In Step with the Times: A Case for Updating Your Stairs

By Gale Steves | Updated Jan 15, 2014 4:54 PM

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Updating Your Stairs

Photo: Shutterstock

It’s easy to take the staircase for granted, at least until a problem arises. But as one of a home’s finest architectural features, the staircase deserves a homeowner’s special attention sooner rather than later.

GSteves Stairway Original

The original staircase

The beautiful curved staircase in my ‘new’ old home is one of the reasons I fell in love with the place. After multiple trips up and down during the move-in and remodeling process, though, it was clear the staircase (and I) needed some help.

My contractor agreed with my assessment of the stairs’ structural condition. The outer strings were separating from the inner string and needed to be re-attached (this commonly occurs after years of wear and heavy traffic). By bolting the offending strings back together from underneath, the steps would provide surer footing and much-improved stability.

Safety was my next concern. Inadequate light and a heavy wall color made it hard to see on the stairs. And even with the beautifully polished cherry banister, I noticed people would support themselves using the opposite wall (where there was nothing to grip onto). Also, the stair treads were slippery and, house guests aside, I feared that my little dog would have trouble managing, so five changes were in order:

Choose a new wall color. I selected a yellow-orange from Benjamin Moore to cover the original dusty rose and give the space a warmer glow. The inspiration came from the hue that Thomas Jefferson chose for his own dining room in Monticello. Tastily named “Nacho Cheese” (we’ve come a long way since Jefferson), the buoyant, bold color works to give the walls radiance.

GSteves Stairway Makeover Chandelier

Larger chandeliers upstairs and down

Improve the lighting. The original chandeliers in the lower and upper hallways were too small to offer adequate illumination. Replacing these with larger fixtures from Currey & Company solved the low-light problem, and by installing LED chandelier bulbs I was assured of superior energy efficiency (and of less frequent bulb changes).


LED ribbon lighting casts light where it's needed

Focus light on the stairs. I’ve always loved the vibe in restaurants where a strings of little lights beneath the bar or banquettes provide visual interest and soft illumination. This was something I could “borrow” for my own stairs; I could run a ribbon of light along the baseboard to cast a soft light directly onto the steps. I discovered a good source for flexible LED lighting online at Express Lighting. The knowledgeable customer service department that provided me with everything I would need for my electrician. Note: If you plan to do something similar, be sure to ask about the size of the drivers and to plan out where those drivers will be attached.

GSteves Flexible Handrail Trim

Flexible trim provides grab bar

Install a flexible handgrip. Another research project online brought me to and the Flex Trim chair rail product line. A unique polymer blend allows the molding shape to be flexible, durable and, most important, paintable. Here was the answer to my need for a grab rail on a curved wall. Installation was easy. One words: glue.

GSteves-Striped-stairway runner

The striped runner installed

Add carpeting. This was the easiest decision to make but the most difficult part of the upgrade to install, since the carpeting had to follow the curved configuration of the stairs. Thanks to Edwin of the Rug Shoppe in Savannah, GA, who had to cut and tack each step and riser—he did a masterful job making the seams disappear and the stripes line up perfectly as they went up step by step. Note: Try to select something other than stripes if you’d prefer a more forgiving installation.

For more on staircases and remodeling stairs, consider the following articles and videos:

A Step-by-Step Solution: Pre-Cut Treads & Risers
Building Winding Stairs (VIDEO)
Stepping Out: The 12-Year Kitchen