How to Paint a Light and Dark Staircase

Give your dated stairs a facelift!  

I love the way the dark rails contrast with the lighter posts and spindles.  The dark colored paint (Mahogany) by Farrow and Ball almost looks like a stain from a distance.  The lighter color is Dove white.


My customer didn't want the large newel posts painted and I was skeptical at first but love the way it turned out!  


I also painted the staircase railings going down to the basement and another one down at the bottom.  

It would have saved a lot of time to just paint everything one color, but the results wouldn't have turned out this classy! 


Below is what the staircase railings looked like before.


These are the standard generic rails you see in a lot of homes and condos.  It is amazing to me how much better they can look when painted. 


Here's how I painted this dark and light staircase:

  1. Covered and taped off everything. 
  2. Lightly sanded.
  3. Applied 2 coats of shellac primer.
  4. Sanded all the primed areas lightly.
  5. Caulked and filled in nicks and gashes with a patch filler.  (It's important to do this after you prime so the caulk and filler adhere to the surface better.)
  6. Applied 2 coats of dark paint to the rails carefully trimming around the balusters; lightly sanding in-between coats.
  7. Applied 2 coats of the lighter paint; lightly sanding in-between costs.

It is important to use good quality brushes.  I've found the ideal size for standard staircases is a 2" slanted edged brush.  I used Purdy which comes in a dark natural bristle for dark paint colors, and a light natural bristle for lighter colors.  

I use a 4" foam roller and a small brush to apply the primer.  This is a much easier way to prime the spindles.  I use a new foam roller for each section I prime.

The one thing I watch out for is when the primer or paint rolls around the corners, which will leave an uneven edge.  I make sure I check all four corners before moving onto the next spindles.  I usually paint about three spindles at a time, painting three sides of each spindle then go around and paint the back sides while smoothing out the corners halfway on the inside of each spindle.  This way the paint won't roll over to the other side I just finished.

Hope this will help motivate you to paint your stair rails and spindles.  It is a very tedious job and takes a lot of patience.  If you don't have painting experience and can afford it, I would highly recommend hiring someone.  

If you decide to hire someone, make sure they are quoting you for doing all the specific directions I mention above or the paint could chip off easily.  You should typically expect to pay anywhere from $40.00 - $50.00 in labor costs per hour for a custom painter.   

There is a big difference in hiring someone with experience and insurance versus just hiring anyone from an ad or off the internet.  For instance, what if they spill a can of paint on your carpet?  Are you going to get it replaced if they don't have insurance?

Check out my snap knife holster invention shown's really cool!



How to Build a Barn Door

I made this sliding barn door for our toilet closet in our guest suite.  I used pine boards, wood glue, and short drywall screws.  

I love the way it turned out.  I was going to fill in all the screw recesses but decided I liked the old world charm it added.  


Since we didn't have anywhere to hang towels, I attached 4 towel hangers, so now it serves two purposes.  



I installed this gate hook I found at Lowes to lock it from the inside.  


Then I added thin molding strips to cover up cracks from some uneven boards.  I bought the cheaper pine boards so they weren't exactly straight, but I really liked this because it gives the barn door more character.  The molding strips also give you something to hold on to while sliding the door open and shut.  Otherwise, I would have installed a recessed pull.  

Below is what it looked like before I stained it red.  I made this on my kitchen floor.  I laid all the boards down and glued and screwed them together.  I used wider boards at the top and bottom.  It was so easy!  I looked everywhere to find an old door I could use but couldn't find one that would fit the space.  I looked online and they were so expensive so I decided to make one myself.

I wanted to match the stain to the bedspread.  I had 3 different colors of reds and applied them one at a time while wetting my brush.  Then I applied a clear sealer over the entire barn door.


Hope you enjoyed my little red barn door story.  Btw, I built this entire bathroom/guest suite myself minus the electric and plumbing.

Below is a before picture.  I removed this stud wall and built a new wall under the support beam.


