Getting our groove back Stepping out on the DIY dance floor to fix our entry stairs

Back in September, I was DIY Done.

Even small projects–such as spray-painting some thrift store candle holders–made me positively cranky.

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After painting the exterior of the house

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…and finishing all the small details of our bathroom renovation

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…I had no love for DIY left in me. At all.

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This might not seem like a big deal, but it is a problem when the big idea of your blog is that improving your home is a pathway to improving your life. Improving our home this summer (and blogging about it) did not improve our life. In fact, kinda the opposite.

As we began the school year, I told Cane I needed a break from working on the house. I didn’t want to think about projects or talk about projects, and I certainly didn’t want to do any projects.

Truthfully, I could feel nothing with a paintbrush in my hand but fatigue and resentment.

So we took the fall off. I focused on work, and soccer games, and cheerleading practice, and finding a new car, and making it to the gym. We did a few little projects, but nothing much.

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We did use some Frog tape, but not for painting. Finally organized our pantry, which felt great.

And it was good.

So good that last week, when I asked Cane what he wanted to do with our 3-day weekend and he said, “Let’s do a project together,” I found myself saying, “Yeah, let’s,” and I meant it.

We decided that as much as our master bathroom renovation has us itching to start work on the truly ugly area that is our bedroom…

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Baby blue walls, cheapy old headboard and nightstands, closet with no doors, old closet door mirror propped up on the wall, low popcorn ceiling with ugly recessed lights, horrible stained carpet, and remains of wallpaper border along the ceiling line. This room is a rabbit hole waiting for us to fall in!

…what we really want to work on is our entry way. If you’ve been with us awhile, you might remember that back in the spring, when we finished painting our living room, we declared that project done even though the entry is really part of the living room.

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You can see in this photo that the entry walls are still mint green, which is not the color of the rest of the living room.

And you might also remember that last spring, Cane tore off the carpet from the entry stairs one day, and I slapped down some awful brown paint that was not a good temporary fix.

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It is, however, the fix we’ve been living with ever since.

Although we’d love to turn the bedroom into a more pleasing retreat, we decided to tackle this area next because it is for the whole family the passage from our outside world to our inner shelter from it.

We want it to be a space that feels the way we want our whole home to feel, instead of a space that reminds us of the ways in which we aren’t quite there yet.

Thinking about it, we realized that our entry is pretty metaphorical for our life as a family right now.

Parts of it are fabulous

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(If you want the story on this light, click on the image.)

–and parts of it are soulful

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The back side of a painting hanging in the entry. There’s a story there, too–which you can also get to by clicking the image.

–and although it’s functional, it’s a bit disjointed and half-finished and just not where we really want it to be.

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We want to fix the stairs, and get the walls painted, and change the trim, and paint the door, and find a better rug, and paint the banisters (or swap them out for something cooler), and fill the walls with great thrift store art.

Instead of feeling defeated and discouraged about this, though, I’m feeling the way I felt at the beginning of the summer:  Ready to tackle something new and make good progress on this home-making project of ours.

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Cane captured me in all my paint-clothes glory right before we started working on Saturday.

We learned a few things from our missteps this summer. Before we began just ripping things up (more), Cane and I actually sat down together and made a plan. (What a great idea! :-))

1. We set a realistic goal for our weekend’s work. We decided that we’d replace the treads on the top set of our split-entry stairs and make decisions about paint/stain/colors. We wanted to paint/stain the treads before putting them in, so we had to make those decisions.

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This is what we started with on Saturday.

We figured out a chunk of the big project that we could actually finish in the weekend, so we’d end with both a sense of accomplishment and functioning stairs. After Saturday afternoon, all three kids were gone until Tuesday. It was important to us that the  stairs could be walked on by the time they return.

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For much of the weekend the stairs were like this. The treads weren’t nailed down, which allowed us to move them away from the wall as we were working. We didn’t want the kids around with the stairs like this.

2. We worked together as much as possible. In some ways this is a project of one-person jobs, but we were close to each other while we were working, and we both worked at the same times.

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Laying paint on the stair treads. I did some of this by myself while Cane was working on removing the treads, but we did some of the painting together. Helpful tip: I put a bit of the brown paint in the white primer, which made it easier to cover with the dark paint. We only needed two coats of paint.

3. We planned time for fun. We want to fill the tall walls of the entry with paintings, so we scheduled time on Sunday (while the paint on the treads was curing) to go to Portland and visit our favorite thrift/vintage shops.

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Painted school bus outside one of our favorite vintage marketplaces.

And I’m happy to report that we did it!

On Saturday we removed the old treads and made some color decisions. We picked up some new pine treads at Home Depot, which we thought we’d stain with a natural color, but when we looked at a test board we decided we want something darker.

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Below the test board, you can see some of the salvaged wood we’re planning to put on the risers. We thought the dark color did a better job of setting off the boards.

We ended up painting them with a dark brown that we already own from a different project. And then we decided that we needed to strip the piece of wood that runs up the wall next to the stairs. (It probably has some kind of official stair-part name, but we don’t know it.)

We like the warmth that natural wood brings into a space. Our plan is to remove the white trim and replace it with a simple wood quarter-round trim.

After tearing up the old treads and painting on Saturday, we decided that we needed to let the paint thoroughly dry–which meant no work on Sunday!

Instead, we went out for breakfast-for-lunch, and we hit up some of our favorite thrift/vintage stores. We were looking for art, but the first thing we got was this:

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We’re hanging this groovy retro lamp above the corner of our family room sectional. We think it was a good deal at $35. It’s in great shape and moves us a step closer to determining a color palette for that room.

We did also pick up two thrift store paintings. They’re not the best finds we’ve ever come home with, but we like them.

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Sunday we worked hard all day–but it was a good work hard.

First we did a lot of stripping and sanding–a messy job.

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How can you not love a guy who puts stripper on before he even gets dressed (and lets me take a picture of him doing so)?

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We tried this citrus-based stripper. It worked pretty well, and the best part was no fumes! Still, we also needed to do quite a bit of sanding and cleaning with mineral spirits.

We removed the white trim pieces on either side of the stairs.

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Cane measured and cut the new treads, using a really cool and clever tool he created (and will tell you more about in a separate post).

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This measures for exact length and gets the angle right for the cuts on the ends.

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While Cane was doing much of this one-person work, I was doing some painting around our fireplace. We made the stair color decision on Saturday after trying out some trim color there:

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Why, yes: Those are jack-o-lanterns still up more than a week after Halloween.

We didn’t even finish the brown section because we knew right away we wanted to go with brown rather than grey. I would show you the finished shot, but we decided after I was all done that we used the wrong brown. Going to fix that up today.

And by late afternoon, we’d met our goal: Usable stairs with new treads all nailed down and sides ready for stain/poly:

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As you can see in the left photo, we’ve still got a ways to go and the risers are next on our list. But looking down from the top, it’s much, much better!

It was a hard summer for us, in more ways than one. It felt great to be back in our old groove–having a nice mix of work and play and feeling good about our progress in turning this house into our home.

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Goofing around with my beautiful girl before getting to work on Saturday.

We’re not exactly happy about how our summer went down, but we are glad we can take what we learned about how to (not) do projects and move forward.

And you?

How was your weekend? Did you work? Play? Both? How are you feeling about the waning of fall? (It definitely felt like winter where we are this weekend!)

You know we’d love to hear from you in the comments…

And we’re linking to our favorite online gathering, the weekly William Morris project party at Pancakes & French Fries.

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