Painting A Stairwell: Phase 2 Success

July 04, 2011   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway, Stairwell   //  By: Emily   //  20 responses

Happy day of independence, thanks for visiting, and most of all, thanks for giving me a second chance on the whole stair painting efforts. Last week I shared with you Phase 1, a.k.a. Phase Failure. I made a few planning mistakes, but swear that I learned the err in my ways (and hopefully saved you from making some of those same errors).

Three things I did differently this time:

  • Used fewer colors (Just 5, and only 2 were custom mixes instead of 9)
  • Used a tiny artists brush for increased accuracy (no sloppiness this time around, baby!)
  • Kept my paints separate from one another (mixed the custom paint in disposable containers, and kept them on hand until the project was done)

Containers of light gold and light gray.

I didn’t come to a resolution as to how I should fix the messy Phase 1 right away; I lived with for a week and let a new plan come to me naturally. Can’t force these things; also, it takes time and lots of ice cream to rebound from a painting failure.

I knew that the painted stair examples that inspired me most on sites like Pinterest and were colorful and detailed, but my first attempt ended up not being that at all. It was too safe a concept, and I knew the space could handle something a little more daring.

So I began again with an adjusted plan:

  • Make each step multi-colored with a series of thin horizontal hand painted lines
  • Still form a gradient using the gold and gray paint I loved, just use fewer shades
  • Go slow and be precise

Getting right down to business, I painted the straight-out-of-the-can Behr Venetian Gold to the upper most part of the stair rise. I also added straight-out-of-the-can gray to the bottom of each rise (which is technically the same porch floor paint I used in the sunroom).

Day 1 of Phase 2: Added gold to the top of each rise, and gray to the bottom.

I was able to do those first two colors quickly and easily in one day. I did put a few coats on over the course of that day, and was more precise with painting close to the edge of each rise with the help of a traditional artist’s brush straight from a crafty box I have.

On day two, I used Scotch Blue painter’s tape in preparation for applying light gray and light gold shades that were toned down custom mixes to form a gradient. The tape allowed me to make clean, crisp lines separating one color from it’s neighbor. I rarely use it, but in times like this, the painter’s tape is a lifesaver.

Taping prior to adding the third and fourth colors to the stairs.

To figure out where I needed to position the tape for each color transition, I took the height of each rise (about 7.25″), divided by 5, and figured out how narrow each stripe needed to be to make them even. I used a ruler the first few times, and then made this easier-to-use template to help me keep the whole process orderly. I didn’t take a photo of it until further down the process, hence the white and other colors being in place, but it helps you see how I planned out the whole shebang:

A template for ensuring even tape lines.

My trick to avoiding bleed (beside the obvious step to make sure it’s really stuck down) is to paint gently over the tape onto the surface receiving the color; it helps to create a barrier that blocks potential paint bleed, and has worked like a charm every time I’ve done it — even when I re-stick the tape from one surface to another in a cheapo effort.

By the third day I was ready to add the plain white center stripe to the gradient. The white lines actually ended up taking more time than the other colors; I blame it on my shin becoming painfully bruised by squatting a certain way on the stairs for three days straight. It took me two finish the white and do final touchups.

But it was worth it:

Finished stair paint. From the front entryway of the house, I’m in love. I’m actually smiling ear-to-ear looking at this:

Finished stair paint. And from the couch in the living room, you can see the lower few stairs too:

Finished stair paint.

The stripes lended themselves nicely to a natural turn and continued all the way up to the second story:

Finished stair paint. Overall impressions:

  • It’s busier than the first efforts, but not overwhelmingly wild.
  • It makes me want to tone down the walls, maybe add in some white. (Pete is going to kill me and my indecisiveness.)
  • The lines are pretty close to exacting, but I’m human, so there was an abundance of approximating; fortunately the straight tape lines take your eyes away from most of them.
  • Forget infusing the stairwell with more white, maybe I want to do these stripes all over the house.
  • Am I crazy? Time to go buy some grilling meat and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.


  • Cait @ Hernando House
    7 years ago - Reply

    Looks great, Emily! Now I wish I had stairs to paint!

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Thanks Cait!

  • Laura
    7 years ago - Reply

    Very impressive, Emily!

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Thank you Laura!

  • Ashley @
    7 years ago - Reply

    those stairs turned out amazingly Emily! LOVE the stripes for sure!!!! :D

  • Katrina
    7 years ago - Reply

    Love it – it’s perfect, not too much, just the right amount of awesome detail to complement the rest of the space. Umm… you’ll let me know if you ever put your house up for sale right?

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Sure thing, Katrina – I’ll let you know when it’s about to go on the market :)

  • Jami Graham
    7 years ago - Reply

    That is so awesome! You did a wonderful job! I don’t know if I’m more jealous of the fact that you have stairs to do something amazing like this to or the fact that your husband allowed you without having to steal a moment while he was away to start! :p

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Thanks Jami! The boyfriend (not husband) trusted my gut and instinct and all the while couldn’t have been more supportive with my decision to try something new. Of course, painting it back to white would have been my next project if it didn’t turn out right :)

  • Megan@reFind
    7 years ago - Reply

    I love it!!! Want to come do my house – same colors :)??

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Sure, Megan! I’ll do it in exchange for guacamole and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade if you’re serious ;)

  • rach-dawgg
    7 years ago - Reply

    love the stairs! … ps i still can’t even look at or utter the name of that beverage… mmmuuuhhhmmmmmuuuhhh blahck—- you know what i mean…. ah someday…

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Thanks Rach! Mike’s? Are you sure it wasn’t Zima?

  • rach-dawgg
    7 years ago - Reply

    oh no, i am positive it was mike’s! mikes and soco and limes! but that night, it was like 4 mikes… blaaaaaahhhhhhkkkk last time i had zima was with a certain ex-bf who only liked girly drinks like zima only if he wasn’t feeling too convicted about drinking period *snicker*

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Sounds like you haven’t tried the Black Cherry Lemonade. You and your 21 year old lightweight self, crazy girl!

  • Emily @ Our Waldo Bungie
    7 years ago - Reply

    This is sooo cool! I love this idea!

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Thanks Emily!

  • Rita@thissortaoldlife
    5 years ago - Reply

    Just discovered these because it showed up on my Pinterest feed today…really like them. We just did our own stair project, and I might like these because our risers have now gotta kinda stripe-ish look going on, too. (We did ours with salvaged wood.) Stairs are more fun with a little pizzaz on them. :-) Oh, here’s ours:

    • Emily
      5 years ago -

      I checked out your reclaimed steps (actually, I saw them during my own blog catch-up yesterday)! They’re so cool, such a resourceful project… nicely done!

  • Faith
    4 years ago - Reply

    The stairs look great. If I may ask — because I’m searching for just such a shade myself — what is the paint manufacturer and colour on the walls (the beautiful golden/greenish hue)?

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