Use Broken Concrete for Sidewalk

We had some old pieces of painted concrete that I saved from our basement demolition.  So, I asked my block layer if he could help me use them to make a sidewalk for our courtyard.  He said, "Sure!", and away we went.


I laid out the pieces to kind of get a feel for where I wanted the sidewalk to go.  Then, I cut a board to be used as a guide so we could keep the width consistent.


I went in front of him with a weed whacker to make the ground was as bare as possible.  


Then, I shovel out a gradual slop until I got to where the steps would go.


We laid the pieces out on top of a thick bed of brick S type mortar I purchased at Lowes.  It has more strength than regular mortar mix.  I broke some of the concrete pieces into smaller pieces to fit.


Then, he went over all the cracks with mortar and I smoothed them out.


We decided to stop here to allow for three steps.  I originally thought we could just bring it down to slop all the way, but decided that the grade would be way too steep.

I went looking for steps to put here but they were going to be way too expensive, so I went to Lowe's and found some of the pavers we used to top off the flower beds.  After I was all loaded up and going home I thought I would take a spin over to Home Emporium to see what they had. Whoa, I found these solid cement blocks that were just the right color to use for the steps for only $2.00 each.  I went back to Lowe's and got a refund and came back to pick up my bargain blocks.

I chiseled the edges using a hammer to make them look more rustic.

My block layer cut the blocks to make them fit perfectly.  

I couldn't believe it.  We needed three 12" deep x 5" high pieces because we had a 15" drop that extended out 36" and these were just right!

Here's a picture of it a few years after it was done. Some of the paint has worn off which just makes it look more like real stone.  They have held up very well!  


Mary Kay's Bio

Mary Kay Hansen is an interior decorator and loves to design and build spaces.  She is also an inventor and has obtained 3 US utility patents. Her invention, the BLADEater® is a holster with a built-in blade snapper for segmented utility snap knives. 


How to Build an Enclosed Courtyard

Here are the steps I used to design and build my courtyard.

After weighing out our many options and getting a few estimates for our backyard makeover, i,e, wood decking, composite decking, PVC decking, concrete patio, stamped concrete patio, patio with a privacy fence, courtyard with a wood fence, stuccoed courtyard with...dizzy yet?  We decided to go with a courtyard with stuccoed massive fortress-like walls, two big door gates, and room for a pony, yeah!

But, before we built our courtyard, I wanted to make sure we were able to build such a massive wall and stone fireplace in our backyard.  And most importantly, wanted to make sure we could fit it into our budget. I did a lot of research by consulting with other contractors; home improvement stores; making a materials cost list; and asking the building department lots of questions. 

I even called our tax department to make sure our taxes wouldn't skyrocket.  Thankfully, they said the wall would just be considered a fence, and the largest portion of the increase, of around only $80.00 annually, would be from the outdoor fireplace and the stamped concrete patio.  The square footage of steps and driveways are not counted for taxes purposes.  Wow, I was on my way to getting my new backyard haven!

To get inspired, I looked in magazines; searched courtyard plans and designs all over the internet; and also drove around neighborhoods trying to spot courtyards.

After drawing numerous plans that made my head spin, I thought I ended up just using some good old 4' furring strips and a vac hose.  Yes, they were the perfect tools I needed to lay out the shape of my new romantic Tuscany courtyard...ha! 

I would sit and walk around my little corral imagining how much fun it would be to have friends and family over for fun parties.  I positioned the furniture in different ways to get a feel for space.  

(I later spray painted this same furniture with Rustoleum oil rubbed bronze made for plastic, and it looks fantastic in our new courtyard.)



The furring strips worked perfectly because they were light-weight and I could move them in and out and overlap them to define the space.  After I figured out exactly what I wanted, a friend made me a simple computerized drawing, which I was able to use in order to file and get approved for our zoning, building, and electrical permits. 

