Monthly Archives: May 2016

Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Final

The downstairs hall and staircase took almost a year of stops and starts to fully complete, but now it’s one of the most striking areas of the house. Whenever we’re feeling discouraged about our progress elsewhere, we just stand in the foyer and bask in its glory.

Here are the before and after shots.




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The finishing touches were the radiator cover (which Andy painted the same white as the wainscoting), and a mirror that used to hang in my Grandma’s house.

Before shot up the stairs:






Before view from the landing down the stairs :


After view down the stairs:


Before view looking down from the second floor to the landing:




Original view toward the door:




Final view:

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Before view toward the kitchen:

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We removed the door that was here because it was unnecessary and in the way. We’ll save it to reuse it when we renovate the kitchen area.

So there it is! The completed entryway. For the huge pain and expense it turned out to be, at least it’s in a spot where everyone sees it. Just don’t think you’re getting out of there without hearing all about it.




Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Stage 5

Finishing this downstairs hallway took forever because it had so many elements. We had to wait for electricians, carpenters, floor guys, drywallers and painters to each take their turn before we could swoop in.

We do most of our own painting, but the staircase was just too high stakes for us to take it on ourselves. We hired a professional painter to do the paint/stain combo on the staircase and to paint the wainscoting. It was totally worth it.

Here’s what it looked like after just that step:

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The walls in the hall are uneven and are not in the greatest shape. It’s an old house; that’s not a surprise. I wanted to do something to mask those flaws, so I chose grasscloth to go above the wainscoting.


I am kind of obsessed with grasscloth, but it can be overwhelming in a large room. The hallway was the perfect spot. My parents bought it for me for my birthday (you know you’re a grownup when you’re thrilled to get wallpaper as a gift) and my mom, who used to have a wallpaper business, also did all the labor.

The walls are very tall in the stair landing and grasscloth is heavy and tricky to put up all in one piece. My mom did an amazing job, and though she was highly satisfied with the results, I don’t think she’s dying to work with grasscloth again.

Here it is in process:

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There’s the preview. Full reveal in the next post.

Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Stage 4

The two chandeliers in the house are original and really beautiful but were in desperate need of some TLC.  There’s one in the hallway, and one in the dining room (which I have not posted about yet, but will include a pic here.)

They were covered in drywall dust from the wall patching, and they had lost many crystals over the years. I wish I had taken before pictures, but this was all going on in the midst of the staircase drama, and I forgot. Oh well.

Here are close up shots. You will note that my oldest son stuck a “bug light” into the chandelier. I didn’t remove it because hey, this is our life. Bug lights in our finery. Anyway, here’s the hall chandelier, restored:

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Dining room chandelier:

278Andy excels at projects that require patience and persnicketiness, so this was all him. (I possess neither of those qualities, so I stayed out of it. Impatiently.) Electricians removed the chandeliers from the ceiling, and we placed each in its own box to keep the crystals separate. Then he thoroughly cleaned them with 10 percent vinegar solution, which significantly brightened them up.

Next he tracked the pattern (the number of crystals per row) to determine how many were missing. A little less than half of the crystals were missing overall — the pattern had been altered over the years, and each had been cannibalized to fill in missing pieces for the other. Andy ordered replacement crystals online  and bought matching hardware to connect them. The problem was that the new hardware looked really brassy and new, while the old hardware had an aged patina. To get them to match, Andy exposed the new hardware to alternating solutions of ammonia and vinegar until it was appropriately aged. There was no science to this — just trial and error.

Andy was painstakingly hanging the new crystals onto the chandeliers in the basement while the flooring guys were doing the patch job at the bottom of the stairs. He was doing so while wearing his painting clothes, which a common hobo would reject as too sloppy.

The floor guys finished and said, “Can you tell the boss not to walk on it for a few hours?” Andy says sure. (In this scenario, the boss is me, not Angela Bower. Or Mona. And certainly not Tony.) Anyway, there were a few more instructions where the guy referred to “the boss” and started asking Andy questions about the chandelier. Finally it became clear that the guy thought Andy was a chandelier repairman. So Andy says, “Oh, no…I live here. I know the boss. I’m married to the boss.” And the guy goes, “Oh! That explains it. I was wondering how you make a living on chandeliers.”

You don’t. You just live that dream on the side.

Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Stage 3

Quick bonus post: Part of the staircase renovation necessitated remodeling the hall closet a bit.

Here’s what it looked like originally:


The closet had this little opening on the left that led to extra storage under the stairs. The Harry Potter area, if you will. Should my sister ever be murdered by an evil wizard, I know just where to keep her children. We would never have bothered to change any of this, but it all had to be torn out to accommodate the new stairs, and there was no compelling reason to re-create this weird tiny opening.

Instead we opened it all up and now we have this huge area under the stairs that we can access for extra storage. It was very handy for Christmas gifts, and there’s still plenty of room for boy wizards.



And as a bonus, the carpenter uncovered the original coat hooks that we polished up and restored to their rightful home.

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 Very scarab-esque.

Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Stage 2

The staircase was built by an expert carpenter who did a truly amazing job. Every other tradesman we’ve ever had in the house has commented on the craftsmanship of the stairs.

Here’s all the elements, waiting to go in:

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Working his way down from the top of the stairs:

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Next steps (quite literally):

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And then the bannister and post were added. (We stayed true to the original post design, but chose a different variety of spindle to add some more dimension.) Here’s my oldest kid, photobombing:

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And here, in hat-haired glory.

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Once we got to this point, we decided to add wainscoting as well. Maybe we were just drunk with relief from having a functional staircase. Plus, once you’ve already dropped a ton of money on an unexpected, soul-killing project, you want to get yourself a little somethin’ special. Here’s that element layered in.




Once everything was built (which took about seven weeks from ordering the parts to installation), it was time to paint and decorate.




Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Stage 1

The house was built in 1913 using the carpentry techniques available at the time (duh). This did not, as it turns out, include glue. So each stair was held up by supporting wood pieces that stretched from the edges of each tread down to the floor. This is an elegant system when the fit is perfect, which it probably was 103 years ago. That support had eroded over the intervening years, which worsened as the house settled. When we shone a flashlight under the stairs, we saw that most of those supporting pieces were just laying on the ground. The stairs were sagging, tilting and pulling away from the wall. Long past the point where a repair could save the staircase. This was a huge drag because it was an unexpected expense, but after whining and sighing to each other for a while, we sucked it up and moved forward with replacing the staircase altogether.

We started by taking out the bottom two stairs so that we could have the flooring patched and altered to support the new setup.



We had to use this step ladder to get up and down the stairs for a while. Fortunately we hadn’t moved into the house yet.

Then the whole shebang was ripped out.

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Here it is, all gone. The flooring in the back is from the closet.391

View to the upstairs

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Crazy, right? It was a shocking sight to behold. It looked so stark and bare. Luckily it wasn’t like this for long.



Downstairs Hall and Staircase – Original

We knew the staircase had a few problems when we bought the house. We did not realize it would turn out to be an unrelenting quagmire that would stall all of our progress for months while sucking both our money AND our will to live.

Here’s what it looked like to begin with–

The view of the staircase and radiator cover (covered in construction dust, but you get the idea):


View of the stairs, radiator, door and closet:


View of the stairs and door into the kitchen:


View up the stairs:


Additional original stair view:

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Original post which is cool, but turned out to be broken (see the top) as well as hollow. Wah wuh.

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