Do Tread on Me

We're giving away a bag made from recycled sails from our etsy shop this week. Don't forget to enter!

I've wanted to paint our basement stairs since the day we moved in. I'm not a fan of the shade of dark brown they were painted (I OD'd on brown in a rented apartment a few years ago), although we do appreciate that someone was trying to make them match the hardwood floors in the rest of the house. Plus, we're pretty happy they aren't covered with the red and gold carpet that we've spotted a few remnants of peeking out from under the wall in one spot.

Carpet or not, the dark color sucks all the light out of the stairwell so it's practically a miracle that neither of us has fallen down the stairs yet. But when every other room in the house is in desperate need of paint, basement stairs don't really get top priority. And then there's the whole logistical issue; how does one paint the stairs to the basement when all the food is in the basement pantry? So we lived with very dark brown stairs for a year.
On Sunday I had two logistical hurdles working in my favor: S wasn't home so it was just me running up and down the stairs 20 times a day; and the new basement door that we installed last month means I could exit the basement, shut the door from the outside, and go back inside upstairs through the front door. Yep, the old door was held shut with a big metal bar on the inside. No working knob, no latch, no deadbolt, nothing.

As much as I wanted to change the color of the stairs, I also didn't want to spend any money in the process. Afterall, we are gearing up to spend some cash on a basement bathroom someday soon. We've got a big stash of paint, so for the first coat I used a water based primer that the previous owners had left behind (and I threw away eight cans of gooped up primer and colors we're never going to use again).

With the Feens safely on the other side of the dog gate I got to work putting a quick coat of primer on the dark steps and risers. It was kind of like torture for him not to be glued to my side, or maybe the torture was from listening to me belt out songs while listening to Pandora. We'll put being able to unabashedly sing Lady Gaga and Sinatra at the top of my lungs as another check in the plus box of having S away for the day.
One quick coat of primer made a huge difference in the light situation, even with the lights off. I was tempted to paint the stairs white for a second, deciding otherwise when I realized I'd have to touch up white paint way too often.
While the primer dried I dug through the rest of the paint stash and discovered that we still had silver-gray floor paint from the very first night at the beehive when S's dad and I readied the basement for an onslaught of our stuff. I painted a swatch on one of the almost-dry bottom steps and dug through the rest of the paint looking for a contrast color for the risers. I thought I wanted to use the same Benjamin Moore Silver Half Dollar that looks more bluish than gray behind the spice shelves at the top of the stairs, but next to the silver-gray floor paint, it just looked like a slightly different shade of gray. Almost like I'd run out of paint or made a mistake. Not really the contrast I was going for. So I pulled out the ultra bright white trim paint that I used around the sun room/ office windows last summer. Perfect. It's really hard to go wrong with bright white.

I painted all the risers white with my favorite 2" short cutting-in brush, and then moved on to floor gray on the steps. My go-out-the-basement-door plan was working just fine until I slammed my finger in the door on the way out the door. I boycott the door for the rest of the day and decided to leave a bare spot on every other step so I could go up and down the stairs inside. Pretty good tip that I wish I'd thought of before; if I had, I bet we would have painted the stairs a looong time ago.
Another good tip for painting trim along carpeted floors is to use a long drywall knife to create a barrier between the carpet and trim, or riser. Just make sure you wipe the extra paint off with a rag before you put the knife back on the floor. I'll let you know how the can of carpet cleaner works....
I did a second coat of white on the risers (make sure you don't bump your knee into them when you go back  to paint the treads like I did. Twice.) Then to take advantage of the extra-long drying time overnight, I painted every single tread for the second coat of silver and faced my fear of the door at the end of the night.

In the morning I put a second coat on the few treads that I had left bare the day before and called this project a success, despite the blood blister on my finger and the white paint on the knees of my pants.

Now I want to paint the railing white. And I'd like to sew some kind of curtain to cover the spice rack, but one that won't knock all the spice jars down when it's opened. Any ideas? How is it that one successful project always leads to another? I feel like it's a recurring theme around here.

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  1. I was going to suggest painting every other stair on day one and then the others on day 2, but it looks like you figured it out anyways!
    What if you made some type of sliding plexi-glass doors so you see what was inside but things didn't get knocked off? Or if you didn't want to see anything you could frost the panels?

  2. Great idea for giving the space some light! Basement stairs always seem to have a creepy, dark vibe. As for the spice rack along the wall, instead of hanging a curtain, you could get magnetic backsplash kits and spice jars that stick to the magnet. Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Ikea have some great (i.e. inexpensive) options. If you choose to do the curtains, sewing weights into the bottom of custom made panels should help eliminate the issue. Hope this helps!

    p.s. Found your wonderful blog (in other words, one of my new obsessions) through the Homie Awards...count my vote in!


  3. Love that your dog is into home improvement too! :)

  4. Looks good...and much safer!

    - e

  5. Amazing transformation! Painting is very satisfying

  6. Anonymous2/10/2011

    I suggest rather than a curtain, pick up some thin plywood and make a bunch of small doors to cover the spice shelves. Paint to match and viola', a spice cabinet! That way it looks neat, dust stays out, nothing gets knocked off going up or down, and thin plywood would only add a 1/4 to 1/2 inches to the bump-out of the shelving.

  7. Anonymous2/11/2011

    Instead of a curtain that pushes to the side, how about something like a roman shade? Then you can get some awesome textiles in there, but without knocking things over.

  8. These are such great suggestions! I've got a lot to think about this weekend as I make my way around the house painting all the trim white....

  9. It looks so good! Can I make a suggestion? If you caulked along the stairs and walls it would make it even more 'finished' looking. You wouldn't see the darkness from gaps between surfaces. Just a thought. I caulk everything.

  10. Great idea, Carrie. When we remodel this basement this winter/spring I'll definitely finish with some caulk.


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