I completely remodeled my staircase, but I’ll never try anything like this again – Jess Flaherty

Last September I completed my first home after renting a tiny apartment in Toxteth for seven years.

Being rented out for so long meant I wasn’t allowed to decorate, so I spent years adding color to my home with an eclectic mix of soft furnishings and accessories. When I got the keys to my little two bedroom patio, I couldn’t wait to decorate it and put my own stamp on it.

Luckily, my boyfriend didn’t give a damn about the interior design, so I had free reign. The ground floor consists of an open plan living and dining room, with the kitchen extending behind the dining area – small but plenty of room to play.

CONTINUE READING:We’ve tried supermarket coffee from Aldi, Co-op, ASDA and Iceland and one has impressed us

The staircase is in the middle of the living room and was uncovered with – shock, horror – no practical storage cupboard underneath. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to make it more of a feature and revamp it. I recruited a local carpenter conjuring a Shaker-style closet under the stairs so I could hide my obnoxious shoe collection, as well as space for unattractive household items like the vacuum cleaner, mop bucket, and an embarrassingly large collection of life bags.

I did the conversion of the railing and the spindles myself. It’s no exaggeration to say they were caked with at least seven coats of gooey paint, but I was like, ‘How hard can that be? I’ll just take it off.’ Oh how wrong I was.

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Joy in our empty house on moving day last September.

I love interior design and regularly browse Instagram house transformations. I’ve seen a number of people strip their entire stairwells with seemingly little fuss. As I’m saving up for a new rug to replace the ancient monstrosity that currently adorns my steps, I figured I had a much easier task ahead of me. After all, it was just the railings and the spindles – stupid, stupid, naive Jess.

The first coat, an overly glossy clumpy white that had developed a yellowish tint, gave me a false sense of security and peeled off in long, satisfying streaks. The spindles were awkward from the start given their intricate details, making it feel hard to get into a rhythm to make clear progress.

After managing to remove the first coat with my bare hands and a scraper, I applied Bartoline TX10 Paint and Varnish Stripper, which is described as “for use by novice DIYers and serious professionals alike”. I clearly fell into the first camp and assumed it would get the job done in no time. The ease of the first coat also led me to believe I was some sort of handyman capable of completely transforming my home within hours of work.

The color bubbled and lifted, as I expected after watching a few helpful YouTube videos, although it’s not for the faint of heart. It leaves sticky paint residue all over the place, but I figured it would just be a one-off job and clean up. I was able to scrape off a few layers and that’s when I realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

Below what I thought was three coats of paint at most, there were several more coats that the stripper had no effect on. I will not lie, several swear words not suitable for printing left my lips.

I decided a heat gun might do the trick. I bought a Seekone Professional 2000W Hot Air Gun Kit and got to work. It was very effective, but so time-consuming that I managed to watch the entire second season of Emily in Paris (yes, I’m easy) as well as a full rerun of the first five seasons of (IMO) the greatest show of all time , Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and still only saw visible wood on certain parts of the railing and spindles. There are 100 40-minute episodes in the first five seasons of Buffy – do the math.

It seems that over the years the previous owners thought it would be a blast to apply each coat of paint with a mixture of cement, syrup and gorilla glue. I can’t think of any other logical conclusion why a whole tub of paint stripper and a heat gun – used for hours – couldn’t get through a few coats of paint.

The railing removed a few coats after a coat of paint stripper.
The railing removed a few coats after a coat of paint stripper.

Eventually the railing was removed and the spindles were approximately 95% paint free. I had sustained a few heat gun injuries (an incredibly clumsy person using an insanely hot tool isn’t the best mix) and the skin on my thumbs is still cracked and rough from constant handling of sandpaper and a mess of wire stripping tools . but the end was finally in sight.

The paint on some spindles absolutely didn’t budge, and on the cheek (the panel that housed the steps – I had no idea what it was called, an unattractive wood effect varnish had to be tackled and I had to do diagrams of Stairs google the write).

For the final stages I decided to use the big guns and bought Nitromor’s All Purpose Paint & Varnish Remover which appears to be the best in the business. It removed the varnish and most of the paint, but some still remained. I wanted to scream.

The new cabinet after installation.  The stripped spindles and cheek can be seen in the background and look very ugly.
The new cabinet after installation. The stripped spindles and cheek can be seen in the background and look very ugly.

The varnish had also covered a series of cracks and holes on the cheek that needed to be filled with wood putty. I’m a bit of a tidiness fanatic and like everything perfect, but I was at the end of my rope. I slapped the spatula, sanded down any obvious lumps and bumps and smoothed out the remaining paint and decided this was as good as I was going to get.

When the closet was installed, I started to feel excited. I primed it and painted it with the same Instagram favorite peach color Paint Shop Lick which I chose for the walls (Pink 02) to bring the color up to the spindles. Then I painted the railing and spindles Black 02, also from Lick. After I finished, I sat and stared at it in awe. It was finally over.

The closet (thanks to Phil’s joinery and cabinetry ) looks amazing and the railing looks amazing – even if I say so myself – its new look really transformed the space. To be honest, I can’t say I ever got the rewarding sense of achievement and accomplishment that I expected to be worth the effort. Working full-time meant monopolizing a few precious evening hours each week, as well as a chunk of several weekends, and I got exhausted pretty quickly. I’m happy with how it looks, but when I add up the number of hours it took me to make it, I cringe.

In the future I will save and hire a professionallike I did with the closet. Life is too short and I’m definitely not a do-it-yourselfer.

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