White Dove to make them lighter. The stairs are a cherry red, Sherwin Williams’ Redbud)

“I started with prep of the stairs by using a lot of wood fill on sides the runner wouldn’t cover. Instead of putting up a skirting board and cutting a lot of angles/scribing to uneven and inconsistent steps, I put up a trim piece and tricked the eye with paint,” she says.

Michaela’s stairway is fairly narrow, and to leave enough room for the new red paint to show on the edge of the staircase, she only had room for an approximately 24-inch-wide runner. “It was hard to find the graphic runner I had in mind, so I expanded my search and got two 4×6 rugs I had cut right down the middle and serged,” she says. “I was going to DIY it, but it cost just a bit more to have my local rug cleaner do it. Now when I am looking for a rug, I consider other sizes and factor in cutting and serging. It opens up a lot of choices.”

After it was cut together, she attached the runner to the stairs with carpet tape. “I thought the runner would be the hardest part, but it was pretty straightforward once I got the hang of it,” she says.

What was actually the hardest part was the gallery wall. “The biggest surprise was how long it took,” Michaela explains. “I wanted it to look put together over time with found frames. Gathering a lot of frames (mostly from my Buy Nothing group) to sand, paint, stain, and then place — and find art — took much longer than I thought.”

But the gallery wall is one of her favorite spots — in fact, she started drinking her morning coffee on the landing of the stairs just for the gallery wall views and the sunshine. (A pretty great payoff for a $450 project.)

“I finally have a place not just for family photos but art and my grandfather’s wood carvings,” she says. “I love it so much. I have plans to expand it.” Her advice to others is to not be afraid to go BIG. “Turns out I’m a maximalist, and I love all of this,” Michaela says.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Before and After: A Dim, Stripped-Down Stairway Goes Bold and Colorful for $450