To support the weight of the cement block wall, we had to have the parameters of the walls, steps and fireplace dug down 30" below the frost line in order to pour footers.   The primary purpose of the footer is to spread out the weight of the structure and to keep the wall from heaving when the ground swells up when frozen.  This picture also shows what our view used to look like before we built our courtyard.

I found an excellent block layer but needed to find the right contractor to pour the footers for the walls, steps and fireplace and someone who could pour stamped concrete.  Read my story, "Fleeced by a Fox" to see the HUGE MISTAKE I made!

Here's what the footer looks like before my handy concrete block guy started building the wall. 

I wanted stuccoed walls and wanted them to be strong and weather resistant, so the best option I found was to use cement block and stucco over them.  It took about 1000 blocks, and my concrete block guy was an expert at laying all of this block and brick!

He drilled into the footer and inserted re-bar all the way around the parameter of the wall, steps, and fireplace, and then we later filled in all the voids in the blocks to just above grade level.  Later we added additional re-bar, overlapping them to bring it up just shy of where the caps would be placed.  These re-barred sections were later filled with concrete to secure the wall even more. 

Then, to make the cement block walls even more secure, I had him fill in all around the top 1 - 1/2 rows of voids with concrete, and cap the wall with solid 4 x 16 concrete blocks.  Later 12" x 12" concrete stepping stone blocks were placed to cap off the wall top and larger ones were used to top off the columns.  Later I used a brick veneer to cover the edge of the stepping stones and made a drip edge underneath to keep most of the water from running down the courtyard walls.

Then, I helped install all the electric plug and outlets.  We enclosed all the wiring in plastic piping.  This was above what code called for because we used an outside wire, but on something like this, I think over-kill is good. 

To prevent the walls from heaving up and cracking, I installed a drainage system all along the back and right side walls down by the footer.  This was to prevent the walls from being forced inward and upward when the ground freezes and swells.  Instead of putting pressure on the wall, it will press into the wall with the least resistance, which is the drainage pipe. 

This was done by shoveling in several inches of pea gravel, installing a fabric sleeved drainage pipe, and then shoveling another few inches of gravel over the top of that.  Then filled in the rest with topsoil.

My block guy cut the cement blocks in half to create this curved effect to match the front of our house.  I built the form for steps that lead down to the driveway.

And, built the form for the fireplace.  We had the crushed limestone placed here by a slinger truck.  The guy used a remote control to sling the stone out from a conveyor belt and placed it right in the area we wanted it.  This saved a tremendous amount of time and was worth the extra $200.00 they charged.  Otherwise, we would have had to rent a buggy or use a wheelbarrow to haul it in. 

Now, the fun begins, with the concrete pour.

I found 4 stamper guys that worked as a team to pour and stamp the entire area in one pour.  This was a big feat because concrete hardens all at once and they had to work really fast.  They did an excellent job!  I then sprayed off the residual stamping release powder and sealed it.

I remember driving around the Cincinnati area to see if I could spot some courtyards, but didn't see very many.  I wondered why more people didn't build them???  Now, I understand why; it is a major undertaking.  If you are on a tight budget, plan on doing a lot of the work yourself.  We built ours for about $25,000.00, (about $10,000.00 more than expected).  I think it would cost about $45,000.00 - $50,000 if we had hired a company to do all the work.

Another more inexpensive route would be to pour regular concrete and use 6' fencing panels that come in vinyl or wood.  Or, you can build the walls with boards.  Check out this wood privacy fence I built from scratch at our previous home.

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Snap your knife blades fast!

The patented BladeEater® holster snaps blades faster and safer, using only one hand!

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Welcome.  I hope diy-Inspiration
inspires you with new ideas to help
you with your next building or craft
project.  And, if you're like me,
you just might get inspired  to
Yours truly,
Mary Kay Hansen

Real Cork Top LED Lights

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 Light up your party with these real looking led string lights for bottles!